Variety was the name of the game at on Friday, with five very distinct and very different acts taking the stage. Things began very chilled out thanks to Canadian sextet Bent By Elephants. The group plays a dreamy sort of folk music, kind of like if there were jazz piano bars in Oklahoma. It’s Chelsey Walsh’s vocals that do it, Ms. Walsh being quite the crooner. But due credit is owed to Bent By Elephants’ horn section and drummer Eric Drew’s light touch on the skins; this is a band of pros well-used to working together, and they know how to set the mood.
Next on the bill was the Fear And The Trembling, from Nashville, TN, now based in Brooklyn. The group’s rock incorporates things like death metal drumming and walls of heavily distorted guitars into a pop song structure. The members cite the Afghan Whigs and the Smashing Pumpkins as major influences, giving you some idea of just how loud it was to be at Pianos. Musicianship was definitely on point, but frontman Ryan Stimpson’s vocal had some trouble keeping up and in key. Could it have been the humidity? Ludlow St. was like a sauna that night.
Next we were treated to a musical version of I Love You, Man, starring I Love Monsters. The band displayed all manner of male bonding: back-to-back guitar playing, synchronized drumming, sustained eye contact—everything except chest or fist bumping. It suits the music well as its energized dance pop permeates a bro-ish atmosphere. Bassist and singer Brett Spigelman capped off I Love Monsters’ performance by hopping the fourth wall and challenging all comers to a dance battle. The crowd was split over who won.
We’ve told you before about Graveyard Lovers, but the difference between seeing the duo and watching it play live is enormous. On record the pair is an exceptional blues-infused rock duo in the league of the Black Keys or the White Stripes. Live? It’s an experience. Guitarist and singer Zach Reynolds begins by hanging his own lights—three swinging tungsten bulbs—above the stage. He says he’s typically not a fan of house lights and picked up the light bulb idea from a poorly-lit show in New Orleans. Next the members launch into a performance unmatched for both quality and energy. Reynolds turns and faces drummer Trisha Purvis and the two rock out in time. New material was on display and it revealed a greater depth to the Lovers’ potential. Despite having only two instruments, the music was inventive and impeccably arranged. Reynolds’ lyrics and vocal performance impressed us even more, not just improving on what we’ve heard so far, but blowing it away. The songs are heartfelt and interesting while remaining brash and rollicking. By the end the audience literally refused to let the two offstage until they played one more song. The Lovers played “Ripe To Misbehave” off its EP, with Reynolds running back and forth on stage as he played.
Finally, for those whose sonic appetite was not yet sated, there was Wolff. The group is a regular at Pianos but this was our first time seeing them, and interesting to say the least. Wolff is another duo, this one made up of drums and tuba. (Yes, tuba.) The sound is arranged around the massive brass instrument that singer/tubist Brian Wolff loops with an array of effect pedals. He also sings, beat boxes, and slaps the tuba; you could argue this makes him a multi-instrumentalist. Behind him, scenes from BBC Earth projected onto a huge screen. Watching drummer Steve Garofano roll the drums, silhouetted by the curve of the earth as seen from space truly is something else. Last call was heralded by bursts of tuba sounds, which, if Wolff keeps up its performing at Pianos, should be how you know it’s closing time.
All photos below by Alex Eriksen