Leading a monster CMJ Music Marathon lineup that included Miniature Tigers, River City Extension, Death on Two Wheels, and Oh Land, Kevin Devine and the Goddamned Band tackled their hometown at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on a cool October evening in New York City.
Unfortunately arriving late and missing Oh Land, the first band I caught was five-piece Death on Two Wheels. The Georgia natives played a brief set of ’70s-styled rock and roll, featuring two rowdy guitars and complementing keyboards. In addition to some newer songs, the quintet played cuts from their eleven-track debut, Separation Of Church & Fate. Genuinely enjoying their time on stage, the energy trickled down to the crowd and warmed the room for a great evening of music.
The eight-piece River City Extension began at 9PM, playing thirty minutes of peculiar indie/punk/folk/rock filled with cello, banjo, horns, and various nontraditional percussion. Most of the cuts came from the band’s latest full-length, The Unmistakable Man, and were brought to life with an energy only hinted at on the studio recordings. “Something Salty, Something Sweet”, for example, is excellent on tape, but the song really begs for a live experience and singalong. Similarly, songs like “Mexico” and “Adrianne” simply explode on stage.
With handclaps, strings, and syncopated instrumentation, the penultimate “Our New Intelligence” seemed to be the night’s crowning moment and might have been the highlight of most CMJ shows. Somehow, though, the band topped themselves once again with their final song: “Bone Marrow Twist and Shout”. Grabbing their instruments and hopping down from the stage, River City Extension brought the party to the crowd. The octet slammed acoustic chords and unmiked drums on the floor, bumping elbows with anyone daring enough to dance along.
For years, The Gaslight Anthem remained New Jersey’s best-kept secret, but the torch has undoubtedly been passed onto Toms River’s River City Extension. Hopefully stints with acts like Dashboard Confessional (December 7 in Manhattan) and The Get Up Kids strip away that title, though: River City Extension is just too good to keep locked down in the Garden State.
Something Salty, Something Sweet
Our New Intelligence
Bone Marrow Twist and Shout
Just twenty minutes later, Miniature Tigers found themselves in a tough spot, having to follow the incredible River City Extension. The Brooklyn locals jumped into things with “Tropical Birds” and a half-hour string of other new songs from their sophomore full-length, Fortress. Soaring harmonies and quirky acoustic riffs lay the foundation for most of the band’s output, which seems rooted in experimentation in mind-altering drugs: songs like “Coyote Enchantment” couldn’t be written any other way.
“Lolita” seemed to come out of nowhere with a beautiful, elegant piano introduction, but things returned to status quo when the band jumped on the use of a rainstick and a bizarre “woo-hoo-hoo” vocal hook. Status quo, of course, is anything but; the band thrives on unconventional song structures and methods. Frontman Charlie Brand delivers everything with a convincing, unassuming demeanor, and it works. Miniature Tigers deserve high praise not just for their experimental indie-pop but also for their tightly executed live performance.
Rock N’ Roll Mountain
Mansion of Misery
“Trouble” kicked things off for Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band, the five-piece racing through the excellent 2006 cut. “You’re My Incentive” went next, with Devine modifying various lyrics (“but your man slept with the waitress” replacing “as your man hits on the waitress”, for example) to reflect an even more desperate and dire tone. The spacious “Carnival” sounded great, with bits of improvisation tossed into each of the song’s constantly shifting structures; a massive feedback outro lead directly into “Another Bag of Bones”. Before “You’ll Only Up Joining Them”, Devine revealed that the setlist was hand-selected by various members of The Goddamned Band, with guitarist Russell Smith selecting the Put Your Ghost to Rest track. The band played through a faster version of the song before jumping into the rarely seen “The Shift Change Splits the Streets”.
The brand new “Big, Bad Man” was accompanied by Kelly Pratt, who remained on stage to provide horns for a handful of songs including “Fever Moon” which relies on a well-crafted trumpet solo to stitch the song together. Devine added some strange barking to “Murphy’s Song”, clearly enjoying every minute on stage in his hometown in front of friends and family. The lyrically stunning “Noose Dressed Like a Necklace” was supplemented with a bit of Devine’s signature cynicism: “They want you to whistle why you work — your life away.”
“Hand of God” kept the set rolling, but the biggest crowd-pleaser of the evening was undoubtedly a great performance of “Just Stay”. “The Burning City Smoking” was the night’s highlight, though, with Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band pouring their souls into a song about “shitty journalists and shitty leadership”. Brother’s Blood cuts “Yr Husband” and “I Could Be With Anyone” dwarfed their studio counterparts, the latter featuring live beatboxing from keyboardist Brian Bonz.
Monty Love joined Kevin Devine and the Goddamned Band for “Cotton Crush” before the sextet performed a very different version of Make the Clocks Move leadoff “Ballgame”. B-side “She Stayed as Steam” ended the setlist, but the band returned with “You Are the Daybreak” and a seven-minute version of “Brother’s Blood” to wrap up the evening at 12:20PM.
You’re My Incentive
Another Bag of Bones (Time to Burn)
You’ll Only End Up Joining Them
The Shift Change Splits the Streets
Big Bad Man
Noose Dressed Like a Necklace
Hand of God
The Burning City Smoking
I Could Be With Anyone
She Stayed as Steam
You Are the Daybreak
My Brother’s Blood
Kevin Devine and the Goddamned Band performed for just under ninety minutes, offering the crowd what might have been their best performance to date. Everything clicked, and, despite a hit-or-miss CMJ audience, the six-piece was simply fantastic across twenty songs spanning eight years of recordings. Devine announced that he would be finished playing in New York City for the year; the night’s performance undoubtedly created anticipation for his inevitable return in 2011.
All photographs by the extremely talented Kenami.