Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie Crescent Ballroom Thursday, May 8, 2014
Chuck Ragan's reputation precedes him. The Hot Water Music singer has now released four albums rooted in acoustic folk, and he's one of the manliest guys in music (just take a look at his Instagram page). Chuck is also one of the nicest- he recently gave a writer his boots, and in spite of seeing what I'm assuming to be the tour manager impatiently motioning toward the watch on his wrist, Chuck Ragan stuck around after the show to chat with fans. These weren't quick hellos, Chuck had full on conversations with anyone who walked up to him.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Chuck Ragan's set. Best case scenario would be seeing him wrangle a bear before performing a few acoustic versions of Hot Water Music songs but let's be realistic, that wouldn't happen -- Chuck's more of a fisherman, anyway.
Crescent Ballroom cleared out a bit between The White Buffalo and Chuck Ragan's sets, presumably for the audience to take quick smoke and drink breaks. Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie quietly took the stage in the interim -- no introduction was necessary, as Chuck was invited on stage with The White Buffalo moments prior (more on that later).
The band opened with "Between the Lines," from Chuck's first solo album, Feast or Famine. Given how long Chuck Ragan has performed as a solo act, I wasn't expecting too many Feast songs, but he bookended the show with songs like "The Boat," "For Broken Ears," and "California Burritos."
Midway through the set, Chuck talked about the soundtrack he recorded for the short film, It's Better in the Wind. He reminisced about hanging out with motorcyclists (which he described as "guys who are good with wrenches"), and shared his biggest takeaway -- "we were so focused on the journey rather than the destination."
"Gave my Heart Out," from Chuck Ragan's newest album, 'Til Midnight followed shortly after, as Chuck beamed about discovering music at an early age.
"Right as Rain" was one of my favorite moments of The Camaraderie's performance, as all eyes were on Chuck and the pedal steel player for this sweet, subdued song.
"Meet You in the Middle," another Covering Ground track, followed, as the band's energy picked up a bit and peaked with a fun performance of "California Burritos." The audience loudly echoed back the chorus, before the band left the stage before the encore. Chuck stuck around to perform the first verse of "For Broken Ears," and then was joined by the rest of the band.
Los Angeles' alt-country outfit White Buffalo could have been billed as a co-headliner. White Buffalo, both the nickname of singer Jake Smith and the band itself, put on one of the most solid opening sets I've seen in awhile. There were elements of Tom Waits and Tim Barry sprinkled in, but White Buffalo had its own sound.
The best description I could come up with was Ben Nichols singing an octave higher, but I think that sentiment mostly came from the fact that the crowd made it feel like a Lucero show. Hearing a "Kiss the Bottle" cover would have fit right in.
The crowd was absolutely packed for The White Buffalo's set. Many fans sang along, and some even did a full on country two-step, which was adorable to watch. Some White Buffalo songs may be recognizable to Sons of Anarchy fans, but the band really stood out thanks to Smiths' whistling, which gave the band an old west vibe.
Fans were encouraged to sing along to drinking song "The Bar and the Beer." Based on the crowd response, I thought it was a cover at first, but nope, The White Buffalo just has a very solid fan base.
"It's so nice to play a nice venue in Phoenix ... not playing with three Cookie Monster heavy metal bands at Martini Ranch," said Smith.
Chuck Ragan and opener Johnny Two Bags (of Social Distortion fame) were invited on stage for a couple of White Buffalo songs. The musicians crowded around the mics and were all hugs and smiles, showing that The Camaraderie is the perfect name for Chuck Ragan's backing band.
Check out more photos, the setlist, and the critic's notebook on page three.
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Chuck Ragan and the Camraderie at Crescent Ballroom. Personal Bias: I'm a huge Hot Water Music fan. I drove out to LA to see them perform with Menzingers last year since there was no Phoenix date, but somehow, I've never been to a Revival Tour.
The Crowd: Lots of grizzly tattooed guys, but far fewer lumberjacks than expected.
Overheard in the Crowd: "The new album is too country for my tastes" - a guy that nobody agreed with.
Random Personal Story: At the end of the show, my friend and I said hi to promoter Psyko Steve. I mentioned that I wanted to ask Chuck Ragan about fishing, and Steve advised that he loves talking about fishing and will go on and on about it, but we should know what we're talking about first. Little did I know that my show buddy actually does know a bit about fishing, so it was great to see her and Chuck discuss how tranquil the activity can be.
Setlist (not including song from It's Better in the Wind):
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