Is anyone actually buying music anymore? Not just downloading it, having a friend burn it, or spitefully not returning it to an ex after a breakup? Anybody who is still willing to shill out the greenbacks will get their money’s worth for In Concert Vol. 1, the Sadies’ first live offering, a double-CD set packed with 41 songs.
As Canadians, the Sadies strike a crushing blow to the idea of American exceptionalism by being masters of certain sounds that are native to the U.S. These are the following:
1) Rapid-fire hoedown rock instrumentals: “Cheat,” “16 mile Creek,” “Northumberland West,” “Snow Squad,” and “Ridge Runner Reel.”
2) Byrdsian psych-folk: “Why Be So Curious?” “Song of the Chief Musician (Pt. 1),” and “Another Day.”
3) Dark, late-career Johnny Cash gospel: “1000 Cities Falling Apart (Pt. 2)” and “Story’s Often Told.”
4) Surging surf rock: “Rat Creek,” “Lay Down Your Arms,” and “Dying is Easy.”
In Concert features enough superstar guest appearances to make Diddy blush. Sadie bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky have long been a part of Neko Case‘s backing band, so she repays the favor by singing lead on a number of tracks here, including “Eastern Winds,” “Home,” and “Hold On, Hold On.” “Evangeline” is a pretty duet between Case and Sadies’ lead singer Dallas Good. Jon Spencer injects some Springsteen-esque, rock-concert-as-religious-revival energy into the beginning of the second disk. He takes his cunning, punning time introducing the band before handling lead vocals on “Back Off” and “Justine Alright,” then shows back up on the encore track “Her Love Made Me.” Jon Langford of Mekons fame fittingly turns “Strange Birds” into a rollicking pub anthem, and he returns to lead all Sadies and guests (more I didn’t mention: Garth Hudson of the Band, Gary Louis of the Jayhawks, and Kelly Hogan) on the rousing grand finale, “Memphis, Egypt.”
But the Sadies don’t always have to rely on others to shine; they have plenty of highlights of their own. “Higher Power” is an uplifting spiritual that would have had a happy home on the O Brother soundtrack. “Tailspin” is an almost straight-up indie-rock song that wouldn’t be out of place on a Hold Steady or Raconteurs album. And the oddest gem of the lot has to be the reverentially rocking cover of Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam.”
In Concert is a monumental offering by a multi-talented band. For Sadies fans, essential. For anyone still buying music, not a bad way to spend $20.