Carbon Leaf finally returned to the Music Box in Cleveland for a 2-hour career-spanning set. After multiple postponements due to the pandemic, the band was clearly thrilled to be back at a venue that has consistently been a hot show for them. The crowd was fully seated, which limited the normal jumping and dancing that comes with a Carbon Leaf show, but that didn’t limit the energy from the band. These guys have well over 25 years on the road under their belt, and they continue to be an excellent band on stage.
The band eschewed an opener for this show, getting on stage just after 7 and playing almost non-stop for 22 songs and 2 hours. They opened with “Gifts from the Crows,” turning the quiet acoustic tune (which they’ve often done in a single-mic setup in the past) into a real strong rocking opener. The energy from the band was palpable right from the outset, with Barry moving across the entire stage with his typical enthusiasm. From there they jumped right into “What About Everything” and “X-Ray.” The Music Box is an excellent Cleveland venue, and the band sounded great and used their lights to full effect for their entire set. They kept things fresh by continuing to make adjustments to songs, such as a different solo on “One Prairie Outpost” or bringing out the single mic for the rarities “Block of Wood” and “Cinnamindy.”
The Music Box sits on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, and the band went deep to pay tribute with a cover of REM’s “Cuyahoga,” including Barry gently ribbing the crowd about the history of the river. Barry’s crowd banter was a highlight through most of the set, with him often joking about things this “young crowd wouldn’t understand” (the average age of the audience was certainly 40+) or messing around with Terry on stage. The band is clearly happy to be back on the road after what is likely the longest absence they’ve had in their history.
While I certainly am partial to the older tunes they played, such as “American Tale,” “Desperation Song” and the excellent “Raise the Roof” encore, the newer songs felt fresh and fit in with the rest of the set nicely. The band often explores a variety of Celtic and Americana influences, and songs like “The Hunting Ground” (which saw Carter playing a Hurdy Gurdy), “She’s Gone,” and “Gathering” highlight those aspects of their sound. “The War Was In Color” is typically one of their more powerful songs thematically, and this one was no exception, and you could hear a pin drop during the nearly a capella chorus near the end.
Like many other bands, Carbon Leaf left the major label world years ago and is now a completely self-produced outfit. That means they get to run their band pretty much however they see fit. And I’d venture to say that they’re more popular at this point than they’ve ever been. They’re great songwriters, great musicians, and they put on a top-notch live performance. They continue to be a band that I’m going to make it a priority to see, and the fact that everything they do is clearly coming from the heart is just one reason why. Looking forward to the band returning to the Music Box for another show on the Cuyahoga next year.
A huge Jamwich THANK YOU to Steffi Wegewtiz at Concert Scene Photography for graciously supplying the awesome photos! You can see more photos from the show at their Facebook page.