Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers revived a listless Music on the Half Shell audience Tuesday by opening with a casual request to “Keep it Loose.”
In spite of the heat, the song’s sleepy vocals and soulful harmonies struck a chord with the willing crowd, shifting them into an easy groove that lingered throughout the opening act of the annual summer concert series.
Sewing strains of blues, country, rock and folk together into a winsome — and sometimes whimsical — musical package, the band moved next into another deliciously understated tune called “Gogogo” before hitching up their britches for a rollicking romp through the blues-inflected ditty “Pack Up.”
The Roseburg performance launched the San Francisco band’s Northwest tour in support of its upcoming album “Till I’m Blue,” scheduled for release in August.
Nicki Bluhm and her husband, Tim Bluhm, began playing as a duo before expanding the act to the current six-piece ensemble. The band plays again today at Portland’s Aladdin Theater.
In between tracks that ranged from the buoyant to the brooding, Bluhm made a point of singing the praises of the South Umpqua River that flows behind the stage.
“I don’t know about you, but we cooled off earlier in the river,” Bluhm said, marveling at the natural beauty of the area before adding, “I don’t have to tell you, you’re the ones who are smart enough to live here.”
Bluhm credited a poolside request from somebody at the band’s hotel for their performance of an acoustic rendition of George Michael’s “Faith,” a campy version of which can also be seen on YouTube in one of the band’s popular Van Sessions. Other covers in the series, recorded with an iPhone as the band travels from one gig to the next, include Madonna’s “Material Girl,” “You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt, and the wildly popular “I Can’t Go for That” by Hall & Oates, which garnered more than 2 million views and ignited the band’s popularity.
Most of the crowd lounged languidly in the grass throughout Tuesday night’s set, content to chat idly while enjoying the music, though the band’s infectious rhythms managed to lure the customary throng of dancers to the side of the stage.
As so many Music on the Half Shell performers before her have done, Nicki Bluhm expressed wonder at Roseburg’s curious pre-concert custom of laying blankets in the park before the dew has even settled on the grass.
“I hear that there were some people that put their blankets out at 3:30, is that right?” Bluhm asked. “Wow, what a trusting community.”
Music on the Half Shell continues next week with a performance at 7 p.m. Tuesday by blues singer Curtis Salgado.
• Reporter Christian Bringhurst can be contacted at 541-957-4202 or email@example.com.