PopOff! Concert Review: Ashley McBryde

Boy if you build a fire, you better bet she’s got a match

– Crazy Women by Brandy Clarke

We will get to the match at the Ashley McBryde Fillmore show in a moment. But first I need to mention that this show arrived right as I am writing a few pieces about country music specifically and my love of the stuff. I will link to those write ups below.

Now before I talk about the match, let’s talk about the fire that was built first.

I arrived at The Fillmore far earlier than I ever do because for some reason I wanted to be up by the stage for this show. I’m usually in the back where there is more space to dance.

This night I wanted my hyper energy and enthusiasm to get noticed. I don’t normally care about being noticed at all but you see the last country show I attended in the Bay Area at a venue this big was Blackberry Smoke and well… there was no fire being built by that audience of what I recall as being mostly men. So I expected something similar for the Ashley McBryde show because in the bay area it does seem hard to find my country music loving family and enthusiasm for country music. And I am not talking about people who love legacy acts like Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and others who also border on folk and the like. Or the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass crowd that eats up a wide variety of music. I’m talking straight up honky-tonkin’ country music fans.

So when I arrived it was pretty empty and even by ten minutes to show time it still felt pretty vacant. That is until I decided to turn around and look away from the stage. It wasn’t packed like Sardines but the venue was far more full than I had expected. And it was very mixed; females and males, teenagers and folks older than me who probably saw Patsy Cline live. Interesting, I thought, as Ashley McBryde is definitely on the younger side.

But as we know, good songs are good songs and resonate no matter who you are if you let them. So I guess the word was out on Ashley McBryde and even the Bay Area was not going to miss out on good songs. But were they going to bring the energy I was determined put out and get noticed by those on stage.

Well, when the opener Kasey Tyndall came out with just her and her guitar- Before she even lit into her first song the entire crowd in all spectrums cheered like then were about to drink a 100 proof shots on a Friday night. Before Kasey even began her set she remarked we were already a much better crowd than the previous gig.

So, San Francisco 1… Las Vegas 0.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an opening with just a guitar and a mic that managed to bring arena energy and fill entire space and fan the flames to near bonfire. And I think part of it was the country aspect. That despite the clichés and corporate takeover of those clichés for the bottom dollar, there still is something to the culture of being country/from the country that people unite around.

And that is where songs like, “Nothing Wrong With Being Country” come in.

What I heard live was, I must say, better than the recorded version to me because it was just guitar and voice so it had to be carried by one person. Lyrically it’s a little cliché and the recorded version has a little too much of the electronics that leans bro-country to me. And that could’ve been a issue except many of the other songs she performed were so stellar that you just go, “Bro who cares, it’s a rave up party song so raise a glass and get to getting on down!”

And one such song was “Middle Man”, which I hadn’t ever considered as term relevant to my own life but the way she described it being the negotiator and therapist etc for two parents going through a bad marriage and divorce while having younger siblings… I thought, Huh… So I was also a middle man.

Again the stripped down version felt more impactful. Some of the production on studio versions of songs can sound little heavy handed and remember she carried that Fillmore room by herself with one guitar.

She did two covers in her set, “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, the Joan Jett version. And the former really got the crowd wound up and singing along. Funny how time mellows out some songs because I didn’t really like “Complicated” when it came out. It sounded whiny and juvenile but there I was singing along with everyone else like that song defined my youth. The Joan Jett cover was followed by her original, “Jesus and Joan Jett”.

If I remember right, her set ended with “Dirt Road To Hell” a classic “Don’t let the door hit you one the way out” song.

Sure call it country music, but this is as rock as anything on modern rock radio right now, which like country radio is all crickets when it comes to female artists.

And again, I want you to remember that song was done with just voice and guitar and still put more gasoline on the fire SHE lit.

And then Ashley McBryde and her band came out to Cliff Richard’s, “Devil Woman” and we went from controlled campfire to bonfire. From the first song to the last there was no let up (and no encore, thank god). Her and the band just ripped through about 22 songs. And while, most in the audience did not dance, all ages were singing along at various points. So her songs had gotten around more than I was aware of and that is awesome.

At it’s core the concert felt like that scene in every rock film where the band FINALLY makes it after all the shitty bars and vans breaking down on the road and it all comes together that ONE night you can never recapture.

And that alignment at the Fillmore just happened to come with an artist who can also write some serious lyrics that feel like they are not pandering or written by committee or written so vaguely as to try to appeal to the most people.

Compare a song like “Girl Going Nowhere” to the bro-country efforts or even Beyonce’s country efforts or most pop music efforts and you’ll understand why I have been raving about independent country music for almost a decade it keeps delivering authenticity and lyricism on a level no other genre is really matching.

And it’s true what we say in poetry the more specific you get the more universal you become. Because I am not a, “girl” going go nowhere but so much in that song applies to my own experiences and I didn’t even really notice it until hearing it live. And that was true for many of the songs.

And I do think the lyrics are a big part of what made the show so explosive. People are starved for great authentic relatable lyricism, not just in country music but music in general. And it is hard to get that authenticity when your favorite stars are millionaires with mansions and private jets trying to write their next hit. The lyrics at last nights show were coming from somebody who worked the trenches and didn’t have family money or connections to pave her way.

At several points in the show Ashley mentioned how much she loved being in those dirty trenches with barely enough money for food or gas. She praised it as a great way to, “cut her teeth”. And that humble and appreciative energy was on stage the whole show. She had “made it” and you could feel the gratitude the entire show. But you could also tell even she hadn’t “made it” she’d still be performing “One Night Standards” at a “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” having the best of a worst day kind of night.

The second to last song of the set was “Gospel Night At The Strip Bar”, which she commented that she doesn’t get to perform much on tour. But she felt SF was the place to bring it out. And that chorus…

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Jesus loves the drunkards and the whores and the queers
Hallelujah, hallelujah
Would you recognize Him if he bought you a beer?

You bet that SF audience sang along at the top of theirs and cheered. Despite what the news may be showing of the Bay Area we are still quite the land of the freaks and other outcasts. It is one my favorites in her catalog and one I wish was actually longer. I wanted to hear about more characters from this strip club. It comes off the Lindeville album, a concept record about various characters in a small town and showcases the risk Ashley is willing to take to push her music and country music into knew spaces, while still keeping the stories authentic. In fact it harkens back to albums like The Delta Sweete by Bobbie Gentry another concept album.

I can’t say there was one favorite specific moment because the whole show just kept at a steady irons in the fire pace. I noticed no lulls or extreme highs. It was all an extreme high, I guess. I suppose the variety of ages and types or people was the high point beyond the music. Seeing so many different types singing along or having that, “WOW” moment when they heard a really great lyric or rhyme was uplifting. And I rarely see such variety of people at shows I attend there is usually one group averaging more than the rest but this felt pretty even all over.

In contrast to this, last February I saw Rickie Lee Jones at the Freight and that show was also great with great lyricism but it was a much older crowd, mostly older than me. And the energy was less that of connecting to the music and words and more of reverence. People seated in respect. Which can be fine but it doesn’t build up or ebb and flow for me much and so become less memorable despite being amazing. This Fillmore show was amazing because everyone was on their A game and most importantly there to simply have a great time connecting with some great music.  And no matter the genre or era no matter the artist or venue connecting to the music and those around is a magic that only happens in a live show.  I am glad to see that strong lyrics from an authentic voice are connecting people of all ages.  It’s about time we got back to that. Connecting to each other.

What you Witnessed Or What You Missed:

Kasey Tyndall:
Nothing Wrong With Being Country
Bad For Me
Not As I’ve Done
Complicated (Avirl Lavigne Cover)
Middle Man
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (Joan Jett Cover)
Jesus And Joan Jett
Dirt Road To Hell

Ashley McBryde:
Blackout Betty
One Night Standards
Brenda Put Your Bra On
Whiskey and Country Music
Single At The Same Time
Ain’t Enough Water in the River
Made For This
Girl Goin’ Nowhere
First Thing I Reach For
Cool Little Bars
Learned To Lie
Women Ain’t Whiskey
6th of October
Coldest Beer in Town
El Dorado
Tired of Being Happy
A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega
Martha Divine
Light On In The Kitchen
Gospel Night At The Strip Bar
The Devil I Know

For more on my love of country music click the links below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *