We call them the dog days of summer. The season is getting a bit long in the tooth. One gets the sense that some among us are waiting for autumn. Another 90 degree day, particularly following a Twins’ daytime tilt, left downtown Minneapolis wrung out. That fact, coupled with the insanely early start time the Entry often employs on weeknights, had me a bit worried when I walked in the door.
IM Lazarus, strode to the stage alone with his flying V. I could have counted the fans on both hands. He began to lay out an array of original music and as he hit his stride, people kept trickling in the door. Audience and performer came together. Like many musicians making their first stop at this iconic space, Lazarus was chuffed. He was inspired and it showed. By the time he left the stage, the floor was beginning to fill.
Lots of original material but the highlight of the set was an unexpected, hard driving version of The Beatles’ Nowhere Man. It’s not that I’m a Beatles fan, per se. It’s more that I adhere to Little Stevie Van Zandt’s edict that if there’s a song out there which is better than anything you’ve written to date, do it!
First, a bit of inside baseball on Devon Worley. Seven years ago, I found myself in a classroom at the FAIR School in downtown Minneapolis. FAIR was the charter high school for kids with artistic interests. I was looking for young talent for a summer Blues project. In tow was a high school rock band (that has since gone on to find success) to “audition” some kids. Twin Cities legend JD Steele had steered me to the reservoir of talent at the school and to this young lady specifically.
As everybody was setting up, the teens were getting to know each other and comparing musical tastes. Without warning, those four teens spontaneously dropped into Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll. Garage band of the highest order! Blew the walls out. Everybody sat there afterward just grinning. Unfortunately, Worley wasn’t available for that particular project. She was about to hit the Country scene fronting her own band.
There was no doubt in my mind, this was a kid with a special talent. I’ve followed her career from a distance as she slowly, but surely, built a following in the roadhouses and honky tonks across the Midwest, while sharing the stage with national acts on the festival circuit. Yet, hers was a genre of music that really wasn’t my cup of tea; I tend to walk more the rock side of the road. I’d never caught her live. But I also never forgot that electric moment I’d heard her sing.
When the band dropped Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song into the charts earlier this year, I jumped at the chance to catch her at The Entry. I confess to being very curious what she was doing in this intimate, iconic rock space. Wondered if the wealth of potential I’d witnessed years before had been realized. The cynic in me wanted to confirm that her success to date wasn’t simply another case of the music business anointing another young artist before moving on to next new shiny thing. Was she creating art that could stand on its own merits?
The simple answer is… you better believe it.
The band opened with backs to the audience, wheeled and turned it loose. My first impression was that Devon was no longer a young girl. She was a woman in full control of the power that comes from knowing exactly who you are and what you’re on site to accomplish. My second impression was that she’d put together a hell of a road worn pro band.
Each of these gentlemen was significantly older than Devon and sported impressive resumes. Guitarist Jason Medvec toured the globe with Bay City Rollers. Bassist Christian Twig reached the serious heights of late night TV working with N.E.R.D.. Holding it all down is Grant Thelen on drums, backing vocals and trumpet. Yes, it’s possible to play a trumpet with one hand while the other works the kit!
A singer can have all the talent in the world. But if the band can’t adequately frame and lift up that singer, it all falls apart. If the singer can’t fully relate to and honor the players in the band, we lose that synergy which separates the wannabes from the pros. The Devon Worley Band has both those qualities in spades.
Any twang trepidation I brought to the Entry was quickly dispelled. It isn’t that the band runs from Devon’s country roots. Those fans provided Worley her first platform and taste of success. She acknowledged them and made sure to mix in a dose of the Nashville sound. But that band was there to rock.
My notes use the adjective “brawny” a couple of times. Rock and roll blasting from a stage should be brawny! Historically, that’s been more of a male domain. Yet, the likes of Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde and Pat Benatar have more than managed to pull it off. It’s not just great vocal chops that make it work. It’s an attitude that demands: Watch Me Now! A combination of looks, dress, struts, poses and theatrical command of the stage. It is an unfettered confidence in what they’re throwing down. Most singers fronting bands are afraid to go over the top because they lose authenticity. To go too far, or fail to get there, renders the performer a poser. That’s a band killer.
When an artist pulls it off, it moves the singer from human to someone the audience sees as something else. Someone on whom they’ll pour adoration and for whom they’ll dance with abandon. There was a lot of that going on in The Entry last night. It was really cool to see a woman in her young 20s take command. It’s an innate talent honed through experience.
Did she walk me down memory lane and cover Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll? As a matter of fact, she did. And then she topped it with Immigrant Song. Tackling tunes like these in a live setting is akin to a guitar player ripping into Voodoo Child. That’s thin ice and you better deliver. No sweat. Or more literally, lots of sweat, in Worley’s case.
The encore was my favorite moment of the night. I’m a big fan of bands taking an iconic, guilty pleasure tune and serving it up. It sends a message that rock and roll is supposed to be fun! That the best of them don’t take themselves too seriously. The last tune is one for the fans. It invites them to be part of the band. Few things are more fun than being in an audience and singing as loud as possible along with the band…to a song that would never appear on your Spotify playlist! Yet, you know every damn word. She gave us a Tex Mex, trumpet bouncing version of Johnny Cash’ Ring Of Fire. Leave ’em with a smile, calling for more.
Worley and band worked their tails off for nearly two hours. That’s stamina and a deep catalog. It requires a range that covers the waterfront to keep everything fresh. That’s the realm of professionals.
One of life’s little triumphs is being able to look back years to a brief moment in a high school classroom and say to yourself: I knew it!
Devon Worley is here and now. Seek her out before she’s left the local scene. She’s going places.