As far as I can tell, there’s a guy at every concert, ever, who takes it upon himself to yell “Freebird.” That Guy is always there, trying for a chuckle, being ignored, hoping, just hoping, that the band will hear his plea. That Guy, like everyone else who saw Delta Spirit at the 9:30 Club on Saturday night, had the time of his life this weekend. Because Delta Spirit’s just that kind of band: Americana rock shot straight through the decades that reminds your soul what fun is supposed to feel like. You want “Freebird?” Yeah, sure, they’ll give you “Freebird.” Because it’s fun, and that’s what their show is all about.
I got handed a copy of Delta Spirit’s last album, “Ode to Sunshine,” in 2008 (put ’em on my Top 5 that year, too). The music-obsessed friend who passed it along is probably personally responsible for a few dozen of the fans at Saturday’s show: each of us spread the word (over)enthusiastically to another few people, and I like to imagine the fandom spread across the city from person to person, like the flu in winter, only better. I tell you this by way of explaining that yes, I am a huge fan, and no, this is not an unbiased review of Saturday’s show. Based on the limited sample of fans-who-also-tweet, I am not alone in having put this one high on the list of best shows ever. (Karon Flage, whose photos you see illustrating this post, took my extra ticket on a whim never having heard of the band, and she left a convert, too.)
Delta Spirit are usually called Americana, which is a catch-all for that blurry line between rock and what sometimes passes for not-corny country with a dose of late-’60s edge. It’s a genre that is equally kind to singers and songwriters like Josh Ritter and the Avett Brothers and gives them room to party and think, often within the same song. Back when he was announcing the We Love DC ticket giveaway to the show, Michael Darpino wrote that singer Matt Vasquez’s delivery “makes for terrific sing-along potential; of which I am sure there will be plenty at the concert this weekend.” Michael, you have no idea how right you were: this was a crowed primed to party, hundreds of sweaty people unashamed to sing out in unison and dance with the stranger next to them. Vasquez saw the fun we were having and decided to join in to close out the night, climbing into the crowd and ordering everyone–everyone, free of ego, free of shame, unabashedly happy–to get low to the ground so he could bring them back up again with a cover of “Shout.”
And of course they hit the highlights off their two-disc repertoire. Songs like “Streetwalker,” “Children,” “People Turn Around,” and “People, C’mon” off the first album were played with the bombastic enthusiasm that’s only possible after the tunes invade your soul and fit into you, like a familiar old shirt that’s had years to conform to your body, or in this case become second nature to the guys on stage. You get the feeling that Vasquez and his bandmates could sing these songs in their sleep and still make you want to dance, and then wake up to start the party all over again. They brought fast-becoming-favorites like “Bushwick Blues” and “Story to Tell” off the new album, “History From Below.” And then, sprinkled in just for kicks, there were homages to Howard Zinn, odes to America like “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (the show did bleed over into July 4, after all), and an exceptionally moving cover of Louis Armstrong’s ” St. James Infirmary.” Matt Vasquez spoke of wanting to move people the way Louis did. Matt: you did it.
The guys in Delta Spirit love music. They love performing. They love sharing that love with each other and their fans. They trade instruments back and forth, they bring opening performers back onstage just to hang out and hit things, they beat the crap out a drum with maracas, and above all they make sure you leave with your money’s worth.
If, that is, you actually bother to leave. On Saturday, when the house lights came on and the OK-time-to-go-home-music started to play, about 100 people just…stayed. They stayed through The Band singing “The Weight,” and they started dancing (hilariously and generally badly) when that turned into Jay Z’s “99 Problems.” When Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al” came on, and the award for strangest music trifecta ever was secure, club staff finally started just telling people to go away. I’ve seen a lot of great shows at the 9:30 Club, but I have never, ever seen a crowd so unwilling to let the night end.