A wonderful evening at the cozy Middle East Upstairs with L.A. bands The Willowz and Delta Spirit. It was really great to be able to see Delta Spirit after getting a small taste of their music via a guest appearance from Matt Vasquez at a recent benefit show in Los Angeles that was (very happily) webcast in the middle of the night…
It may have been a bad omen when Richie James Follin, lead singer/guitarist of the Willowz, opened their set by announcing that he had Swine Flu. In the close quarters of the Middle East’s cozy upstairs room, I don’t think this declaration, which I’ll assume was meant as a bit of dark humor to break the ice, had the desired effect. The audience reaction was pretty much “meh” and unfortunately stayed that way through their noisy and thrashy punk-flavored set. Listening to them beforehand, I enjoyed what I heard, but – here we go again – it was too freakin’ loud! Add to that kind of a muddy sound (which wasn’t their fault) and you could forget hearing even snippets of lyrics and subtle nuances in the music – or indeed, being truly able to hear the music at all, save for the vague impression of a sonic assault. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against sonic assaults, but for me, they’re most effective when mixed with quieter songs, and when the assault has some purpose, in service of the song. Sadly, neither seemed to be the case this evening.
This Boston audience was uncharacteristically quiet (really not a good sign), which led Richie to say (paraphrasing here), “doesn’t seem like Boston when people are quiet, not saying weird shit or something rude…”, to which a woman yelled for him to take off his shirt, and some guy shouted “get the f*ck out of here!”. “Yeah, that’s it”, he responded. “I love Boston.” Hrm, yes. Apart from Boston stereotypes and bad sound, there were a few moments that raised my ears a bit – some song with the line (I think) “don’t you ever go home”, and the one just after it, which again might have included the words “let me part”. I should say that these seemed a bit quieter and more melodic, though still with that punkish vibe. He introduced “a love song” called “My Flash On You”, which was the same noisy punk as much of the rest of their set, and ended with two songs off their latest release Everyone – the title track and “Repetition”. Their set ended with “we’re the Willowz – thanks for paying attention.” Not the best evening for them, I’m afraid.
In stark contrast, Delta Spirit came onstage to appreciative cheers and applause, which slowly built into massive howling with reckless abandon by the end of their set. Matt Vasquez began with some comment about the Celtics which made me smile and sure enough, that went over really well with the crowd and the band probably could have sucked after that and folks still would have cheered. Though happily, they most certainly didn’t.
As I’m typically slow on the uptake, I’ve just recently discovered Delta Spirit, whom I consider to be the poignant and vital folky protest band for those of us who were too young in the ’60s (or not alive yet). Their sound is a mix of rootsy folk and alt-country; lyrically and well, spiritually, they owe a lot to folk legends such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, with their own unique style and sense of urgency. The subject matter is both timely and timeless, with some really great songwriting from Matt Vasquez, such as this from “People, Turn Around”, which was the one glaring omission from tonight’s otherwise perfect set (maybe for the Feb. 8 show?):
Well its time all you people
for the life we’ve been living
the blood we’ve been spilling
will bleed us dry
the life we’ve been killing
is your life like mine.
As for what they did play, they started with “Bushwick Blues” and also did “Strange Vines” “Trashcan”, two other favorites of mine, “People C’Mon” and “Children”, and ended with “Crippler King”. There were some I didn’t recognize as I’m still becoming familiar with their music, though interspersed were at least a few new songs (which sounded wonderful) that will be on their second album History from Below, to be released in May on Boston-based Rounder Records (yay, Rounder!). In fact, Matt mentioned that the label people were there in the audience, and he joked, “maybe we can get it out earlier than that, how about it?”
They did have a more raucous rocking sound than I imagined they would, based on their recordings. It was a feeling I think other “first timers” shared, as a girl behind me said “this isn’t what I expected”, but she along with everyone else got into it all the same. Perhaps their live sound is just more “full on”, or maybe it’s because they were in Boston… bands don’t seem to think that something quieter and folky would go over as well (trust me, it would). I personally would have liked a few slower, more “stripped down” songs mixed in, though I loved them all the same. The serious groove they worked themselves into included some wicked tribal drumming (aided by Kelly Winrich) with Matt switching to keyboard and then adding some lovely harmonica, all of which was fine by me.
bit of background…
Jon Jameson (bass) and Brandon Young (drums) – formerly with San Diego-based Noise Ratchet joined with vocalist Matthew Vasquez, guitarist Sean Walker, and multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich to form Delta Spirit. They released their I Think I’ve Found It EP in 2006, and toured with Cold War Kids and Dr. Dog. Their debut album Ode To Sunshine was self-released in 2007, then remastered in 2008 and released by their new label Rounder Records.
They’re performing again Monday night, February 8, at the Middle East Upstairs, though the show is sold out.