Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Howard Spreads Religion at Mercury Lounge

Two Brooklyn bands celebrated their EP release at Mercury Lounge last night.  One band had a definitive sound, but suffered technical troubles.  The other had no equipment issues, but also no objective.

I entered the room to see Craig Martinson in the middle of the stage, facepaint streaked across his nose and cheeks and a string of white Christmas lights knotted around his neck.  Atop his head was a fluorescent yellow beanie, giving him the appearance of a highlighter with its cap off.  He leapt offstage to perform Kanye West's "New Slaves" in tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.  I'm not so sure that Dr. King would've approved of the dedication, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it, or at least couldn't believe it.  Reclaiming the stage after his rap, Martinson started unveiling the songs from the new EP, titled My Love is True.  The songs were played well, but they lacked direction.  I don't mind eclecticism, but it just didn't seem like Craig knows what he wants to do with his music yet.  "Monster Man" recalled memories of Phil Spector-produced girl groups, while "Your Love is a Burden" was an entirely country affair.  The final number began and finished as baroque pop, but took an unexpected detour into guitar freakout territory in its midsection, Martinson nearly face-planting as his neck lights entangled his legs like a vengeful vine.  He's a unique performer, but until he gains a coherent point-of-view, he just comes across as trying too hard.

Howard were promoting their much-buzzed-about debut, Religion.  Although they've been folded under the folktronica umbrella, that genre doesn't leave room for the hard-edged, driving rock that their songs sometimes flirt with.  Onstage, it became more than just flirting, with album opener "Falling" plunging headfirst into the tribal zone halfway through.  A more accurate description of their sound would be José González fronting Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead, which was especially characteristic of "Song About Something," Howard Feibusch's smooth vocals bobbing over a jittery breakbeat.  Despite Chris Holdridge's SPD-S drum pad not working, "Spelled Out" was a subdued treat, with Feibusch's acoustic guitar interweaving sweetly with its electric brother.  After another fruitless attempt to fix the drum pad, Howard announced "Alright, bear with us.  This is the acoustic version."  Riding in on the organic sound of Holdridge's cymbals and snares, they proceeded with "Her Eyes," a tune from Feibusch and bassist Myles Heffernan's previous band, Orange Television.  "Fool" was probably the standout of the set, Chris' clacking on the rims erupting into a prehistoric climax complete with Pteranodon guitar wails from Howard.

If Martinson's songs sounded too different, Howard's only offense was that some of the tunes sounded too similar.  That could've been the fault of the irrational drum pad, however, so they took one last stab at it.  "Let's all pray to God," Feibusch suggested mockingly.  Chris reeled back and struck it with his drumstick.  "POP!" shouted the pad miraculously.  "There we go.  It works.  Religion works," smirked Feibusch.  "But Only While" quickly displaced any thoughts of the set becoming stagnant with similarity, venturing into a nearly dubstep finale.  "This is the closest thing to a single we've ever written.  So we're going to need a lot of help, especially because a lot of our technology is not working," instructed Feibusch.  "Sing along if you know it.  If you don't, don't."  The crowd clapped along to the first verse of "Money Can't Buy," swaying from side-to-side until Howard's crescendoing jangle demanded their full attention, with bursts of a dying drum pad poking their way into the din.

HOWARD - 01.19.15 - MERCURY LOUNGE (44 minutes)

Falling > Song About Something / Spelled Out / Her Eyes / Fool / Religion / But Only While (Alarm Call Rise) / Money Can't Buy

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