Written by Jane Ponte – 10/11/2019
A long-overdue and delightfully cool breeze blew into Houston yesterday, and I’m convinced that Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors rode directly into town on that most-welcomed change. Their nearly 2-hour performance to a packed house at The Heights Theater last night was nothing short of magical, and indeed a breath of fresh air.
Currently touring to promote their most recent album, Dragons, Holcomb and his longtime bandmates, Nathan Dugger (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), Rich Brinsfield (bass, vocals), and newcomers Will Sayles (drums) and Ian Miller (keyboards) reminded me once again why they are one of the best live Americana-Roots bands around. Their refreshingly humble delivery of feel-good, infectious songs takes their listeners on a journey of sorts through the sometimes choppy and unpredictable waters that come with being human and having feelings, ever reminding us that while it can be challenging, it is also a gift to be celebrated and savored, particularly with the people you’re lucky enough to love and care about.
Opening for Holcomb & The Neighbors on this leg of the tour were 2 of the 5 members of Birdtalker, A Nashville-based alt-country band. They were the perfect choice to set the tone for the magical night of music that began as soon as they walked onto the stage. Performing with just a guitar and the masterful vocal prowess that they embody, Zach and Dani Green’s 45-minute set incorporated delicate harmonies and a bold sense of mysticism that captivated their crowd instantly and had them singing along by the set’s end. Equal parts folksy and sophisticated, Birdtalker rounded out their set with fan favorite “Heavy,” and left the crowd feeling appreciative and cheering for more. I will definitely be looking for them with their full band in the future; their lush harmonies and engaging lyrics, combined with their friendly, sincere vibe seemed to resonate with everyone in the crowded theater last night, including me.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors hit the stage about twenty minutes later, and launched into “End of the World,” one of my favorite songs on his newest release, Dragons. From my spot directly in front of Holcomb, about 2 feet from the stage, I could feel the band’s energy and joy as they performed song after song, with a few quips and stories in between. It is no secret why I love this band; their vibe is contagious, and it is clear that they’re grateful people who love what they do. I’ve been seeing them pretty regularly since 2015, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much they’ve grown as a band, and how much tighter and crisper their live performances have become. Even Holcomb himself has grown as a performer. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from start to finish, with his deeply personal songs, amusing stories, and incredible stage presence that seems to have fully developed over time. Even his voice has improved. Don’t get me wrong, Holcomb has always had a perfectly pleasant voice, but now it seems to have matured—maybe even grown a little wiser and more thoughtful, if that’s at all possible. It could be simply a matter of Holcomb having finally stepped into his worthiness and, thusly, feeling more confident in his abilities as a singer-songwriter. Whatever the case, Holcomb and The Neighbors rocked the joint (neighborhood?) in perfect style and brought the house down on more than one occasion.
Highlights from last night’s show were too numerous to count. On the short list, I’d have to say that some of my picks from the new album would be “End of the World, “ “But I’ll Never Forget the Way You Make Me Feel,” “You Never Leave My Heart,” and “See the World.” It is interesting to note that Holcomb’s inspiration for 3 of these 4 tunes were his immediate family, including his wife Ellie, his son Huck, and his brother Jay, who passed away when Holcomb was just 17. Family, (and friends who are family), is a common theme for Holcomb, and when you are at one of his shows, he makes you feel like family as well. It was a ton of fun to share space with total strangers who were also there to groove and celebrate this heartfelt, uplifting night of music, and old favorites, such as “American Beauty,” (Medicine, 2015) “What Would I Do Without You,” and “Another Man’s Shoes,” (Good Light, 2013) sounded better than they ever have before.
Although I’ve heard the band do a cover or two in the past, I was completely surprised when I recognized the introduction from Elton John’s iconic song “Rocket Man,” about midway through the evening. What followed was an absolutely epic rendition of this amazing song. I never would have thought that pedal steel would fit nicely into this classic tune, but The Neighbors made it happen. The seamless transition from a classic rock song to one tinged with a classic country flair somehow worked, and Nathan Dugger’s musical prowess on the pedal steel was extraordinary throughout. Holcomb’s vocals were spot on as well; I must admit, I was rooting for him as he approached those iconic high notes in the song, and he nailed them. Put simply, he and the Neighbors knocked it out of the park. I hope one day he records it—it gave me goosebumps; it was just that good.
A few songs later, Holcomb took a few minutes to pay homage to a Houston legend, Lyle Lovett, whom he touted as one of his all-time favorite songwriters. He played a sweet and simple solo-acoustic version of “If I Had a Boat,” and the crowd ate it up. I knew the evening was winding down at this point, and I felt a twinge of sadness, knowing that all this wonderful musical magic would be coming to an end. Sure enough, after a few more gems followed by a delightful 2-song encore, the house lights went up and it was all over. I considered driving up to Dallas today to catch his show there again tonight, but decided against it only because I’d been lucky enough to attend a meet & greet with him before the show and he told us he’d be back in Texas in February. Otherwise I would have coerced my concert buddy to take a road trip today. If tonight’s show is anything like last night’s, Dallas is in for a real treat. Let’s hope that this cool weather carries Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors safely up to Dallas, and back into Texas in February. I’ll be there, and I hope that you will, too.