In an era where we are accustomed to getting the most value for our dollar – the most French Fries, the most DVD bonus materials, the most pop culture references in one film – it stands to reason that we’re also quite used to venues with stages that come packed with band members. It was not, then, the twenty-odd musicians onstage at New York’s Knitting Factory, that caught the audience’s rapt attention: it was the particular synergy that resulted. It’s not how many people you can squeeze on a stage that matters, it’s what you do with them when you’ve got them all up there.
Still Flyin’s Sean Rawls is no stranger to the notion of fun; it’s been a driving force in his musical life since his days in the Masters of the Hemisphere, and it remains at the forefront of his band’s live act. Not all of the people on stage are permanent band members, nor do they all even know all of the songs, but they all possess a basic sense of rhythm and the desire
“I guess I’ll have to smoke all my pleasure and pain away, yea-ay-ay,” sings Rawls on “Rope Burn,” a track that highlights both the loose sentiment and sound of roots reggae. Where reggae-inspired rock has recently become something of a standard (see the Jonny Greenwood-curated Trojan compilation or Lily Allen’s ubiquitous Alright, Still for examples), it works its way into Still Flyin’s songs with the same ease that the classics sought to evoke.
Where Still Flyin’ gets better with added chaos, Brooklyn’s own Ladybug Transistor has a very specific ’60’s-inspired formula that it has been perfecting since the band’s inception in the late 1990s. Their music is sweet, simple, and melodic, so why mess with a good formula? The band has suffered through lineup changes throughout the years, from the some members’ departure to form the similarly-minded Essex Green to the tragic death of their drummer at the beginning of this year. While not overtly noticeable, these changes do seem to have taken their toll on the band’s live show: after a few songs, their usually fresh-faced routine began to seem tired.
The evening’s main cause for celebration was, of course, Australia’s The Lucksmiths, for whom an American tour is a rare and highly anticipated event. Over the course of approximately seven albums, the Melbourne threesome (they play live with a second guitarist) has documented every awkward and nook and cranny of relationships in sunny, simple pop songs. In a word, they’re brilliant.
With so much ground to cover, their live show plays like a greatest hits album of sorts. From the infectious made-for-mix-tapes “T-Shirt Weather” to newer classics like the bittersweet “The Chapter In Your Life Entitled San Francisco”, every song made for a new highlight.
Live, The Lucksmiths possess an energy incapable of being captured on record. Drummer Tali White is also the band’s main vocalist, which might normally lead to a loss of stage prescence. White, however, embraces the role by standing up while playing and placing the drums at stage center. On either side, bassist Mark Monnone and guitarist/main songwriter Marty Donald harmonize with well-practiced ease. Between songs, the stage banter is priceless, and the crowd roars with laughter.
For years, The Lucksmiths’ performances have been nothing short of enchanting, and this September’s New York shows proved no different. They will never be the kind of band that reinvents their sound or bends genres, but that’s because their strengths lie in knowing what they do best: writing complex and heartbreaking stories in the guise of uplifting, charming pop numbers.