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GA-20 at Higher Ground Showcase Lounge

GA-20 at Higher Ground Showcase Lounge

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GA-20
Higher Ground Showcase Lounge
South Burlington, Vermont
December 10, 2023

Entering Higher Ground on the way to its Showcase Lounge, it was impossible not to think of Elmore James' blues classic "The Sky Is Crying." A relentless if not torrential rain that began mid-afternoon may have kept away some potential attendees and kept the headcount to roughly half capacity (or less) in this smaller room of the venue And the limited audience was a borderline travesty because GA-20 deserves to be playing to much bigger crowds. Their zeal for the blues, combined with such an unassuming stage presence, is a refreshing change of pace from the fakers who pretend to an authenticity that this Boston-based threesome so honestly radiates.

Guitarist/vocalist Pat Faherty, guitarist Matthew Stubbs and drummer Tim Carman certainly know their roots. Covering Houndog Taylor and R.L. Burnside is ample proof of their self-awareness, but it's more about the relish they bring to numbers like the former's "Give Me Back My Wig:" the delight they find in such rambunctious takes renders it unnecessary to unduly stretch out their performances.

One cold stop after another, in fairly quick succession, conjured a definite sensation of momentum over the course of the trio's approximately ninety-minute single set (extended due to the unexpected absence of opener Black Joe Lewis due to illness). As a result, the intensity of the encore "Hold It One More Time" reaffirmed exactly how powerfully these musicians had played throughout the evening.

And GA-20 generates impact without crowd-pleasing histrionics. In fact, Faherty's were the only overt acts of showmanship, playing the aforementioned Mississippi hill country icon's "Come On In" solo, then later on perching himself on the edge of the stage for, appropriately enough, "Sitting At Home Alone." There were those junctures where the co-founder of the group did move across the stage toward his partner Stubbs—invariably during a scathing slide solo—but he hardly belabored the theatrics.

Nor did the latter engage in any undue affectation(s) when he played solos like the one on "Fairweather Friend." Adding to the thunder of the group by acting as de facto bassist didn't preclude Stubbs' methodical but penetrating style of playing. On the contrary, his intervals in the spotlight only maximized the reverberations of the band's high volume. And Carman's sophisticated drumming on a minimal kit further helped accentuate the space in the three-piece sound (as is also the case when he's playing with his jazz ensemble).

GA-20 also distinguish the scrappy, skeletal blues style they've forged by mixing in elements of Fifties rock and roll. Plus, there's more than a dollop of doo-wop within "Easy On The Eyes" (all the more notable because only Faherty sings). But as with another original, the slow, sardonic "Dry Run"—introduced with the same self-effacing humor Faherty and Stubbs displayed during all their between-song repartee—there is plenty of room for growth and experimentation as has been the bandleaders' wont since the group's inception.

After all, GA-20 (named after a vintage amplifier manufactured by Gibson Guitars ) have only been together since 2018 when the Stubbs, faced with a hiatus from estimable Chicago blues figure Charlie Musselwhite, reached out to Faherty. While the trio might seem informal to a fault sometimes (the initial self-introduction?), that casual air would seem to allow for the addition of horns and/or keyboards to a mix that's already plenty potent (GA-20 personnel have expanded and contracted in the past too).

Notwithstanding that hypothetical, positive post-show comments from various observers belied the curiously subdued overall response from those timid folk on the floor who were beckoned forward shortly into the show. The epitome of such enthusiasm, however, may have come from one wag who, passing a staff member on the way out the door, exclaimed "Please bring these guys back!'

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