Saturday night saw the return of Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition to Atlanta's Star Bar and like all of his previous visits, they failed to disappoint. Filled with all the southern soul, rock and blues you would expect from Mr. Mathus their set pleased devout fans and won over newbies. While many know the man from his past incarnation as the brains behind the Squirrel Nut Zippers, it is the music he has delivered since then that defines how damn good he is. With the edition of the Tri-State coalition he has taken things to a new height writing some of the best songs of his vast career. Those songs and a few more were on display Saturday night and damn did they sound good.
Opening the set with “In The Garden” has become a staple of his live performances. A sparse opening is a stark opposite of what the song became once the coalition kicked in on the tune about good and evil. Most of the set came from the latest record Dark Night of the Soul and that is a good thing. Songs such as “White Angel”, “Casey Caught the Cannonball” and “Tallahatchie” sounded brilliant while the moving “Dark Night of the Soul” transformed into something incredible live. (Not that the recorded version wasn’t already pretty damn good) The songs “Fake Hex” and “(I Wanna Be Your) Satellite” had the crowd dancing and when they kicked into the classic “Who’ll Sop My Gravy” everyone was singing along. The highlight of the set was when they dusted off the rowdy “Dope Sniffing Dog”. One of my favorite songs it is loaded with bad ass guitars and bluesy rhythms and it doesn’t get much better when they play it live.
Saturday night was the last night of the tour for the boys. The weeks of playing together had them fine tuned even though they were road weary. With stalwarts Matt Pierce (guitar) and Eric Carlton (keyboards), drummer Ryan Rogers and ex-Zipper Stu Cole on bass Mathus may have his best line-up yet. They worked well together playing off of Jimbo’s lead and take the music into rarified air. Country twang, dirty blues and balls to the wall rock and roll were all on the menu as they dialed up an atmosphere akin to a juke joint hole in the wall not a bar in Atlanta.
Before Jimbo and crew took the stage folks were treated to tunes from a couple of local acts. Bad Friend consisted of various local musicians that have been parts of various other local bands. Playing mostly covers they added a Nick Caveish doom and gloom sound to classic tunes while mixing in an original or two. Built around Ted Weldon’s booming vocals, the highlights of their set were the ever popular “Jolene” (Dolly Parton) and “Jesus Has Call Waiting” a brooding tune loaded with violent imagery and cars. Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters started the evening off with an interesting set of tunes that are really hard to categorize. Using every instrument but the kitchen sink Butzer and band created the musical backdrop for their singer’s sultry voice.
There was a lot going on in Atlanta Saturday night, Springsteen and Santana come to mind so the musical choices were plentiful. All I know is if you didn’t make the call to hang out at the Star Bar with Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition then you made the wrong choice.