Shovels & Rope – Tuning Fork 11 March 2015

The stage at Auckland’s Tuning Fork was oozing with down-home South Carolina charm as Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, the married couple who perform as Shovels & Rope, harmonized their way through a set of rootsy songs that held the crowd spellbound.

The first thing you notice about Shovels & Rope when they hit the stage is just how many instruments two people can play at the same time. Between the two of them they played acoustic and electric guitars, drums, percussion, keyboards and harmonica…often simultaneously…while singing beautiful country harmonies.

The second thing you notice is how tuned in the two performers are to each other. Often, while singing together, their faces would by just inches away from each other, not just singing to each other, but feeling the air vibrate between them as they sang.

They also look like the perfect couple. Cary Ann dressed in a denim blue cowboy top…the kind with the fancy lacing shaped like arrows or lassos, while Michael looked like, in Cary Ann’s words, “a Southern gothic Bible salesman”, in his black suit, white shirt and black tie.

The music itself went from pure country to gospel to folk to rock and roll and all points in between.

They began with Birmingham, a track from their 2012 album, O’ Be Joyful, with Michael sitting at the drum kit, also playing keyboards and harmonica, while Cart Ann stood next to him with her acoustic guitar. Both sang.

That was followed by Cary Ann’s 1200 Miles, a song that seems to sum up their lives:

Why don’t you take out your fiddle? Rosin up your bow Play that little love song we used to know? I’ll sing the high, Sugar, you sing the low Take me in your arms and rock me slow

Cary Ann showed off her pickin’ skills on Kembra’s Got The Cabbage Moth Blues and then the two of them switched places…Cary banging on the drum kit with a maraca and a drumstick, Michael standing with his electric guitar.

The duo showed off their harmony singing with Bridge On Fire, from 2014’s Swimmin’ Time, which began with some beautiful “Ooooos”. That was followed by The Devil Is All Around, which, we were told, is about redemption, and which feature some churchy-sounding organ playing from Cary.

After Boxcar, we were treated to Stono River Blues, a song about the river that runs into their hometown of Charleston and into the Atlantic, or as the lyric goes, “The ocean falls out of the river’s mouth”.

Next we witnessed more exquisite close harmonies as the two of them stood side by side and sang into the same mic for Save The World.

Cary’s introduction to Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan, a song about a disfigured war vet who meets a waitress at the circus was almost as entertaining as the song itself.

Then Michael turned up his guitar and offered up some low-down distorted riffs for Evil.

The set ended with a celebratory Hail Hail…their ode to rock and roll.

For the encore Cary Ann announced, “We’re gonna do something sweet and something salty and that’s the way it’s gonna be”.

The sweetness came in the form of Lay Low, with the duo again singing intimately into one mic, while the salty was represented by Bad Luck, a rocker from O’ Be Joyful.

And “joyful” is a perfect way to describe the night as Cary and Michael locked arms and bowed, saying good night to a very appreciative crowd.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Steve McCabe:

Shovels & Rope set list:

  1. Birmingham
  2. 1200 Miles
  3. Gasoline
  4. Kemba’s Got The Cabbage Moth Blues
  5. Keeper
  6. Tickin’ Bomb
  7. Bridge On Fire
  8. The Devil Is All Around
  9. Boxcar
  10. Stono River Blues
  11. Save The World
  12. Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan
  13. Evil
  14. Hail Hail
  15. Lay Low
  16. Bad Luck