On July 8, Phil Cook and his backing band, the Guitarheels, made it out to Barber Park to play an excellent, yet truncated concert as part of the Levitt AMP Greensboro music series. The show was organized by ArtsGreensboro as one of ten free summer concerts, and the chief sponsor was WUAG, UNCG’s student radio station. Unfortunately, the show was interrupted by a thunderstorm about thirty minutes into the set, but the band still had the chance to crank out a few great tunes before they had to pack up.
If you are not familiar with Phil Cook, it is time to get acquainted with one of the hardest working local musicians. Throughout his life he has been in Megafaun, Hiss Golden Messenger, The Shouting Matches, Gayngs, Deyarmond Edison, Mount Vernon and backed up Bon Iver for a Bonnie Raitt medley on Jimmy Fallon. He has mastered the piano, guitar and vocals, allowing him to serve many roles, from keyboardist to frontman.
Originally from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Phil Cook moved here with his band Deyarmond Edison in the mid 2000s. Fronted by a pre fame Justin Vernon, the band quickly grew an audience within the Raleigh music scene, but internal disputes caused the group to break up.
Fueled by this and the decline of another relationship, Vernon returned to Wisconsin which became the driving force behind Bon Iver. This left Phil Cook, his brother Brad and Joe Westerlund in North Carolina, where they formed into the freak-folk act Megafaun. The group released four excellent records, which shaped them into one of the most popular acts within the North Carolina folk scene.
After Megafaun went on hiatus in the early 2010s, Phil Cook began focusing on solo efforts, and released “Southland Mission,” a genre bending collection of folk, country, blues, gospel, soul and southern rock. The album includes an all star cast of musicians, including previous bandmate Justin Vernon and Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso, and is easily one of the best folk records to come out of North Carolina in years. In order to support the album, Cook has spent the last few years touring the nation both as a solo act, which brought him here to Greensboro.
Opening for Phil Cook was the Burlington group, The Ends. Delivering a fusion of rock, folk, country and punk, the band complimented Cook’s genre bending sound quite well. Due to calmer weather, The Ends ended up getting to play a longer set than their headliner, which allowed their jam band aesthetic to shine. A fair deal of The Ends’ material stretched past the five-minute mark due to the group’s extended bridges and solos. The band played well as a full unit, although the vocal sections of their material seemed to be put on the backburner for improvisation heavy arrangements.
Phil Cook’s staples such as “Ain’t It Sweet” and “Anybody Else” from his 2015 record “Southland Mission” made it onto the setlist, pleasing both hardcore fans and casual listeners. Despite the disappointing weather, Phil Cook put all of his energy into his performance, keeping the audience optimistic with his warbling voice and dynamic guitar. The Guitarheels, an ever-changing band of diverse musicians, complemented him well, allowing him to shine, while also showcasing their individual talents. Tamisha Waden’s backing vocals stood out, which supplied soulful harmonies and additional strength to Cook’s melodic vocal lines. All was forgiven when ArtsGreensboro had to finally pull the plug, after all safety was necessary and we still got a solid show.
Overall, the concert was satisfying, even if it had to be cut short. Phil Cook puts on a hell of show, no matter how long it lasts. Thankfully, Cook plays constantly around his home state, so hopefully he will be back in Greensboro soon, with better weather conditions.