No, not another of my heavy metal outings. Tuesday night at Webster Hall was an indie/folk rock evening – three bands each similar and each unique. Besides loving the name Murder By Death, the band is also a favorite of Lucero’s. And apparently fishing buddies with a friend of mine.
There was a stabbing a couple of weeks ago at Webster Hall and the place feels different now. Security seems much tighter – I didn’t recognize any of the new guards. No one was sitting on the bass traps and the ‘Keep Off’ looks newly painted. There were speakers pulled in to the floor so the view from the platform in the back is now blocked. I spent most of the evening leaning against the bass trap. The co-ed bathrooms now have half of the stalls marked women and the other half marked men, which I think is the way they originally intended it to be since there used to be one entrance marked women and another marked men even though both entrances led into the same bathroom. Hopefully now the women’s stalls will be clean at the end of the night.
Missouri band Ha Ha Tonka were up first. They look young. The sound is indie and folk and Americana although they have described themselves as Southern rock. They remind me a lot of Head and the Heart with their bouncy la-la-ness. They sound like a young band even though they’ve been around since 2005. I think they’re not there yet but they have a lot of potential. Ha Ha Tonka is supposed to be back in NYC later this year and I’d love to see them again.
Lead singer/guitarist Brian Roberts looks like a skinny cherub. Lucas Long (electric bass) reminded me of a 70s porn star while Brett Anderson (lead guitar/electric mandolin) and Lennon Bone (drums) would not look out of place at an old Doobie Brothers show.
For one song they brought out Scott Brackett from Murder By Death (and formerly from Okkervil River) and all he did was play the tambourine. I kept waiting for him to play the keyboards or horn or add a backing vocal but, no, all that happened was some nice tambourine playing.
Two songs before the last was a lovely a cappella song and the next song they were only accompanied by Anderson’s great mandolin playing.
I wish I could have been as enthusiastic about Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons. This was another Americana folk rock band this time out of Wisconsin. Each song started out strong but then just ended without really going anywhere. The core of the band is Chisel on lead vocal and acoustic guitar joined by Adriel Denae on keyboards and vocals. Backing them are guys on electric guitar, electric bass, pedal steel, and drums. Chisel announced themselves as country, blues, and punk rock but everything they played was relatively quiet. There was one a cappella blues/gospel at the end.
Later in the evening when Murder By Death were on stage I overheard a manager ask the bartender if she liked the band and she said she liked the second band the best. So I wondered if I was missing something but I don’t think so. The songs don’t seem to have real endings – they start and wander and they’re done. Chisel and Denae do look good on stage though.
There were four covered baffles in the back and just before Murder By Death came on stage they took the covers off to reveal some paintings.
Lead singer/guitarist Adam Turla came out first. He’s a baritone, which is always unusual.
He was soon joined by the rest of the Indiana band – Brackett on keyboards, accordion, cornet, and theremin; Sarah Balliet on cello; Matt Armstrong on electric bass; and Dagan Thogerson on drums and percussion.
The smell of incense and the smoke machine were getting to me. The show wasn’t sold out and I thought I’d take a chance and sit at the bar. Turns out the view from the bar is pretty good.
Turla reminded me of a young Al Pacino and I was remembering how so many Queens girls were madly in love with that boy from Panic in Needle Park.
One of the songs led into a bit of “Radar Love” and on another song Brackett played the theremin and there were sparks flying out of a machine that he had invented. “Comin’ Home” is probably their best known song and received the most enthusiastic response.
Ha Ha Tonka joined Murder By Death for a couple of songs at the end and even did a bit of crowd surfing.
I wanted to like Murder By Death a lot more. The crowd was certainly into them. And the songs were much better than those of the first two bands. But they still were missing something that made me sit up and want to join them.
By Carene Lydia Lopez