A rare thing happened this past Wednesday night at Free Bird Live in Jacksonville Beach, FL. The opener, Nashville, TN's The Wild Feathers, performed a stronger set than the headliner, Grammy-and-Oscar-winner Ryan Bingham.
Whereas Bingham's set was brawny, blustery and drenched in sweat, The Wild Feathers performed a crisp, lucid and nearly flawless set of ten rootsy efforts. Utilizing three immensely gifted vocalists, the band allowed each one a shot at lead, as well as employing guitarist and pedal steel player Preston Wimberly for a barrel of four-part harmonies. With shades of The Band, The Eagles and The Rolling Stones circa 1975, there was little about the set that wasn't intriguing.
Firecrackers like "Backwoods Company" and the slowly rising closer "The Ceiling" had as much attitude as anything Bingham churned out. Moreover on the mid-tempo and melancholic moments, namely "Got it All Wrong," and "Love Me," there was something transcendent and timeless about every passing my second.
Being that all three vocalists (rhythm guitarist Taylor Burns, acoustic guitarist Ricky Young and bassist Joel King) have previous experience as frontmen, it was no surprise the set was as sterling as it was. Equal parts magnetic, awe-inspiring and wholly triumphant The Wild Feathers clearly proved they are on the precipice of something truly extraordinary. Since their signing with Warner Brothers, there have been whispers around the blogosphere that The Wild Feathers just might be the next great American band. While that notion still seems a bit too hard to swallow, there were enough moments in Wednesday's 40-minute set that gave ample amounts of credence to that very statement.
Imagine Dragons visited Orlando's House of Blues last Friday night in support of their chart-topping album Night Visions and in doing so cemented themselves as one of 2013's most promising new artists. With a stage setup surrounded by towering palm trees and a ten-foot tall drum, the group marched on stage and performed a percussion-heavy intro to a dizzying array of lights and airy guitars.
Opening with "Round and Round," a song not found on Night Visions (save for deluxe packages) the quintet made an impression from the get-go. The rhythm section was tight, the guitars were lively and impacting and Dan Reynolds had the swagger and charm of an industry veteran. And that small nugget should not be overlooked. Having only been at it for four years, Imagine Dragons appeared wise beyond their years in nearly every song played.
Whether it was the bombastic and chill-inducing "Radioactive," or the pleading "Bleeding Out," there was something crisp and well-executed about the entire 70 minute set. Arguably the finest moment in the set was when Reynold and Co. veered from the script. Standing on stage with just guitarist Wayne Sermon flanked on his left, Renyolds belted out the plaintive "Thirty Lives," an unreleased cut that is also going by the titles "Lay Me Down," and "Starlight." Ostensibly a plea for help, it is easily one of the band's finest songs to date and one can only hope it makes the cut on the next release.
On the contrary, the Aussie upstarts Atlas Genius performed a set that was well-executed and expertly performed, the only problem was the entire set lacked charisma. Whether the set falling short was the result of inexperience or just a band in a room far too big, the 45-minute set was unfortunately one giant letdown. Even the catchy single "Trojans," and the pensive "Back Seat," could not rescue this band from an underwhelming set of monotony sans charm.
Taking the stage before Atlas Genius was California's Nico Vega, whose frontwoman Aja Volkman is also the wife of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. Volkman is indeed a rare bird and has a strange sense of making her live set a piece of performance art. Though the set itself lacked the crispness and lucidity of seasoned veterans, there was a strangeness and a left-of-center verve that actually made the set worth watching. In many ways it felt like What Will Aja do next? But a live set should never be about a frontowman's antics.
In short, the night belonged to the Las Vegas pop-rockers and to them alone. It was a position they were more than willing to relish in. And if Friday night's set is any indication, they have all the talent and skill to remain a force on radio for years to come.
When it comes to live music, there is no greater joy than watching performers revel in what they do. No one wants to watch a band mail it in or look haggard and disinterested. And it is for this reason that Friday night's tour send-off show at Orlando's Backbooth, was such a treat for those attended. Ostensibly a happy trails shindig for local singer-songwriter Emily Kopp, the bill also included some of Kopp's closest friends: classmate Megan Alfredson, Los Angeles-by-way-of-Tampa singer-songwriter Connor Zwetsch and another Orlando native, Bracher Brown, the lone male on the bill.
Alfredson opened things off quietly and humbly. Though her set was mostly covers, she slammed home a wide swath of frothy cuts, including Paramore's "Misery Business," Willie Nelson's "Crazy," and a choicecover by Lil Wayne. What Alfredson lacked in stage presence she made up for with a belting voice. Though her hushed nature kept her mousey and unassuming, she certainly revealed a flair for vocal gymnastics and with more seasoning could certainly provide a spark to the meager singer-songwriter scene in Orlando.
Connor Zwetsch took to the stage with drummer Sandi Greco and a fireball of energy that was nothing if not illuminating, awe-inspiring and all-consuming. Anchored by powerful and deeply penetrating vocals, her (yes, Connor is a girl) set was easily one of the night's true highlights. Whether it was the racy opener "The Little Things." or her near-perfect cover of MGMT's "Electric Feel," Zwetsch performed a set wise beyond her years and revealed a talent that was both alarming and provocative. The one-time Tampa resident recently relocated to Los Angeles and the move seems to have done her well. There was a confidence and effortlessness from the opening seconds, that made her set so hypnotizing. Hard at work on her debut EP, Zwetsch is just a mere months away from shaking up the overcrowded California music scene.
Bracher Brown took to the stage with a three-piece band (all of whom are members of New Wave up-and-comers Stockholm) and armfuls of family and friends in the crowd. One would hope that the legions of kin would accentuate the rugged rocker's set. But alas, nothing did. Despite a buoyant cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl," little about Brown's set was memorable. While humble and hunky, his set lacked originality and seemed more concerned with brawn and braggadocio than brilliance and substance.
Headliner Kopp took to the stage shortly after 10 p.m. and barreled through an hour-long set that never wavered or sagged. Buttressed by an air-tight rhythm section and the zesty stylings of producer/lead guitarist Justin Beckler, Kopp never stopped smiling. Her songs, despite their maudlin subject matter, were nothing if not, affecting, poignant and undeniably potent. Whether it was the somber "When We Fight," the dark and stormy "Thicker Than Blood," or the grateful "Thank You," there's an assuredness and crispness in her songcraft that is both refreshing and revelatory.
While her debut EP veered more toward Colbie Caillat honey-pop, her new stuff seems more geared in indie folk and that change is something that should serve Kopp well going forward. Though much of her set was serious in nature, the 22-year-old was more than willing to add moments of levity. Whether it was a Britney Spears mashup with Alfredson, or a slightly comical version of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake," the sun-drenched set was a welcome tonic for a day marred in tragedy. And in an era, when so many artists mail it in and show little joy in performing, Friday night's set at the Backbooth elucidated exactly why live music is such a worthy endeavor.
What's the point of music if it doesn't challenge you? What's the point of art if it doesn't try to do something different?
The Cincinnati duo Bad Veins clearly understand both of these questions. While their music is hyper-caffeinated, hyper-aware indie pop, live on stage it is an entirely different matter. Utilizing an antiquated rotary phone, a reel-to-reel tape machine and a vintage organ, vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastian Schulz performed a master class in how to perform music live, last night at Orlando's The Social. Though the crowd was small ––– 50 max ––– the tandem played without pretense and never stopped bringing their A game.
Davis walked on stage first and introduced himself and an absent Schulz before diving into "Doubt," an ode to revisionist history. When the song finished, Schulz walked on stage and the band kicked it into high gear with the uber-infectious "Don't Run," a valentine about a failed relationship. Bad Veins songs are anchored in Schulz's measured drumming and Davis' sturdy croon.
One of the things that is most compelling about a vocalist is when his intonations and utterances feel sincere and genuine, as if the pain he sings about is something deeply felt. Davis seems to understand this and performs each song with a gravity that cannot be underestimated. Whether it was the halcyon heights of "Gold and Warm," the jittery fragility of "Falling Tide," or the chilly grandeur of "Child," there was something riveting about every second. The duo write pop songs brimming with hooks and nowhere was that more apparent than on the sugary "Dancing on TV," and the driving "The Lie." Davis is at his best when he's laying it all on the line and the prime examples of that were the starkly honest "Dry Out," the symphonic "If Then," and the carnal rocker "Afraid." By the time it was finished, the crowd of 50 were eager for an encore. Mission accomplished.
Opening the set was the St. Petersburg quartet Alexander and the Grapes, who performed a set of dense Americana not unlike Pedro the Lion. Whether it was the two-dimensional "Where I Go," which started off hazy and autumnal and segued into something dense and concussive; or the autobiographical "East Coast," about the rigors of life on the road, the entire set was crisp, confident and air tight. Vocalist Alex Charos has a dry vocal delivery that gives the songs more depth. His vocals mixed with Chase Swan's pedal steel were a perfect compliment and the songs themselves were deeply resonant. While the sonic landscape is definitely Americana, the quartet were not afraid to dive into deep, dark rhythms and mine for something more visceral.
Also on the bill was Stagnant Pools, a guitar drum-duo, who recently release their debut LP on Polyvinyl. Their seven-song set was ripe with moody guitar lines, pulsating drums and frontman Bryan Enas' drowsy vocals. While many of the songs blended together, standouts included the cylindrical "Illusions," and the crunchy "Solitude." The biggest problem with the set is that Enas is shy and taciturn and so he never came across as engaging or warm. Being that the bed are young and fresh out of college, there's plenty of reason to think they'll only develop further as a live band, as the years pass.
In the end, the night belonged to the Cincinnati duo Bad Veins. Polished, pristine and incredibly passionate, it was everything that ones hopes for in watching a live set. If this band is not on your radar yet, make a point to change that immediately.
Say what you want about Ryan Ross, but the man is doing what he wants, his way and on his terms. From the wreckage of his climactic fallout with Panic at the Disco, he has crafted The Young Veins, a bristling, sun-drenched ode to 1970s California pop. Appearing at Irving Plaza, in support of fellow Californians Rooney, Ross and his band mates seemed entirely comfortable and at ease on the big stage, barreling through a 40-minute set with nary a flaw. Though it was certainly sleepy and even a bit too stoic at times, inspired numbers like "Cape Town," and "Defiance" revealed a confidence and professionalism that was both uplifting and unexpected.
That's not to say there weren't limp moments. "Take a Vacation," and "Dangerous Blues," certainly left a lot to be desired, but thankfully Nick White's lilting keyboards added a density to nearly all of the 10 songs played. While the Take a Vacation songs were indeed engaging, the band sounded the most at ease on a sterling cover of Jackie DeShannon's "Walk in the Room." Perhaps even more impressive was Ross himself, who was humble, polite and completely without pretense. In many ways, watching him perform with his new band mates was refreshing. He seemed entirely in his element and never as if he was out to impress. He was just a singer belting out his stories.
While it may be an unpopular opinion, attitude and approach sometimes make all the difference and with The Young Veins everything about their presence feels mature, refined and deeply felt. Sure it might not be for everyone, but at least it's an honest reflection of the inherent musicians that they are.. In the end, can an audience really ask for much more?
I'm just going to freewrite this thing, so here goes:
With much delight and trepidation I visited the Music Hall of WIlliamsburg last night to see the Copeland farewell tour. Being that it was a Monday and the band has just performed to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom crowd the night before, I didn't expect a big crowd, but walking into the venue minutes before Deas Vail took the stage, I was in a word, shocked. At best, there were no more than 200 people in the room. This was their farewell tour. One of the most beloved bands of the early part of the decade. What the fucK?
Because the balcony at the Music Hall is a prime spot, I headed up there and watched Deas Vail perform a decent set. Having seen them perform at Irving Plaza with Mae and Jenny Owen Youngs in the fall, I was curious to see if they had adapted their stage presence at all.
The answer is a resounding N-O. While their live set is cohesive and air-tight, they are in a few words boring. Wes is a shy and introverted personality and he did very little to engage the crowd. The bassist (his name escapes me) is a live wire and he usually offers something fun or exciting, but he didn't really say much. They were polite, they were good, but the set trailed off at the end, and I found it quite boring.
That being said, I would have preferred five more Deas Vail songs than any one song from Person L, who took the stage next. Though its probably an unpopular opinion, there was little to nothing that was engaging about Person L. Sure Kenny was polite, sincere and seemed to very much enjoy what he was doing, but his incessant spastic freakouts on guitar and the band's riff-driven, classic-rock inspired jams were concussive, dizzying and borderline annoying. He played an old song, I presume off of the Person L debut and that was pretty downbeat and a welcome respite, but nothing else was really worth mentioning. He added an auxiliary percussion player, which added a cool vibe to the songs, but even that wasn't much to salvage what turned into a piercing ear-assault.
I Can Make a Mess was next and was off the charts incredible. I confess I've never seen Ace or TEN before, so this was something new for me. It was in a word spellbinding. For starters, the stage set-up was spartan. His sister Nora on keys, his good friend Jose on drums and himself on guitar (and lots of pedals). No bass, no real bells and whistles. Just them three and his songs. He played two new songs off of his upcoming disc, both of which were splendid. I believe one was about his grandfather and expanded on a song about his grandfather on the band's debut. He also played a song written for his newborn child, and then performed a good bit from the previous record, including crowd favorite, "Timshel." As solid as his live set was (and it was, the drums were spot-on, and the keys/backing vocals were the set's apex), Ace himself came across as a true champion. Self-deprecating, genial and very much an everyman, he had a profound simplicity in both his manner and his words that was hard to ignore. It was quite simply, captivating.
Copeland took the stage at 10:05, which was technically 10 minutes early. The band opened up with "Take Care," and had a bristling, guitar-driven swagger that I had not seen from the band in any of the four previous times I have seen them. Even a slower, midtempo song like "Careful Now," had a dense, layered arrangement that made the entire thing much more sonically heavy and moving than I expected. Marsh admitted that he was having throat problems and perhaps that very reason was why the show seemed that much more thick. After three songs on the guitar, he walked over to his trademark and performed "Chin Up, " which was darn near flawless. Piggybacking on that was a near-perfect "The Grey Man." They threw in the surprising choice "Coffee," and backed it up with "Brightest," both of which received an outburst of applause. After an enthralling version of "Eat, Sleep, Repeat," Marsh disrupted the set to address a heckler. The exchange went as follows:
Marsh to crowd: "Who keeps saying that?"
SIlence. Marsh to crowd, "Does anyone know who keeps saying that?"
Silence Marsh: "Seriously, who keeps saying that?"
A faint voice screams, "Jesus!!!!" Marsh: "Why are you saying that? Why? Why would you say that here? At a rock concert?"
A faint voice: "But Jesus loves you." Marsh: "I appreciate the love, but I don't think that's the kind of place for that. It sounds to me like you're trying to harass us." Long pause. "Well, whatever. This is for you, buddy."
The band then segued into "The Suitcase Song," before Marsh stepped away from the piano and took to the guitar for the set's final four songs. After performing "Control Freak," he stopped and addressed the crowd once again.
Marsh: "Thank you for all of these requests, but does anyone have any legitimate concerns or questions?"
Random things are shouted. Marsh: "What's my favorite song? <short pause> "Probably, God Only Knows."
Crowd goes silent. Marsh: "Ya know, the Beach Boys song."
Crowd stays quiet. Marsh: "Okay, so anything else?"
Crowd asks what he had for dinner. Marsh: "I went to that restaurant called Sea, right up the street. Apparently it was featured in Garden State." Intermittent chatter from the crowd. "Ehhh, it was okay. Not that great."
And then, as if cognizant of just how irritating they were being, the crowd went silent and the band resumed playing. Of the final three songs played, "No One Really Wins," was by far the most memorable, as the crowd (by now, close to 350-400) went absolutely bonkers.
And it was in that moment, that the very essence of Copeland came brimming to the surface. That sheer sense of glee from everyone in attendance, those ever-present smiles. Those are the things that Copeland has given to all those that appreciate them. More so than the ruminative lyrics, the endless amounts of pondering, it was the smiles. Few people can talk about Copeland without beaming. That will be the band's legacy.
After closing with "California," the band exited the stage, before returning for a one-song encore of "You Have My Attention." Having heard this song at every Copeland performance to date, I can honestly say it has never sounded better. Being that Marsh had limited vocal capabilities, I am still at this very moment awed by how much held those final two notes towards the song's conclusion. And it was then in that moment that I knew leaving the venue was going to be difficult.
In just eight short years this band managed to say and do so much and it feels disappointing to know that it is coming to an end and that we as listeners have to in some ways let go of that. Sure the records will always be there and the songs will always fill our craniums, but that live experience, that inherent joy that swept across the nightclub when "No One Really Wins," started. There won't ever be that quiet hush and rapt attention and the hordes of smartphone-wielding fans that attempted to document the brief two minutes of "Fireflies."
All that is gone. And so we must wait. What will happen next? Will Marsh produce? Record a solo project? What will Laurenson do? What will become of these talents? This veritable backbone that had shaped the Copeland sound for the better part of the last nine years.
Managed to catch the much talked about Brand New show at Nassau Coliseum this past weekend. It was a neat show. Started off at the side stage seeing Robbers acoustic. I had seen them play at Music Hall of Williamsburg while opening for Brand New (see review of that show in an August entry on this blog) and have to say they've gotten better. I think I like them better acoustic. The richness of the lead vocalist's voice is really front and center and that helps. He has a nice timbre to it and it's a big addition to their sound.
Headed over to the main stage to see Kevin Devine. He was phenomenal. Totally consumed the main stage and acted like he totally deserved to be there. An absolutely stellar performance and easily the best show he's put on in the eight or nine times I've seen him. His set list was:
1. Just Stay
3. Another Bag of Bones
4. Cotton Crush
5. Brother's Blood
Another song might have been played, but I can't think right now.
Shortly thereafter K. Dev, Manchester Orchestra took the stage and really put on an absolutely impressive show. I've always contended that the band doesn't need to sound as loud as they do, but on a big stage like this, the tactic worked well. While I am not a fan of much of their repertoire, I do enjoy "Shake it Out," "I Can Feel a Hot One," and "I've Got Friends." That being said, I've never gotten into I'm Like a Virgin, Losing a Child and if that makes me a minority on this site, so be it. My opinions aside it was probably the best set of the night. They were cohesive, crisp, dense, polished, rich, just very strong. Songs played included: "Shake It Out," "I've Got Friends," and "I'm Like a Virgin, Losing a Child." The best song of the night was probably, "Where Have You Been," which ended the set and featured Kevin Devine on backing vocals. It also went into seven or eight minute territory and just roared until its finish. The band's biggest asset is its drummer who absolutely destroys his kit and is one of the more ferocious and awe-inspiring drummers to watch. I'm still not sure what Chris ____ adds to the band and his weirdness and strange gestures on stage is just kind of disturbing. And for as much as may dislike them, its hard to argue with Andy Hull's lyrics, which are as strong as anybody out there today. I also will never understand why he chooses to be so unkempt and grizzly. It's really just disturbing.
Thrice was next and I just could not get into it. They played the opening and closing song off of Beggars and those were by far the best of the night. They also played two songs from The Artist in the Ambulance, one song off of Vheissu and one off of The Alchemy Index. It was a decent set, but all of it felt so dated. Listening to them just sounds like listening to any average scene band. There was not much that separated them from the pack and they seemed quite ho-hum and average to me.
Glassjaw was next and while its not my thing by any stretch, Daryl Palumbo commands attention, is an incredibly charismatic and engaging performer and really knows how to work his way through a non-screaming song (i.e. "Ape Dos Mil," which was executed perfectly). They played about 30 minutes, much like the rest of the bands and left to an absolutely thunderous ovation.
As for Brand New. Kinda interesting set. No encore, no longer than an hour, just a quick set with little talking. They had a screen with black-and-white images during most of their songs and it was a neat tactic that I kinda enjoyed. It wasn't the best I've heard them. Of all the songs played, "Limousine," and "You Stole," were two of the best. I also thought "Luca," was strong. Hadn't heard that song in quite awhile. I really loved "Welcome to Bangkok," opening up and thought it was the best version I've heard of it. Both "At The Bottom," and "Bought a Bride," were really tight. I mean hands down stellar. Jesse pushed his vocals and basically growled and yowled through many verses and refrains that didn't really need such forced intonations. He's at his best when he's even-keel and smooth. He was far from that during the duration of the set. Why he chooses to do this, I'll never know. The set list is as follows. There may be one or two wrong, so forgive me for that. By memory, this is how I remember it going down
1. Welcome to Bangkok
3. You Wont Know
4. Okay I Believe You...But My Tommy Gun Dont
5. Sic Tranit Gloria...Glory Fades
9. Sowing Season
10. You Stole
12. The Archers Bows Have Broken
13. Jesus Christ
14. Bought a Bride
15. At the Bottom
16. Play Crack the Sky
17. Seventy Times Seven
The Use Your Sole Tour, sponsored by TOMS Shoes, visited New York City's Nokia Theatre last night. Headliners Hanson were supported by New Jersey's Steel Train and Californians HelloGoodbye and Sherwood.
San Luis Obispo's Sherwood took the stage first, tossing beachballs into the crowd. Frontman Nate Henry ditched his standard bass in favor of an acoustic guitar and the sextet dove into the mid-tempo cut "Not Gonna Love," a decidedly weak and ho-hum opener as far as set openers go. Though the execution was precise, the entire vibe was way too calm from the onset. While that's certainly not a horrible thing, it's not exactly what one expects from an opener. Henry returned to his bass on "You Are," which featured inspired keyboard contributions from Mikey Leibovich. Unfortunately, the guitars took a backseat to Henry's vocals, whose confidence and near-flawless delivery anchored the song from start to finish. In many ways, had he not been front and center, this band would have come across as horribly ordinary and mildly boring.
After two decidedly restrained songs, the Californians jumped into "Song In My Head," allowing the band a chance to step away from their placidity. From the first note, their execution felt more visceral, more confident, more polished and the most complete of any song thus far. Members of Steel Train ambled onto the stage, joined by Sherwood's significant others for the cerebral and subdued, "Make It Through," a midtempo yarn with a warm, nighttime ambiance.
Returning to the music, Henry guided the band into "For the Longest Time," a run-of-the-mill power-pop song that sounded incredibly rehearsed, calculated and horribly average. Had Henry not held a note for 30-plus seconds towards the song's finish, nothing about the song would have stood out. The lackluster set ended with the emotive yearning of "Maybe This Time," which was one of the set's few highlights. Exiting the stage in under 30 minutes, the band was effusive in praising the crowd, but little about the set was worthy of effuse praise. From the moment they walked on stage, the band appeared tired, uninspired and rather rudimentary. For a band who has made a killing with their frenzied live shows, the entire set was far too disappointing, and did little to quell the rumors about the band's imminent demise.
New Jersey's Steel Train took to the stage next and performed a set of six fuzzy, drug-induced jams. Opening with new song "Last Generation of Hope," vocalist Jack Antonoff was a manic fireball of energy and his bouncy presence was both eye-opening and thought-provoking. Though the song's vocal work left a lot to be desired, the guitar-driven vessel was amiable and hopeful. On the funk-inspired "Firecracker," he came across as overly dramatic, pretentious and horribly overconfident. Aided by members of HelloGoodbye, "Firecracker," was musically quite lively, searing and dripping with energy. The anxiety-ridden "Kill Monsters in Rain," began with a smoky blues riff and more frenetic gyrations from Antonoff. Once again the song lacked a serious chorus, and he seemed to make up for that with his over-the-top movements, appearing more like a whirling dervish than that of a lead singer. An acapella version of "The Road Song," was the set's high water mark, as the song was off-the-cuff, unexpected and terrifically executed. The post 9/11 confusion of "I Feel Weird," marked the band's last song of the night, and even included an attempt at Abba's "Mamma Mia," that drifted towards the end, but began rather precisely. Borrowing a few guitar lines from British band James, Steel Train proved to be an excitable bunch, but a bit too melodramatic. After the uninspired Sherwood set, the energy was certainly a welcome addition, but one couldn't help but wonder, why does this band have to be this arrogant? More the point, does it have to be this dramatic?
After a 30-minute set break, Long Beach, CA's Hellogoodbye took the stage completely without pretense or snobbery. Their self-deprecating, slightly awkward on-stage persona made for one of the more entertaining and enjoyable sets this reviewer has seen all year. Beginning with the ukelele-fueled "When We First Met," vocalist Forrest Kline sounded overmatched and slightly askew, but was complimented by a supple rhythm section and a rolling trombone towards the song's latter half. The band pushed on into "All Time Lows," and fan-favorite "Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn," and the latter proved to be the point at which the California quintet dusted off the cob webs and hit their stride.
A twee mandolin began the rollicking "Baby, it's Fact," which had a carefree simplicity that was easy-going, sunny and sprite. Danny Flynn's trombone contributions once again aided a rather simple and conventional pop ditty. After a group of overexcited teenagers tried to start a pit, Kline urged the crowd to, "start a hug circle, or begin a tickle fight," and heeding his own advice, did just that with his fellow band members, firstly going after guitarist Andrew Richards, and then after keyboard player Joseph Marro, as the band stumbled into "Call and Return," which proved to be more of an exercise in silliness than sterling pop execution. Another new song, the caffeinated and punchy, "You Sleep Alone," followed and it proved to be one of the better songs of the set. When the song finished, Kline encouraged the crowd to boo effusively, noting that, "It's still a work in progress." The hilarious gesture only proved the point that nothing about the set was conventional, expected or grounded.
The pensive and placid "Dear Jamie, Sincerely Me," elicited a thunderous roar from the crowd and allowed the group to display their musical muscle. An attempt to bring an overzealous fan onstage turned to disaster when security demanded the denizen return to his place in the crowd. Admitting that the maneuver was probably a bit foolish, Kline gleefully admitted, "Well, we told you it would get weird." Bassist Travis Head plugged the band's DJ set at Angels and Kings later that night, to which Kline added, "Yep, I'll be there. Playing Scrabble and drinking Shirley Temples. Should be fun. I hope to see you there."
The sentimental "Oh It Is Love," pushed the crowd into a tizzy, before the quintet tried two new songs. The first, "Not The Same," was earnest and well-worn, revealing that of all the songs perhaps this is one the band has most expertly. Beginning with Kline on ukelele, the song is ostensibly a slow-moving ballad that takes off towards the two-minute mark. Keyboard player Marro took to the acoustic guitar for the jittery and jumpy "Follow You," easily the band's best song of the night. Confident, mature and vocally tender, "Follow You," was the sound of a band in full control and finding their stride.
A mandolin and melodica framed the romance ballad, "Bonnie Taylor Shakedown 2K1," a song Kline dedicated to his fiancee and to Colorado balloon boy Falcon Heene. While the band's intentions were strong, it was the only point in the set where perhaps their joking antics got the best of them. Not one of the band member's seemed to know in which direction the song was headed and seemed puzzled about what notes to play. For a band who was a co-headliner, the horribly amateurish display was both disappointing and unprofessional. As if to atone for going astray, the band closed out their set with "Here (In Your Arms)," which set the room ablaze with its soaring chorus and found the entire room in an absolute lather.
Two of the best roots-rock albums released this year are Will Hoge's The Wreckage and Bronze Radio Return's Old Time Speaker, and both visited New York City this past weekend.
Appearing last Thursday at the Bowery Ballroom Will Hoge and his three-piece band (drummer Sigurdur Birkis, bassist Adam Beard and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Devin Malone) performed a sterling set of 20 lullabies and rockers. Though he drew on a handful of songs from new album The Wreckage, Hoge also tackled much of his back catalog, including songs from 2001's Blackbird on a Lonely Wire ("Not That Cool," "Secondhand Heart," "Someone Else's Baby") as well as 2000's Carousel ("Ms. Williams"). This surprising tactic was not lost on the crowd, who seemed to sing along to each song from the minute Hoge stepped on the stage.
Highlights of the night included the sparse "The Wreckage," the sweetly affecting "Lover Tonight," and the forlorn heartache of "Dirty Little War," all three featuring Hoge an acoustic guitar and seated in a foldable chair. He even tackled the piano on "Too Late Too Soon," the closer off of The Wreckage, but the tactic appeared to be a misstep as the Nashville songwriter was buried at the back of the stage. Save for that one fumble, there was little about the set that was disappointing. Rousing rockers "Long Gone," and "Highway Wings," featured the same amount of tenacity as fiery cuts "Sex, Lies and Money," and "Better Off Now That You're Gone."
It's been well-documented since his major label debut Blackbird on a Lonely Wire, that Hoge bears the torch of heartland rock, passed on from the likes of Petty and Springsteen. A performer who always puts his all into every performance, his frenetic intensity is very much akin to Springsteen and his laid-back charm very reminiscent of Petty, making for two most accurate comparisons. While his studio performances are always engaging, there are few things as uplifting as seeing Hoge in concert. Ever charismatic Hoge charmed the crowd detailing his love of his New York; his appreciation to his newfound family at Rykodisc, and defended his Southern drawl and propensity to babble in between songs. Armed with gratitude, sincerity and humility, he was the consummate gentleman and was never pretentious or disaffected. Those three things, combined with contributions from Burkis, Ballard and Malone, made for one of the more spectacular sets of heartland rock this reviewer has seen in the past few years.
Three days later, Hartford, CT's Bronze Radio Return performed an hour-long set of Midwestern roots-rock, culled mostly from their album Old Time Speaker. Beginning with the groove-rock of "Lo-Fi," the band then dipped into 2007's "Shade Tonight." Expanding on the original version, the song featured an extended harmonica solo by Craig Struble, two organ flourishes from Matt Warner and a fiery guitar solo from Patrick Fetkowitz. Building on that momentum came the cheery pop of "Digital Love," with its radio-ready chorus and Henderson's smooth vocals. Never once out of synch, and utterly flawless, the Nutmeg sextet moved effortlessly from song to song.
The real apex of the set was the bouncy "It's Okay Now," which featured a 90 second five-drum assault, with each member banging various drums, cymbals and snares. The percussive intro was an effective and skilled tactic that proved the band's spontaneity and ability to deviate from the script. A dip back into another old song proved once again to be a chance for the band to showcase their inherent ability to jam. A request from the 50 plus fans in attendance to play one more song, brought the band out on stage for their country-pop sendup "Pullin' On The Reins," providing an effective punctuation mark on an overwhelmingly entertaining set of easy-to-please roots rock.
Though their name still remains below the surface, their set at the Mercury Lounge revealed that they are most certainly a band to contend with in the years to come. Armed with maturity beyond their years, Bronze Radio Return are truly on the precipice of something great.
I managed to catch the 90s rock band Better Than Ezra at Raleigh's Downtown Live this past weekend. Prior to the event, they had remained one of my favorite bands I had yet to see live. Touring in support of their seventh album Paper Empire, the band opened up with "Turn Off The Bright Lights," before kicking into "Good." Lead singer Kevin Griffin was jovial and light-hearted and never once took himself too seriously. Bassist Tom Drummond also shared the spotlight as he relentlessly thanked the crowd for standing out in the rain to enjoy their set. New drummer Michael Jerome was a beast behind the kit and really adds a new dimension to the band. Classic songs like "Desperately Wanting" and "R3wind" were terrific and the Rolling Stones-send up "Juicy," was an absolute crowd-pleaser. "Misunderstood" and "Extra Ordinary," both off their 2002 effort Closer were two of the more memorable ones from the night and the two newest songs, "Just One Day," and "All In," both revealed a penchant for pop prettiness. Though "At the Stars," was never played, "A Lifetime," and new single "Absolutely Still," were and both posssessed a cutting clarity and panache that was a treat to watch. The trio came on for an encore and played two more from Paper Empire before finishing off with the driving rocker "In the Blood," which featured parts of Blur's "Song 2." All in all the band displayed a firm affinity for pleasing the crowd while also maintaining the components of strong musicianship. Griffin, a much sought-after songwriter has already attached his names to many Billboard hits, has a warm, comedic charisma that is undeniable. Now 20 years into leading his trio, there seem to be little reason to think they're slowing down. Few if any know how to pen a pop hit like him. And Saturday night's show at Moore Square in Raleigh proved exactly that. The setlist can be found here.
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.
Sounds of Buzz Feature: Brand New, Music Hall of Williamsburg, July 11, 2009
Returning to a New York stage for their first headlining show in more than a year, Long Island's Brand New performed a set of 20 pristine, mistake-free songs last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Blending work from all three of their albums, and even a few off of their upcoming album Daisy, the quintet effortlessly entertained the sold-out crowd, sometimes without even moving so much as a muscle. For the performance's first three songs, lead singer Jesse Lacey appeared content to stand behind the microphone and play his guitar, barely moving. While guitarist Vin Accardi cavorted about and drummer Brian Lane smashed the drums Lacey remained steely and calm. Opening up with, "Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't" the quintet moved through the song in a very workmanlike fashion, with Lacey's vocals sounding yelpy and throaty.
Though it wasn't the most crisp of openings, the fans seemed completely unaware as they bobbed along with fingers in the air. The band segued into "Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades," another methodical and ho-hum performance that seemed to serve more as a warm up then that of precision. When the band kicked into third song "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows," they seemed completely comfortable, harnessing the chorus' unbridled energy in a way that allowed the song to seem as incredibly fresh and recent as it has ever been. In those four brief minutes, the mood changed and all five seemed content to step away from their warmup and fully embrace the night ahead of them. This was most evident, when the band jumped into "The Shower Scene." Feeding off the band's energy, the entire venue became electric, and the quintet themselves willed the live set in a new direction: more urgent, less controlled, more spontaneous, less scripted.
That sense of urgency carried through into the desperate, "Jaws Theme Swimming," and the vengeful "Mix Tape." Normally known for barely cracking a smile, Lacey seemed to let go during seventh song, "Seventy Times Seven," as he bopped his head from side to side and appeared almost slaphappy as the band carved their way through the jittery verses. The capacity crowd's manic response easily made "Seventy Times Seven," one of the night's most memorable numbers. Before introducing new song "Bought a Bride," Lacey humbly deflected any positive attention centered around the band's new album. "It's just another album, it may be good, it may be bad, but it's really just another album. It's not that big a deal."
As for the song itself, the vocal hook on the refrain is as vocally strong as anything the band has ever released and while the verses can be a bit shouty, the layered effect of the drums, guitar and bass are the sign of marked progress and can be argued that the song may be one of the band's finest to date. On the heels of "Bride," came the shrieky "Gasoline," which possessed a raw, visceral quality that was prone to spastic freakouts and seemed slightly rushed. After promising the crowd, "One more new song, if you're good," he paused to extend his gratitude to the fans, venue, friends and family, admitting how fortunate they were to be able to do such a thing for a living.
For a band who constantly receive cheap shots for being withdrawn, arrogant and selfish, the few moments of humility were a breath of fresh air and offered a few moments of candor that some bands seem to take for granted. They then pushed on into the propulsive, "Sowing Season," which seemed to kickstart the set to a third and more frenetic level. When it ended, all five seemed to pause and take one big collective sigh, soaking up the moment and pausing to reflect on the night itself. Starting back up again, the band delicately pierced their way through "Archers," with Lacey wearing a smile throughout and guitarist Vin Accardi continuing his habit of flailing about, as if the night itself was his very last. After an overeager male fan began shouting at bassist Garrett Tierney to remove his shirt, the entire venue erupted into laughter, and the band themselves even stopped to join in as well. The few moments of hilarity induced smiles all around and allowed the band to relax, before diving into the pensive, "Jesus Christ."
Announcing that the new album was full of "lots of quiet, loud, quiet, loud," Lacey and crew premiered another new song, which at present remains untitled. The mid-tempo yarn begins with a hollow introduction centered around Brian Lane's percussive drums and Lacey's smoky vocals. The tempo and vibe seems half-country, half-Cobain. As soon as it finished, Lacey paused once again to thank the crowd, admitting, "This is truly fantastic. It's fun to be a band again and play a night like this. This was really great. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you."
The set ended with the fiery "Guernica," the schizophrenic "Degausser," and the powerhouse "You Won't Know," which was explosive and highly memorable, highlighted by guitarist Vin Accardi leaning his back to the crowd and playing the last few chords on his back. Drummer Lane, bassist Tierney and guitarist Derrick Sherman left the stage, leaving Lacey and Accardi on their own to sing "Play Crack the Sky." And then perhaps, most fittingly, Lacey stood on stage all by his lonesome and serenaded the crowd with the forever young anthem "Soco Amaretto Lime."
Though hearing the 31-year-old Lacey sing, "We're gonna stay 18 forever," was a bit comical, the song's intentions were not lost on the crowd, who shouted the chorus as if their own survival depended on it. Humbled by the gesture, Lacey paused to smile and saluted the crowd, bending down to fans and offering high-fives before exiting the stage.
Having gone on record as admitting that the new album has a few songs that "are about something coming to a close, or knowing when it's time to put something away and move on," the concert in Williamsburg was a fresh reminder that if the band's angling towards a conclusion, it would certainly be met with derision by many. Now nine years into a vaulted career, Brand New seems as important and as topical as ever, and if 550 feverish hometown fans weren't enough indication, then who knows what is?