Before I begin, I have to give a shout-out and a big ‘THANK YOU’ to my good friend, Charlie P. from theMusic.fm.. Without him, I would not have gotten into this show, and I would not be able to tell you about it, so be sure to thank him to by reading his stuff at theMusic, and telling him how cool he is.
A band that has long been championed by big stars and gutter punks as the best act to see live has quite a bit of reputation to follow. Certainly, they have the albums and the songs to show that they got the chops that earned them that reputation. And yet, after mulling it over a few days, I can’t help but feel like something was missing from the Greenhornes live experience that I just didn’t get. What could it be. . . Hmm. . .
More after the jump.
This was only my second show at the famed Bowery Ballroom, ever. A few weeks ago (and also thanks to Charlie — again, be sure to show him some love), I caught Man or Astro Man? with openers Nightmare Waterfall (who sound exactly as that name describes), and the Dex Romweber Duo (who put out a great live album, cut by none other than Jack White, that I highly recommend picking up as well). Thus far, my own estimation of the Bowery Ballroom is that they only sign up acts where the openers are just as strong as the main talent. Nightmare Waterfall, for all their Animal Collective-style “psych” shenanigans, they got a cool sound that, in a year’s time, will be the darling of those who count the days until the next CMJ. Likewise, Dex Romweber Trio were, in a word, amazing. Straight forward rock and roll and rockabilly tunes that come straight from the heart, and with such masterful axe slingin’, even in the face of going out of tune several times over. And after all that, Man or Astro-Man? put on an incredible show befitting us B-culture aficionados. But I digress.
On November 30, the show opened with Fergus and Geronimo, a duo accompanied by three other friends who, for whatever reason, are not listed as being full band members. A shame, seeing as every one of these kids (they looked like fresh faced high school kids) are equally talented. Unfortunately, there was no merch to be found post-show, so I can’t really tell you what I heard, but they had a fresh talent show-style approach to garage rock: unabashedly experimenting as they go along, but with a knowledge of poppy-hooks and catchy rhythm. Not bad, and I hope to hear more from them soon. According to their MySpace, they’re Brooklyn locals, so who knows.
Next up came the Ettes, who are rising stars in their own right. Still, I had only heard so much up until this point, but I will say that they area whirlwind of activity in their own right, and quite a spectacle to behold. Their sound for this particular show had been dominated by the changes they’ve made in their third album, a darker, fuzzier affair than their previous efforts. Though lead singer/guitarist ‘Coco’ still sings with a kind of Wanda Jackson/Patsy Cline country-bent twang, she fronts a band whose sound is as dark and sexually aggressive that reminds me of the earlier stuff from the Kills. Though the guitars are fuzzed (strike that, make that guitar: it seems like there’s only one Big Muff to share between Coco and bassist ‘Jem,’), and they play mid-tempo blues-garage stompers, drummer ‘Poni’ is an unstoppable hurricane of hardcore punk drumming, sticking to playing the beat as fast as she can, as hard as she can. No frills? The speed IS the frill, and it kills.
Then comes the Greenhornes.
Prior to opening, we were treated to a surprise appearance by B.P. Fallon, rock photographer, writer, DJ, and soon to be rock star in his own right. We were treated to a recitation of his “Fame #9,” a spoken word piece meditating on the quality of fame, and its place in rock and roll. A dour note to begin on? Not at all! It was actually a surprisingly humorous, optimistic, and mystical-in-its-own-folky way that, maybe, one would expect before a Raconteurs performance, given their tendencies for romantic folk storytelling. It perhaps went over the crowd’s head given the near obscurity from which Mr. Fallon came, but it was a very moving moment.
NOW, out come the Greenhornes.
Opening with the new album’s first track, “Saying Goodbye,” they were on-point, and moving fast. This is no frills rock and roll, stripped of all the theatricality of, say, Jack Lawrence’s other band the Dead Weather. Instead, the Greenhornes perform at a level that make them truly the greatest bar band on the planet (take THAT, monsieur’s The Hold Steady!). They’re all virtuoso musicians who strip it down to as simple as they can get. While this makes them a terrific act to listen to, it doesn’t lend much in the way of visual performance. Even moving through classics like “Pattern Skies” and “Satisfy My Mind,” there’s little in the way of bragging musicianship to see, except from the sheer energy of drummer Patrick Keeler. Craig Fox, meanwhile, makes every mind-blowing solo and fill look so completely effortless, that his cool-near-dead demeanor is enviable. In fact, the only banter to the crowd came in ‘thank yous’ after one or two tracks, giving an air that this show would have gone on with or without the audience. The Greenhornes simply play when they feel like playing. Perhaps the highlight of the night came in the final song of the night, a cover of “Lost Woman,” which they play to note-perfection as if the Yardbirds are secretly jamming backstage, that is, until the extended jam that, even then, cuts down the individual moments (such as Keeler’s smooth and masterful drum solo) for the sake of the band’s time as a whole.
Grade: B-. Terrific openers but a so-so main act can really drag down the whole night. No matter how capable they are as musicians, there’s nothing wrong with a little visual flair in your playing, even if it comes emoting a little more during the performance. It’s a grade I begrudgingly give, because of just how perfect every song was played, but it’s what seems fair. I highly recommend seeing the Greenhornes (as well as the Ettes) if you intend on dancing through the set, as these are two bands who create a live band experience, without being the experience.
Note: There will be pics of the show, I promise. But that comes as soon as you tell Charlie P. that he’s awesome. GO GO GO.