The Devil Makes Three: Bluegrass in action at the 9:30 Club

Bluegrass trio, The Devil Makes Three: Updated down-home action at the 9:30 Club. Photo: The Devil Makes Three

WASHINGTON, January 7, 2014 — The Devil Makes Three feels like an outlaw band. This takes some explaining, because there’s nothing really threatening about this bluegrass three piece from Santa Cruz. But then, any time a band or music is deemed potentially “harmful” for whatever reason, it’s usually hyperbole. 

The Devil Makes Three and their recent live show at the 9:30 Club was not dangerous in the least. Yet there’s a certain feel about the band that creates a certain kind of mood that’s relatively unattainable for even the best of bands.

The reason The Devil Makes Three feels like they’re similar to a band of outlaws – aside from their total lack of percussion – derives solely from the their sound, which you could easily and accurately describe as “old-time.” Audiences attending their 9:30 Club may have at least momentarily felt as if they’d accidentally wandered into a ‘20s-era speakeasy given the way the Devil Makes Three performs.

The show itself felt as if it were being performed before a select crowd in an underground, password-entry only club where they could quietly do something illegal—like consuming bathtub gin—as the band before them picked and plucked away, raising as much sonic commotion as possible.

It’s possible The Devil Makes Three could slowed their frantic pace down a bit during their set. But that option never felt as if it were in the cards for the show, as if for some reason a slightly more moderate approach would serve to defeat the purpose of their mission statement. This compulsively lively band strives to never seem even the least bit melancholy or introspective as that would be a disservice to everyone there looking to have a good time.

In short, The Devil Makes Three is the kind of band that makes the audience forget about their troubles as they perform their set of songs at a blistering pace pretty much from start to finish.

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This trio has a distinct appeal for anyone who harkens back to a bygone era, well before rock and roll and ear-splitting amplification became the focal point for pop music. They combine elements of folk, bluegrass, ragtime and blues, among almost any other string-based genres a person can think of. Granted, this blend of styles are incorporated by the band in such a way that they’re almost indiscernible from each other. That’s an effect that’s at least partially influenced by the high RPMs the band achieves during their set.

The Devil Makes Three have often been described “folk punk,” which is one of the odder band descriptions we’ve heard to date and one that verges on the absurd.

It’s easy to see where the classification comes from, though. The term “punk” tends to get borrowed by another genre whenever a band happens to play fast within their own genre parameters. Such bands have a tendency to stick their noses up at the conventions of their genre in the process, and this is something the Devil Makes Three accomplishes seemingly without effort.

That’s primarily due to their obvious love for old timey things, something that was amply demonstrated during their live show here. But it’s hard not to feel a little defiant while listening and watching The Devil Makes Three, and that’s what seems to give them their invisible edge. 

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The thickness and consistent chugging of Lucia Turino’s stand-up bass is what starts The Devil Makes Three’s sound cranking. The forward motion pushes things forward with Connor McBean’s sporadic banjo picking, and finally shifts into overdrive with the rapid fire plucking of his and Pete Bernhard’s guitar action. 

Bernard’s vocals propel things even further as he injects the rhythm and rhyme of a ragtime singer, but leavens things a bit by putting some modern attitude into the lyrics—something that gives the band an almost anachronistic feel.

Ultimately that’s what seems to push The Devil Makes Three into a different musical plane altogether. Despite creating (or re-creating) a sound that feels as if it’s time-traveled from a different era, the band has added modern touches to their sound to the point where they also seem to fit well into 2014 and perhaps beyond.

The phenomenal energy they add to their performance, however, is what keeps them vital without feeling stuffy. The Devil Makes Three is the kind of band that just keeps coming at their audience, creating a vintage aura with modern drive that keeps things lively well into the night.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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