July 18, 2010

Heartless Bastards/ The Builders and the Butchers/ Peter Wolf Crier - July 15, 2010

Peter Wolf Crier
I do not recall a time before the White Stripes when a drummer and guitarist would play together without a bassist. In theory, keyboard and drums have always been acceptable because the left hand handles the bass register. But there was a time, not too long ago, when guitar and drums just wasn't done. I guess the paradigm is changing because Peter Wolf Crier is the second drum and guitar duo that I have seen in concert. The first was An Horse.

Peter Wolf Crier is duo out of Minnesota consisting of guitarist /vocalist Peter Pisano & drummer Brian Moen. From the moment they got on stage til the end of their set, both men were high energy. Pisano sat in a chair for most of his performance, getting up to only change guitars. But even though he sat, he moved like a hyper-active grammar school kid with a guitar in his hand.

Moen's demeanor seemed calm through most of the set, even though his drumming was hard hitting. Moen used his entire kit, even the outside enamel of his kick drum to tap on. It's a scary comparison but he looks like Stanley Tucci's character in the film "The Lovely Bones." (Tucci plays a pedophile dressed like an ordinary 70's nerd).

Both Pisano and Moen are strong musicians, which is the main reason they won over the audience. But personally, I'm on the fence. I liked Pisano's melodies and the way he used a loop pedal to create his own background vocals. Emotionally, the music had quite a few good moments. However, the vocals were hard to decipher through the effects which made me feel as if I were listening to Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. I don't mind processed undefinable lyrics except Peter Wolf Criers' songs have a flavor that is more indie country and blues than esoteric.

Peter Wolf Crier has been touring quite a bit.  Perhaps, I will see them again sometime in the future from a different perspective and be a little more acquainted with their music

The Builders and The Butchers
I listened to The Builders and The Butchers two days before going to the show and knew I was going to like them. Their music is classified as folk rock but with an emphasis on the latter, they are more like folk punk. As I watched the band, it was apparent to me that even though singer and guitarist Ryan Sollee's lyrics were dark, the band's music was high energy and fun.

For most of the show, Brandon Hafer and Ray Rude stayed on percussion. The two more or less seemed like the everything guys. There were several songs when either Hafer or Rude would come out from behind the drums to play a part on another instrument, such as the melodica, and then go back to dueling on drums. Part of what often made The Builders and The Butchers exciting was watching the two guys pounding side by side on the drums.

In the beginning of the set, Sollee put down what looked like a hard Samsonite suitcase. He later opened it and took out different kinds of old fashioned megaphones which he used a few times during the set. It seems like the megaphones were used for visual affect because they didn't seem to change the sound of Sollee's voice. Sollee has a tenor nasal voice with a lot of vibrato. There were many times when his voice fluctuated in and out of pitch. However, in the context of the bands sound, Sollee's vocals worked really well, which is basically all that matters.

The band started their set with the very speedy “Devils Town.” The song had funky stops that made the audience want to bop along.  It has the same progression as Bowie's “Jean Genie,” which made me think that they might consider it for a future meshup. The devil and Jean Genet, it works for me.

For the second song the band brought out violinist Zy O.Lyn. Lyn was there to play with the Heartless Bastards after appearing on their CD “The Mountain.” For the Builders' “Bottom of the Lake,” it's was more appropriate to think of Lyn as a “fiddle player.” The song was folk but had a heavy backbeat.

The band followed up with “It Came From The Sea” which sounded like a jig in 6/8 time. It was one of those times when Hafner came down stage to play the melodica and then went back behind the drums. Following suite, Rude did the same thing for the next song only he drifted off and back to the side piano setup.

The 5th song, was the first time I noticed Harvey Tumbleson switch from mandolin to banjo. I enjoyed his playing on both. I didn't get the name of the song but it had the intriguing lyric “I broke a vein with a needle, so long and sharp.”

After doing “Way Back Home,” Sollee announce that the next song was about vampires. I think it was bassist Alexander Ellis who chimed in and said it wasn't about the “Twilight” sort of vampires but more like the “True Blood” kind. Once again Sollee sang through one of those old fashion megaphones and once again I didn't hear any difference in sound. Perhaps the difference is more noticeable when the band plays smaller spaces or when they are acoustic - just a hunch.

The Builders and The Butchers closed their set their set with "Golden and Green" which opens their CD Salvation is a Deep Dark Well. The song has a very interesting mandolin part. I kept looking for someone playing keyboard until I realized it was the mandolin. At one point, the song went into a different melody but when it began to build and return to the main section, the audience clapped along.

Once the last song ended, The Builders and The Butchers received a well deserved round of applause. It was great set and a perfect warm up for Heartless Bastards.

The Builders and The Butchers are Ryan Sollee on vocals and guitar; Alexander Ellis on bass guitar, vocals and percussion; Brandon Hafer on drums, trumpet, melodica, backup vocals and percussion; Ray Rude on drums, piano, clarinet, backup vocals and percussion; Harvey Tumbleson - mandolin, banjo, guitar, vocals and percussion.

Heartless Bastards
After 3 weeks of not being able to walk on my left leg and pain shooting down my leg from my lower back, I found out that I have sciatica and arthritis. Conscious of this fact, I've tried to be hyper-vigilant about getting to shows early enough to get a seat in the balcony. My back is much better, but on the night of the Heartless Bastards show it was aching. So, all I could do was laugh when they opened up with the song, “Done Got Old.” I can still hear myself saying “tell me about it!”

Heartless Bastards are a fucking awesomely good rock band. There's not a lot of frills or special effects, just a straight forward rock band with more or less a punk feel. I wasn't sure I was going to like the band before the show but I was honestly sold on them once the show started. (I liked being surprised!!)

Erika Wennerstorm, is a guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter for the band. From what I've read, the bands lineup changes but she's been the mainstay. On Heartless Bastards MySpace page the influences listed are T Rex, Pixies, Otis Redding and Mazzy Star, which I could hear when I thought about it. But I would add to that stating that I heard a bit of Bessie Smith, Billy Holiday and Joan Armatrading in the tone and phrasing of Wennerstorm's voice.

The crowd at Thurday's concert were really into it – shouting out songs and comments. Wennerstrom dressed up for the show with a sequined skirt and pair of high heeled shoes. The shoes were notable because despite their height, Wennerstorm managed to jump around in them with guitar in hand. Between the song “Witchypoo” and “Blue Day,” some guy from the audience screamed out “I love your shoes Baby.” Guitarist Mark Nathan repeated what the guy said with a New York accent.

Another funny movement happened when one of the 2 or 3 oblong balloons that were floating over the audience drifted on to the stage. Bassist Jesse Ebaugh said “ These are really fun but I want to know who put their mouth on them to blow them up.” About the same time Violinist Zy O.Lyn walked on stage and Wennerstorm told him that he walked out one song too early.

For the song “Into the Open,” Wennerstorm switched between piano and guitar which looked uncomfortable. I'm not sure why she choose to play keyboard facing the wall instead of the audience. There was plenty of room for the keyboard to be kept off to the side in a position where she could face the audience. I know I'm quibbling but it's a distraction away from the song nonetheless. As the song progressed, Nathan and Ebaugh bopped along doing plenty of rock-n-roll stances and Wennerstorm sequenced the piano riff on the out of the song.

The already high energy of Heartless Bastards set escalated when Lyn correctly walked out on stage for “I Swallowed A Dragonfly” and stayed on stage for the next four songs. Zy O.Lyn is an instrumentalist out of Portland, Oregon. He records music under the name Mad Orange Fools. I checked him out on Mad Orange's MySpace page. His music is very Beatles; it sounds like he is really influenced by their Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour period.

For the song “Mountain,” Ebaugh played steel pedal slide guitar. I didn't write it in my notes but I believe Nathan moved to bass. Wennerstorm went directly into playing the intro to “Sway” as Nathan and Ebaugh changed to their original instruments. “Sway” and the song that followed it, “Hold Your Head High,” were both mid-tempo. But the tempo and the set's momentum came right back up when the identifiable riff came in for the song “Swamp.”  For me, it was one of the high points of the show. I loved the song's groove and it's tag ending with a different rhythmic feel.

Drummer Dave Colvin started the song “Nothing Seems The Same” by playing only on his high hats before playing the intro beat that's on the recording. The song was the band's chance to “jam,” which they did, repetitively working up to a frenzy before quieting down and ending the song.

The last song of the set was “Early In The Morning,” which is one of those songs that can really get stuck in my head. This was okay. I would rather have a good song loop around in my head than a bad one, especially after just hearing the song in concert.

For the encore, Ebaugh and Wennerstorm came back out and were joined by Peter Pisano from Peter Wolf Crier. Both Wennerstorm and Pisano, sounded wonderful harmonizing together on the song “Could Be So Happy.” The rest of the band joined in toward the end of the song which was followed by Pisano leaving and Lyn returning with violin in hand for the song “Searching for the Ghost.” The Heartless Bastards ended the show with “Gray” then “Runnin.”

Through the show, there was a guy who kept apologizing for whistling in my right ear. I minded but didn't mind because I could see he was having a good time. The crowd that was at Bowery Ballroom for the Heartless Bastards seemed like hardcore fans. The place was pretty packed with lots of people on the floor and in the balcony singing along.

As I finish out this posting, I feel that I haven't said enough about Heartless Bastards. In terms of what I can write about the bands music, I have a feeling less is more. There's not much to say except that they are a really good rock band and worth seeing several times.

Heartless Bastards are Erika Wennerstrom on vocals, keyboard and guitar, Dave Colvin on drums, Mark Nathan on lead guitar and Jesse Ebaugh on bass .

Heartless Bastards set list
1. Done Got Old
2. Out at Sea
3. Onions
5.Blue Day
6.Into The Open
7. I Swallowed A Dragonfly *
8.So Quiet *
9. Had To Go *
10.All This Time *
11.The Mountain
13.Hold Your Head High
14.Swamp Song
15.Nothing Seems the Same
16.Early In the Morning
17.Be So Happy (with Peter Pisano)
18.Searching for the Ghost *

The Butchers and the Builders set list
1. Devil Town
2. Bottom of the Lake *
3. It Came from the Sea
4. Black Elevator & Black Dresses
5. (?)
6. Short Way Home
7. Vampire Lake
8. Golden and Green

*Joined by Zy O.Lyn playing Violin

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