"Guns shaped like crack-shaped prostitutes"
Last week Mort and I hit up Pianos for a Rocks Off triple-bill in which the only similarity between the bands were the members themselves.
A BIG YES... and a small no
With the above flyer not present, Pianos had signs around the bar implying that American Babies were first of the night. So when I saw Joe Russo and ex-Babies guitarist/vibraphone player Kevin Kendrick setting up, I thought just that. Mort turned to me and said, "I thought Tom Hamilton was in this band." You're quite right, Mort. In fact they used to be called Tom Hamilton's American Babies. So what's the deal? Two minutes later Kendrick introduced the band as A BIG YES... and a small no, a name that suits them perfectly. Our general reaction to them was in fact a big YES and a small no. Kendrick's songwriting was heavy on obvious rhyming, but in a purposefully cute kind of way. (check out "Composure" on their myspace page). The band played fun often-jazzy pop-rock remnant of the Violent Femmes and often striking at similar chords of humor and joviality. Carried mostly by Russo, keyboard-wiz Eric Deutch, and Kendrick's harmonies (pitty we didn't get any vibraphone action), it's clear they're a band-in-the-making, but keep an eye out for their record as it hits stores May 13th. Their CD release party is May 15th at Union Hall in Brooklyn.
Next up was Brooklyn Americana "super-group" American Babies (we wrote about them way back in September) featuring Tom Hamilton, Scott Metzger, Jim Hamilton, and .... Joe Russo. The band delivered a set of tightly wound country-rockers with veteran instrumental precision. The Babies played through most of their self-titled debut, and would've played an unknown cover until Russo returned from his car having sprinted for more sticks. The group flexed their improvisational muscles once or twice, including the somber "Swimming at Night." I hadn't been a big fan of "Baby Don't Cry" until I heard it live. The mature delicate deliveries of each members respective parts was breathtaking. They closed the set with the album's uber-catchy party welcomer "Invite All Your Friends" (included on Bobka-friend Bill Stead's latest muxtape).
Not knowing much about the Wildhearts it was easy to forget the Babies weren't the headliners. But as some old fat 30-something rock fans began shuffling in, we were soon reminded. Before they hit the stage I ran into RANA keyboardist Matt Durant, fresh from a two year stint on the West Coast. I figured Matt was there supporting his friends Russo, Metzger, and Rocks Off honcho Jake Szufnarowski but to my delight learned he was also playing with Ginger. Although the stage was fairly crowded (drums, bass, keyboard, viola, 3 guitarists) the group was humble and, as House of Pain Tried to put it back in 1996, on-point. The line-up had changed every week (this was the final Thursday) but always included Scott Metzger and .... Joe Russo.
What I took away from the show, besides the reaffirmation that Joe Russo isn't human, was the result of experience and sobriety. I can't speak for the bassist, viola player, and other guitarist, but Ginger, Scott Metzger, and Matt Durant all have been sober for a good deal of time, and have witnessed their fair share of destruction and indirection. The result was a monster set of crushing rock. These guys absolutely killed it. I didn't know any of their tunes, but that didn't matter; they brought the house down.