Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Concert Review: Tom Feldmann & the Get-Rites

The small, six-sided room that houses KUNI public radio's Live From Studio One was filled near seating capacity on a Monday night for the performance and live broadcast of Twin Cities Gospel Americana trio Tom Feldmann & the Get-Rites.

February 26 is a bitterly cold evening, but that doesn't stop the approximately 40 audience members who trek to the third floor of the University of Northern Iowa's Communication Arts Center to hear Feldmann's soulful mix of country and Delta Blues. Without a stage as a barrier, chairs are pushed right up to the band's equipment for a truly intimate performance. The predominantly college-aged crowd pick out seats where available. A setup which starts a bit awkwardly eases into embrace with every song that is played.

Throughout the next hour, the band churns out a dozen tracks in support of its new 2007 LP, Side Show Revival. KUNI's Karen Impola hosts the evening, interviewing Feldmann between songs. In response to a question about the spiritual nature of the music, Feldmann replies, "I think music is what you assign it."

The 29 year old Feldmann says he was first introduced to blues at age 17 by way of John Lee Hooker. After buying one of Hooker's albums, Feldmann felt a deep connection to blues and self-taught himself to play guitar. As Feldman says, "I didn't start out wanting to be a frontman, but when nobody else around was playing this kind of music, it kind of made me take on that role."

Ten years after first picking up a guitar, Feldmann shows a maturity beyond his years. His appearance may be youthful, sporting an embroidered western shirt and a trucker hat, but once his mouth opens, a voice of experience calls out. His vocals are haggard and soulful, without seeming the least bit pretentious. This sincerity doesn't have to beg the listener to pay attention. Coupled with the picking and sliding of his resonator guitar, and the solid rhythms coming from drummer Jed Staack and Paul Liebenow on upright bass, the trio create a subtle, yet engaging blend of classic blues styles.

Halfway through the evening's first medley, the slow drag of "Save Us All/So Glad," it is easy to feel as if one has transported to the deep South. By the fifth track, the aptly-titled homage "Johnny Cash," it is obvious where much of Feldmann's musical roots are buried. A couple of songs later Feldmann tells the story of a hitchhiker they picked up en-route to Alabama, and trails off into a slow dance style song that stirs images of dimlit roadhouse bars filled with the smell of smoke and cheap whiskey.

This image is probably appropriate when Feldmann explains his start playing Minneapolis blues clubs for older crowds when he was 19. When it comes to performing, Feldmann says his advice to aspiring musicians is "Perseverence. Expect people won't like what you're doing. In a healthy way, don't take criticism personally...If you only find a small percentage of people who connect to what you're doing, that's still something, and a small percentage everywhere equals out to a lot of people."

Towards the end of the performance, the band performed another evening highlight, "Seven Trumpets Sound," a track from their 2005 album Driven to My Knees. Feldmann alternates between a raspy whisper and a deep croon as the song plays dark and slow, like a dirge. In transition to the last song, Feldmann lets out a howl and the snare drum starts to roll. The tempo picks up and the guitar breaks into a twangy country slide.

After the performance, the group sticks around and talks with audience members. Feldmann remarks that as a second time performer at Studio One, he enjoys KUNI's open-minded support for diversity in music.

For more information on Tom Feldmann & the Get-Rites, visit and check out the group's MySpace.

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