Kalob Griffin Band - I first encountered this Philadelphia quintet a couple of years ago and enjoyed their opening set then. They hit the ground running tonight with a powerhouse piano and crisp drumming. Eventually the bass player shows off some great runs and the electric guitar/banjo/mandolin player has some nice sonic interventions as well. It is all fronted by KG on acoustic guitar and vocals. He brings a great down-home folk rock style to his songs and the band really brings it all to life. They banged out 43 minutes of rootsy, occasional hard-driving songs that had myself and the 40-odd people here thoroughly absorbed the entire time. Rousing fun and being that they have only been around since 2009, an impressive sharpening of their skills since the last time around. They will stay on my radar.
Megaphone Barons - This local trio features a drum kit with some electronic drum wiring, keyboards, and acoustic guitar. Early on, I hear the keyboard handling bass lines and guitarist adding some fuzz, so I am thinking they have a full sound covered. As the set went on, however, things were a little too thin. The keyboards and drums had a light, airy Augustus Pablo feel to them with the guitar a little more restrained than I expected. These are nice sounds but they were not coming together tonight. The vocals and songs were decent, although the endings were often rather anti-climactic. The crowd was pretty much into their own world with the usual conversational buzz during the songs and little response between. There is something unique about this band, but it was not working tonight and perhaps they should not have been in between a couple of powerhouse bands. I will predict their upcoming Jammin Java show will go better for them.
The Riverbreaks - I have followed this local band for a while now and have found their slick, professional heartland sound to be something worth coming back to. The sound was a little off the last time I saw them, so I hoped for more of the old intensity form shows past. And they delivered tonight. The club was nearly full which attests to both their accessibility and talents. Not even some amusing flubs by the main singer-songwriter early on slowed them down--getting rid of the rust after not playing for four months. The sound was more balanced tonight. I did feel the electric guitar was a little low, but it was an interesting choice as the music sounded more like a polished record than that of a normal live set with amps cranked up to 11. So ultimately they convinced me that this was a good approach and the keyboards and violin had plenty of room to shine along with the solid rhythm section. They received a deserved rousing reception and came back with a couple of encores to finish off their 52-minute set. They were celebrating their new single that was recorded with Chris Stamey in North Carolina. I could not imagine a more perfect choice for them, so they clearly have a great vision for where they want to take their music. I look forward to the full length record and, of course, will be taking in this live set again some time.
New York story of the night... I visited my brother's family in the NYC area this week and we had planned to take in the Refused and Off! at an outdoor show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A massive storm came in and we took refuge in a bar/restaurant to eat something and see if the show was happening. Even though it was advertised 'rain or shine', a lightening strike canceled it. The bands decided to put on a free show at a near-by club. We headed for the line but were clearly not the first to hear about this show, as my brother correctly deduced that this was the downside of the on-line network (would have been ok if not for the message he received ending up in his Spam folder). The rain had cleared and it would have been a great outdoor show. But alas, the club was not big enough for everyone. They initially cut off the line about 25 people behind us, telling them that there was no way they could get in. All of us near-by quickly understood that we were not out of danger. Sure enough, when they passed out tickets, they ran out about 25-30 people ahead of us. Bad luck, but it was an odd little adventure fully documented and photographed here at the Brooklyn Vegan. Williamsburg is a cool little community that I would not mind spending more time in and the crowd was pretty relaxed about what was going on. Kudos to the crowd, bands, and club for putting this together.