The only big difference between the Carolina Chocolate Drops' show at the Paradise Saturday night and the one at the Somerville Theatre back in January was the venue. But that difference meant the world.
"A woman told me before the show, 'You're taking me out of my comfort zone,' " said the CCDs' Rhiannon Giddens. " 'I usually wouldn't set foot in here.' " Then Giddens added, "I think it's a rather nice mix, don't you?"
The Somerville show — much like the one at the Paradise — had been a beauty. But the difference was in that mix. The Chocolate Drops are a folk-revival band, doing their own take on the Piedmont region's hillbilly tunes and old-time swing and reclaiming its African-American strains. This is acoustic fiddle-and-banjo music, and whatever its sources in house parties, church socials, hoedowns, and hootenannys — (and despite the unrelenting urgent swing and showmanship that the Chocolate Drops bring to it), these days, that means a sit-down concert.
Which would make me think that the move to the Paradise — home of a thousand electric-guitar/bass/drums rock bands — was the wrong move. But, said one of the folks working publicity for this co-presentation of the Paradise and World Music/CRASHarts, the CCDs had said that they wanted to play more clubs. So that's what they got.
The band knew what they were doing. The Somerville show was packed to near-sellout — they were warmly received by a seated audience that skewed older. The Paradise was mixed in ways unusual not only for the club but for Boston: racially and generationally, with an unusual number of mixed couples. Go figure. Oh, and add beer to that.
The crowd were standing and packed, and hooting and hollering from the beginning (ably warmed up by folk trio the David Wax Museum). When the band asked for sing-alongs, the crowd sang along. When they encouraged people to dance, they danced. The CCDs put the music in historical context, but maybe with a tad less explaining than they did at the Somerville, and with their requisite stagecraft and charisma. They played Noble Sissle's "Viper Mad" as a jug band (with rattling-bones percussion) but with "some of the jazz put back in." When they did the minstrel song "Boatman's Dance," Dom Flemons hung a snare drum around his neck and danced in place as he thwacked it with fast brushes. In his porkpie hat and suspendered trousers, he and the music easily conjured the riverboat life that had inspired it. When they played a Charleston, Giddens got up and Charlestoned. Flemons also had a tendency to get up and twirl his acoustic guitar around his head. And fiddler Justin Robinson beatboxed to their version of the Blu Cantrell hit "Hit 'Em Up Style" (in turn a hit for their own Nonesuch debut, Genuine Negro Jig). The playing all around was virtuoso, with Giddens and Robinson sharing the fiddle work.
The happy crowd were noisy, but they listened. They quieted down for the slow, mournful instrumental "Snowden's Jig," and when they cheered Giddens's fiddle solo, it was clear that — even if they didn't know what they were listening to — they knew what they were hearing.