Monday, October 11, 2010
The Walkmen: photo by Michael Ligon
The various spectrums of rock n' roll were on display this past Saturday night with a trio of acts that were bound to please everyone. It would only take one look at the MySpace URL of first opener Blood Feathers to guess what they specialized in. The Philly outfit were indeed a rock n' roll band of the highest degree, pumping out hard-rocking, r n' b, rockabilly-tinged numbers. Taking a reverse take on The Ramones whose members each took on Ramone as their last name, Blood Feathers' members utilize their each individual last names but take Feather as their first name. Greaser-quaffed lead vocalist Feather Mills did a fine job on lead vocals, but the instrumentation was where it was as the band excelled with with effective drumming, crunchy guitars and the occasional grimy tenor sax. I could have imagined a good rock n' roll dance party going on but the sparse crowd onhand was a little too insecure to break out of their shells.
Next up were Alabama artist AA Bondy (born Auguste Arthur Bondy), one of the buzz acts of this year's NXNE. Buzz-worthy he may have been, but I'd never even attempted to sample their wares before the show, which really is my bad. With two albums already to his name and aprior history with a previous band(Verbena) back in the 1990's according to Wikipedia, I'm way behind the curve, but feel quite fortunate to have caught this set. In stark contrast to the sparse crowd onhand for Blood Feathers, the crowd was decidely more focused on crowding the front of the stage for AA Bondy's set. Unaware that Bondy himself and his two band members(drummer & bassist) were actually setting up their own gear onstage, I was surprised when the trio subtly took to their instruments, the lights dimmed as it would remain for the entirety of the set(frustrating photographers I'm sure) and went on to knock my socks off. There was a Southern strain to Bondy's supple melodies and vocals, while the band churned out the instrumentation in a decidely easy tempo, giving much of the material a dark tone. On the other hand, the band also dabblesd in a bit of dissonant experimentation, reminding me a bit of Sonic Youth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco, as Bondy at times held up his guitar to the amp as it resonated with harsher tones. But in the end it was the song's that really connected and I'll be looking forward to seeing Mr. Bondy either in solo or band form whenever he comes back to town.
The last time NYC's The Walkmen played in town was in July 2009 at Lee's Palace, not the first time I'd seen the band live but it was a show I don't have any specific memories of but generally remember it being satisfying but no more no less. For a band who in my opinion had released one of the finest rock n' roll singles("The Rat") of the last decade, of the few times I've seen them live I don't recall their live sets being consistently scintillating, although I would say that this most current set was their most successful set to me yet. On the tour jaunt for their most recent album Lisbon, there was obvious excitement for the group. The band dressed in dark slacks and white button-up shirts, with a member or two wearing a jacket or blazer, oozed NYC cool without looking ridicously hipster-ish, but the visual aesthetics aside, the focus was really on the music.
There was a balanced approach to the setlist overall. The vibe of the night ranged from skeletal rhythmic numbers like "Blue As Your Blood", to churning rockers like "Victory" and "In The New Year", crooning atmospheric numbers like "Donde Esta La Playa" and "Canadian Girl", and perhaps the band's bread and butter, explosive numbers like "Angela Surf City" and "The Rat". So the organ-fueled and guitar drenched numbers were augmented by drummer Matt Barrick who was particularly solid, occasionally embellishing his rhythms with a shaker or triangle. I still thought pockets of the crowd were frustratingly tame. However, there was definitely some energy dispersed through the crowd and the crowd was indeed vocal for their want for an encore which the band granted first with mellower tune "New Country" performed with just lead guitarist Paul Maroon and Hamilton on vocals, then launching into the explosive "The Rat" which could have satisfyingly ended the night there, but the band ended the night on one more tune. LIke the female concert attendee vocally shouting out her song request, I was hoping they'd also play the mariachi-influenced "Louisiana" [an influence that I noticed more subtly on a few of their other songs] but no dice. The song's probably their next big 'hit' next to "The Rat" so I only thought they'd have played it. All I can say is that like the band's varied sounding ouvre, The Walkmen are full of surprises.
Photos: The Walkmen, AA Bondy @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (October 9, 2010)
MySpace: Blood Feathers
MySpace: AA Bondy
MySpace: The Walkmen