The Lawrence Arms / Chuck Ragan - live in Cambridge (Cover Artwork)

The Lawrence Arms / Chuck Ragan

live in Cambridge (2006)

live show

First, let me explain that this review will most likely end up being extremely biased. Ever since I purchased the Lawrence Arms' near masterpiece, The Greatest Story Ever Told, on a total whim back in late 2003, they have been one of my favorite bands. Their new stuff, their old stuff, even their B-sides, are all considered fantastic in my book. After waiting nearly three years to see them live, I was as excited as a kid on Christmas when I found out they were coming to my area. I should also probably mention that I freakin' love Hot Water Music and never got to see them before they broke up. I mention this because Chuck Ragan, the ex-lead singer of HWM, opened up the Lawrence Arms' sold out show at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge, MA.

My friend and I strolled into the venue right as Chuck Ragan began strumming the chords of his first song. For roughly the next 30 minutes, the audience was captivated by Ragan's gruff yet somehow soothing voice that we have all come to love, which fit in perfectly with his newfound acoustic stylings. Throwing in the occasional harmonica solo for good measure, Ragan was able to demonstrate that even though he has left the punk rock scene behind, he can still musically excel while experimenting with new and different songwriting styles. The audience went wild for his set and and you could tell that he was clearly enjoying himself up on stage.

After Ragan's set, the three rambling boys of pleasure, the Lawrence Arms, hopped on stage in order to set up their equipment. They got everything ready, while somehow increasing the already ridiculously high anticipation level of the audience, and then strolled off before the set. At around 10:30, the Larry Arms made their way back to the stage (or in singer/guitarist Brendan Kelly's case, stumbled) and rocked the crowd senseless for an hour straight. The band threw in tracks from their newest album, Oh! Calcutta!, such as "The Devil's Takin' Names" and "Great Lakes / Great Escapes", as well as plenty of songs from their old titles, such as "Turnstyles" and "Chapter 13: The Hero Appears." Despite extreme intoxication on the part of Brendan Kelly, the group was as tight as they were on record. Neil Hennessey pounded his drum set into submission during the hour-long set and the two frontmen not only fully delivered on their guitar and vocal parts, but infused some patented Lawrence Arms (witty) banter in between songs.

The audience ate up every note the group emitted from their equipment, especially going off during songs such as "Are You There Margaret? It's Me, God" and "Brickwall Views." The band ended their set with "Like a Record Player" while audience members dove off the tiny stage, happy that the group didn't waste time with some phony encore. When it was all over at around 11:30, it was clear that the Lawrence Arms are just three friends playing music that they love, and that is something that was clearly evident to all of those in the audience singing along and having a blast throughout the night. They may not be the biggest band in the world, or even in the punk rock scene, but great records and a solid live show are the only things you can ever really ask for from a band, and the Lawrence Arms certainly deliver just that.