Earlier today, Daniel Nigro, former lead singer of As Tall as Lions, released his new single "Hourglass," on his Facebook and Bandcamp page. The song's debut comes after months of waiting, rumors and endless speculation. What would it sound like? Solo acoustic? Something meatier and electric? Turns out the solo project, which uses the stage name Blocks, is something altogether different.
Self-described as minimalist crooning hip-hop, the song borrows shades of Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and Elbow to help make for a most rewarding listen. While initial reaction has been mixed, there's little about "Hourglass," that isn't enjoyable. Subdued, intricate and endlessly winsome it's as promising as anything Nigro has ever touched. The chorus is buoyant, bubbly and anchored by lingering melodicism. In the end, the song finds its way and the results are nothing short of indelible.
Those that enjoyed Nigro's reedy vocals are certain to find favor with Blocks. If "Hourglass,' is just the beginning, then it seems that Blocks is most assuredly destined for success.
In what has become a winter tradition, As Tall as Lions found its way inside a Long Island venue and performed a holiday concert in front of its hometown fans. For this year's installment it was the much-vaulted Westbury Theatre, and the group, fully cognizant of the theatre's influence on the Long island live music scene, performed one of the more memorable sets Long Island music fans might see all year. Beginning with an ethereal instrumental that segued into horn jam territory, the quartet, aided by longtime touring member Rob Parr and new addition Duncan Tootill veered off into a direction that was equal parts Britpop, experimental jazz and Brooklyn indie. From there, the boys dove into "Be Here Now," which featured a much more sedate final 90 seconds that proved to be more effective than the recorded version. Allowing vocalist Dan Nigro to tower over the muted sounds gave the song's stark lyrical content that much more gravity. "Circles," a hypnotic ode to mental instability followed and for the first time in their seven year history the band orchestrated a light show and video screen to accompany the song's concentric rhythm.
That the song was executed near flawlessly only heightened the spectacle of the performance. An airy Sunday Bloody Sunday intro gave way to a lilting trumpet from Estill and the band coasted into the forlorn lament "Go Easy." Once again adding a twinge of improvisation the song's final 90 minutes came across more raw and edgy, with angular guitars and propulsive drums marrying well with a dizzying spell of lighting effects. The song's conclusion featured an extended outro with Nigro and Parr providing three bars of falsetto. Though Dan had missed some notes in the final verse, the falsetto outro with Parr, made up for it. As Nigro sang into a megaphone, Parr took to the guitar and Tootill took to the keys. After initial trouble with a piano loop, Nigro paused and turned to the crowd, "Let the fiasco begin," he joked, before the band kicked into the velvety gloss of "Is This Tomorrow?"
The atmospheric ambience returned on a flawless rendition of "Into the Flood," which featured a rousing organ flourish and a sassy horn contribution from Tootill in the song's final two minutes that was both skillful and highly indelible. Once again, a cavalcade of dizzying lights added to the all-consuming nature of the band's performance. That procession of lights became the set's tipping point as bassist Julio Tavarez stepped to the microphone and asked the theatre's patrons to get out of their seats and stand up. That simple gesture paired well with the fan favorite "A Soft Hum," as the song's light disco bounce pushed the performance to another level. The bevy of excited fans was that much more ecstatic as the powerful anthem "Ghosts of York," followed. While the swelling movements in the chorus were certainly chill-inducing, two blazing solos from lead guitarist Saen Fitzgerald proved to be the song's most dynamic flourishes. "You guys feeling good again?," Nigro asked to the crowd, as a wash of whistles, hollering and applause ensued. "This is pretty great," he said humbly, "We're in a theatre. Wow, this is nice."
Building on the pristine execution of "Ghosts of York," the quartet tried their hand at the religious diatribe "In Case of Rapture," which featured 20 seconds of megaphone vocals from Nigro before pushing into the cut's first few verses. Though he didn't hit the high notes on the chorus and the guitars seemed to suffocate the chorus, the thumping movement of the rhythm section kept the song from failing. Nigro would not go quietly though and channeled his inner Mick Jagger, perhaps in an effort to urge on his bandmates. The tactic worked well and the song's final minute was both stirring and incredibly effective. In what Nigro called, "an attempt at being sexy," the group performed the piano-laden ballad "Milk and Honey," which featured a slightly funereal trumpet contribution from Tootill. In a move that was both puzzling and well-performed, Julio Tavarez took to the microphone to perform the spacey, nine-minute ballad "Duermete." Channeling both Prince and Jeff Buckley, Tavarez was in full voice, but the song's subdued and sleepy arrangement threatened to halt the set from its forward momentum. Thankfully, Nigro returned to the mic and the vocalists overlapped each other, adding a layer of sheen and gloss to a gossamer song that seemed better fit for the earlier part of the set.
And then, almost instantaneously, the band returned to the high peak of the set's middle half as they performed an inspired and horn-heavy rendition of "Stab City." A terse thank you followed before the band exited the stage to a standing ovation. As the ovation extended, the band returned to the stage for a bow, and then exited for the last time. In just 45 short minutes, the band had left their mark. And while headliner Envy on the Coast did their best to carve their own indelible impression, the night belonged to the Massapequa foursome. Even with frontman Nigro not at his best, the group's innate talents were abundantly evident. From the bombastic drums of Cliff Sarcona to the chill-inducing guitars from Saen Fitzgerald, As Tall as Lions did everything to make the night worth remembering. And in an era when Auto-Tune and studio wizardry seems to suffocate the creative process, its refreshing to know that one band is pushing the creative limits and delivering every time out. The music world is blessed to have these four gentleman and their performance at Westbury Theatre made that so very clear.
Editor's Note: In the seven years that this band has recorded music, I've seen them more than 30 times, in places as far north as Syracuse, NY and as far south as Marietta, GA and while this may not have been their best live set, the heavy use of lights and the video backdrop added a dimension that made the performance arena-ready. All their collective parts are at such a cohesive level, it feels criminal that this band has not had their due. It is not any stretch of the imagination to say that the group is now ready to take their set to bigger stages and into amphitheaters. While Nigro's vocals did miss in places, he was not exactly a slouch. Even when he's at 85 percent, he still manages to execute vocal lilts with his reedy timbre that other vocalists just simply cannot do. They are truly a treat, a treasure and something to cherish.
Not going to write this as formally as my Brand New review.
Saw ATAL last night. Dan and the boys were as solid as ever. Opened up with "Circles," then moved into "Breakers," "Ghosts of York," "Go Easy," "Stab City," "A Break A Pause," and ended with "In Case of Rapture."
"Circles" was solid, it's a truly fun live song and the band, as expected, has a fun time playing it. "Breakers" was as good as I have heard it, their was a definitive urgency and passion behind it I hadn't seen before. The last two minutes was just the band jamming, which was a true delight. "Ghosts of York" started off limp but really kicked in the final minute, aided by a trumpet. "Go Easy," featured more trumpet and some of Dan's best live vocals ever. Just truly astounding stuff. At present, this is by far my most favorite song of the new stuff and one of my all time fave ATAL songs. "Stab City" featured a trumpet intro, and a trumpet outro, and a longer trumpet interlude after the first chorus. "A Break A Pause," also turned into a jam in the last two minutes and went from this mid-tempo track of filler to this really sensational live song. "In Case of Rapture," was redonkulous. Though it sounded a bit thin in places, Dan stepped away from the mic and really put on his best arena-ready frontman imitation. It was very Liam Gallagher and it was just solid. The chorus is undeniable live and it has this whole Wembley Stadium vibe to it. I truly have a feeling this song will be the one that takes them farther than before.
In talking with the band I learned that they had a tour with Aqualung that got cancelled, after Matt Hales backed out. Boo on him for that. That would have gotten the band into some seriously large venues. I learned that their is a huge demand for them in Europe and that the band is hoping to film a "Music in High Places" DVD in Central America, at some point in the not so distant future.
In talks with both Dan and Cliff they feel incredibly psyched for the album's release and seem to really be confident that release will be the one that pushes them over the brink. All I can say to that is it's about damn time.
As for Dredg. Wow, total letdown. While I enjoyed the band's musicianship, the set was way, way, way too loud. Not only that Gavin appeared really distant, narcisstic and unapproachable. He even at one point said, "I'm sorry my on-stage banter sucks, I'm a musician, I don't do on-stage banter." It was really quite off-putting. The minimal fan interaction and his pompous strutting was just really unpleasant. The music was strong, if not a bit alienating. They had these pre-recorded voiceovers during the transitions of the songs and it was just bizzare to say the least. So hard to follow. After promising they were only going to play one more song, their guitar tech removed the drums from the stage and the drummer played piano for this really pretty instrumental. It was the only downbeat song of the night except for this one romantic ballad. For a band who really pushes the sonic envelope, a quieter numer would have been preferred. The whole band just seemed aloof, listless and egotistical. I talked with fans after the show and they all seemed to agree, the band was far better at HighLine Ballroom, last fall.
As for the Rx Bandits. I was impressed. Very professional, very polished and overall a really great set. For a band I was marginally into, I have to say, they really turned my head. This was solid, solid stuff, and I was impressed.