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Shovels & Rope Deliver an Unexpected Evening of Joy

By: Erika Rasmussen
Photography by Jerry Friend

Sometimes you have those days that are amazing out of nowhere. I was having one of those days, and then I found out that I was going to see Shovels & Rope again that night. Unexpected happiness is the best. I’d last seen Carrie Ann & Michael perform in Charlotte on the night they’d announced they were expecting a tiny little addition to the line-up. I couldn’t wait to hear the album and if they had a new sound after such a major life change.

Upon strolling into The Ritz Raleigh, I realized that a lot of people around were as pumped for the opener, John Moreland, as they were for Shovels & Rope. That fact had already piqued my interest, and I certainly sat up and took note when John took the stage. His is a very commanding presence. My pleasant surprises of the day continued as I increasingly became a John Moreland fan with every song. My favorites were probably “Julia” and “Nobody Gives a Damn”. Be sure to check out this musical giant, both figuratively and literally, at your first chance.

While killing time during the set-up for our headliners, I was checking out the wooden pallet backdrop when I realized we were being treated to Tom Waits for the house music (“Hoist That Rag”). The night just keeps getting better, and I haven’t even seen Carrie Ann’s grinning face yet.

When our beloved husband & wife duo takes the stage, the crowd erupts. With the first song, the pallet backdrop becomes a screen for videos and images that entertain all night (but don’t distract, thankfully. We’ve all gotten perhaps a little too in love with our light shows at these things…)

The night is such a thriller for everyone, including the die-hard couple in front of me who are recounting when they’ve seen each song played before and the young ladies beside me who keep asking “WHERE are they from? Why haven’t we seen them yet?!?” We've even been gifted the joy of a Tom Waits cover (“Bad as Me”, guess the house music was a precursor to what was to come). Another memorable cover is Bruce Springsteen's “Johnny 99” and Carrie Ann & Michael seem to enjoy performing this song as we enjoy listening. It’s the gusto with which they play that first drew me to them. It appears that parenthood has only sharpened that zeal for the beautiful things in life.

As much as I love the new album, I can’t help but enjoy their classics the most. I’m not the only one and they thank their fans for their loyalty and dedicate “Birmingham” to us late in the show. In a closer that I couldn’t have scripted better myself, they played “Hail Hail” right before taking a break. It was such a good version, that I needed a breather, myself. After returning with “Buffalo Nickel”, they ended the evening with a raucous, rousing version of “Cavalier”. You know the night is good when you walk away singing and humming that closer for hours. Just as I did. I went to bed thinking that I never could’ve dreamt up such a pleasant Thursday upon waking that morning if I’d tried.

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