Review | Gangstagrass at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea: 'Powerful moments of mass communion'

There can't be many gigs which will have you bouncing to classic hip-hop one minute and yodelling to a ‘cowboy’ song the next.

Saturday, 18th June 2022, 9:37 am

But then Gangstagrass tend to operate in a field of one.

Yes, there are bands out there who do covers from other genres in a bluegrass-style, and as much fun as they are, they tend to operate with tongues wedged firmly in cheek.

Not so this five-piece – first up, most of their material is original, and while there is humour in what they do, it’s not delivered with an ironic, sideways look, as some hillbilly-shtick. The two sides of the musical equation are treated with equal respect.

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Dolio The Sleuth and Rench of Gangstagrass, live at The Wedgewood Rooms, June 14, 2022. Picture by Paul Windsor

They open with Bound To Ride, the song which took them to the quarter-finals of America’s Got Talent. (They agreed to do it after being approached by the show's scouts during the pandemic when they could no longer tour.)

Maybe because it’s the opening night of their UK tour, or it’s the audience, but things take a little while to warm-up.

However, the band are soon cooking, and from there the heat never drops for the rest of the nigh-on two hour set.

The two MCs – Dolio The Sleuth and R-Son The Voice of Reason – are old pros in working a crowd. While maintaining a flawless flow they even slip in the occasional Portsmouth reference.

Brian Farrow and R-SON the Voice of Reason from Gangstagrass, live at The Wedgewood Rooms, June 14, 2022. Picture by Paul Windsor

Brian Farrow on fiddle, Dan Whitener on banjo and Rench at the back on guitar bring the bluegrass and some fine vocals of their own.

The set leans heavily on their recent, fifth album, No Time For Enemies. It’s an album preaching unity and overcoming division – without ever being overly earnest. And live many of its tracks, like Do Better and What I Am are transformed into powerful moments of mass communion between band and crowd.

Another high point is Long Hard Times, aka the theme to the hit TV show Justified.

The band were last here in 2019, and that night it was sold out. This time out, sadly the room isn’t quite as packed – more a comment on current gig-going reluctance from the wider public than the band’s pulling power, I suspect.

Gangstagrass live at The Wedgewood Rooms, June 14, 2022. Picture by Paul Windsor

But that’s their loss. For those who there, we got to see the band, as they ‘barn-burning, baby.’