Concert review: Tim Barry at the Orpheum, Ybor City (with photos)

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“Most were once really punk/ and now wear flannel/ and scream over bar chords on acoustic guitars,” Tim Barry lamented during the song “Making Fun of Tim Barry” amidst his set at the Orpheum Thursday night.

This is indicative of an peculiar trend Barry himself is very much apart of; mid-90’s to early 2000’s players, most of well-revered punk/hardcore bands of that era, trading in the overdrive pedals and mosh pits for acoustic guitars and folk themes of love and loss.  Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard of Hot Water Music fame, Frank Turner of Million Dead, Jim Ward of Sparta, just to name of few, have all made this leap with reverence towards this newfangled down-home ethos.

Barry stands out from this pack due in part to the fact that he’s very much an arm of the lower, working class he writes about.  A proponent of hopping on freight trains for travel, living in a converted shed in his girlfriend’s backyard, drinking miller like water, it’s hard picturing Barry’s neck not wrapped in the figurative blue collar.

Thursday only re-affirmed this.  Wrapped in loose, dirty jeans, camo-hatted and beard-ly Barry let it pour with a sense of force, authenticity, and frankness that’s rarely seen in live music these days.

Like many of his folk brethren, Tim Barry’s strength lies in his capability to tell a great story through song.  “Prosser’s Gabriel” the story of Gabriel Prosser, a Virginia-native (like Barry) slave who organized a massive slave rebellion before being caught and executed in 1800, was captivating and only enhanced by Barry’s pre-song disdain for the University of Virginia’s plans to build a parking lot over Prosser’s burial site.

Barry’s lyricism in songs like these is only matched by his ability to masterfully convey stories without falling into trite, corny territory; an all too common pitfall in genres like folk and country.  Songs like “Avoiding Catatonic Surrender” and “Church of Level Track” Barry played Thursday night find him wrestling his demons, questioning, finding resolve in the tough world we live.

He’s experienced a lot as he earnestly mentions; the suicide of a best friend, the freight trains, the characters he’s met along the way - and his ability to derive poetic meaning from these situations is no easy feat, but he does it, oftentimes with an unexpectedly wry and endearingly self-depreciating tone.   And, as serious as the songs can be, a Tim Barry show is never a serious undertaking.  Laughing, cracking jokes, riling up the crowd; Barry’s an effortless, magnetizing force onstage during and between songs.

When it comes down to it, any of these punks-turned-folkists can strum a slew of major chords and wax poetic on the generalities of populist rebellion or world loathing, but Barry’s songs oftentimes feel like the work of a man hell-bent on genuine expression, the culmination of a lot of pleasant and maybe not-so-comfortable moments of self- reflection.  He’s neither overly optimistic nor downtrodden.  Simply put, he’s a human really good at saying what it’s like to be human.

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