You could easily be a fan of Chapel Hill’s Spider Bags for years without knowing what a great player frontman Dan McGee is. He didn’t need to be when he had Gregg Levy (“great at coming up with countermelodies,” McGee says), Rob DiPatri (“never goes for the easy path”), and/or Chris Girard (“one of my all-time favorite guitar players”) backing him.
Now that the band’s down to a trio, McGee’s risen to the occasion. He still downstrokes his guitar like he did when he was the rhythm guitarist, but his style’s gotten bluesier and more fluid. “There has to be rhythm guitar,” he says, “there also have to be countermelodies, and I also have to do the best I can with my vocal instrument, which is not my strongest point.”
Admittedly, his singing is probably third behind his occasionally excellent lyrics and his very good guitar playing—but he’s let humility get in his way in the past. Back when he was the more rudimentary guitarist in the band, sometimes he’d nonetheless play at full blast while singing passively, completely obscuring the lyrics with the guitar.
Whether due to the quieter nature of his current playing style, the backline, or a conscious shift, you could hear everything well at the Saturday afternoon Beerland show. Though the band was sweaty and energetic, McGee says they were getting fatigued. They played a show a day from Wednesday to Sunday (backing off from two or three a day in recent years). “The Sunday was like a locals one,” he says, “and I knew it was a crowd that was already into the band.” Saturday, then, “was the last time I felt like I had to, like, prove it to a new audience.”
McGee saw a chance for a funny breather-as-stage-move during the closer, “Shape I Was In” from last fall’s Shake My Head. During the instrumental break preceding the final solo and double-time chorus (“you need a lot of breath for that”), he hopped offstage, and the crowd parted as he lay down on the Beerland floor. “I was like, we’ve got one more chorus after this,” he remembers, “I’m just going to lay down for a minute, play this little guitar solo and take a breather.”
Watch Spider Bags in Philadelphia, January 2013