The First Ward has been the place to be in St. Joseph recently. The parking lot is always full and local bands want to play there. The bar isn’t a perfect place for a show to take place however. The First Ward lacks a stage and any lighting for the band. The sound system hasn’t quite been fully figured out either it seems. Despite these achievable problems it is the hot place to be. A weekend show there guarantees a steady flow of people and an audience for the bands.
On December 12th it was The Souveneers and The Early Brothers Band’s turn at the spot where a stage would be at The First Ward. The notorious St. Joseph brothers, Justin and Ryan Early, would be fully electric on this night and recruit Tommy Swarz to play bass and Brian Shank on drums. I had previously seen The Early Brothers as an acoustic duo and the electric version is better. Plugging in gave the band the opportunity to have a wider range of sound. Ryan Early would take full advantage by displaying his guitar solo skills often during the set. The noise level of the band would bury Justin Early’s naturally low vocals. They would blast out Neil Young distortion at times and pair it The Band styled vocals.
The Souveneers, led by Jerrad Hardin, would jam together next on stage. The expanded incarnation of the band would be present with a bass player, Dustin Hawkins on drums, Colby Walter on lead guitar/mandolin and Hardin switching between acoustic and electric guitar and even occasionally Brean Reiley adding background vocals. The band would play their brand of straight-out-the-past music well past midnight. The band’s sound is very distinct and it’s hard to finger many other bands with a similar style right now. They have the throwback grooves of Buddy Holly and the troubadour lyrics of Woody Guthrie. The only modern act that is in the ballpark might be Justin Townes Earle.
The Souveneers would be a little loose on this night. The normally very tight band would let their hair down a bit and be a more jammy version of themselves. They would do mostly originals like the great “I Carry Her With Me” (equally as good both times they did it on this night). They would also do a cover that made a ton of sense in “Man of Constant Sorrow” and one that made very little sense in “Chattahoochee.” The Alan Jackson country tune came as a surprise during the set and kept the crowd that occupied the dance floor on their feet, but “Chattahochee” didn’t really seem to fit the band’s music.
The group would once again prove how good of musicians they are. Colby Walter can do anything dealing with music well and his lead guitar and ferocious mandolin playing for The Souveneers are no exception. Jerrad Hardin is a strong songwriter and has a very good and distinct croon to his vocals that gives the group that little something different no other band can have. The only thing missing is a recording for this band. It is badly needed and I’m sure would be well received.
The sound was for The Souveneers in particular was maybe the best mix I have heard at the bar. As long as people keep filling the brick walls of the place who can complain about a lack of stage or other minor problems? As the venue adds to the live concert side of things it can only make a good bar get better.