While Joe Michelini bent down to check some wires before River City Extension’s performance at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night, a fan in the front row squealed, “How are you feeling?” A question that I thought would get lost in the chatter from the rowdy crowd, Michelini whispered back with startling sincerity, “Nervous.” Michelini had nothing to be nervous about.
After a wild set filled with audience participation from Brick And Mortar, a couple quirky and quiet gems from the not-so introduced Laura Stevenson and the Cans, and a light and summery opening set from the ever so poppy Gold Motel, things were going smoothly. Fans were pumped up and ready for River City Extension’s eight-person stage attack and they showed that by screaming out “RCE! RCE! RCE!” repeatedly.
Packing as many bodies and instruments onto the what I’m sure felt like a tiny stage, River City Extension is a big band. A group complete with strings, brass, piano, and banjo, their music is just crammed full of grandiose arrangements, eclectic trills, and organic emotion. They kicked off the show with “Glastonbury,” the opener of their latest album Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger. While it may not be the most upbeat way to start a rock show, it allowed Michelini to flaunt his incredible vocal range. It also showcased Nicole Scorsone and her violin, the instrument that really gives the song that emotional oomph.
The band continued the show with the introspective “There And Back Again,” a powerful romper that everyone seemed to know the words to. The crowd wasn’t shy to sing along to even its most vulnerable lines like, “I live by the sea/but I don’t feel free/ I’ve got a problem/ but the problem is me.” Sure, that doesn’t sound very happy but the song quickly picks up and turns into a true anthem about learning to live with yourself.
While the set primarily focussed on ner material, they threw in tons of oldies but goodies like “Letter To Lainie,” “Mexico” and “Adrianne.” “Our New Intelligence” from The Unmistakable Man was definitely the crowd favorite. Samantha Tacon stole the song as her sweet and ringing voice cut right through the audience. There was even a very unexpected and out of place mosh-pit behind me.
The band ended the show with the very fitting “Friends And Family,” which mirrored the energy in the room. As everyone screamed for an encore, some crowd members used specifics. While many asked them to play “Elephant” from Nautical Sabbatical, a single fan called out, “I trust your music selection!” And I’m glad I did too since they came back out with a shirtless Michelini and played “South for the Winter.” The final thing I heard was a fan scream to Michelini, “I like your beard.” Real original.