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Commentary and photos by Jeff Rey
Copyright 2003 NEON, blue door productions
New York City SEEN
21 AGAINST
C
rossing the ocean from South Wales, 21 Against swung thru on a mini-tour recently to bring their UK flavored alt rock to New York. Guitarist/singer Paul Jones is an energetic performer who packs a ton of heart into his delivery. He’s joined by fellow guitarist Rich, bassist Peek and drummer Wilf - and the four of them add up to a very tight unit. With bows to both punk and pop, they deliver clever lyrics and catchy choruses on songs like “4 O’Clock,” and “Dumb.” “Nothing to Write Home About” was a soulful song that was pure pop at its best. They only spent a very short time in the States with just a handful of gigs at rather obscure clubs. But when I cornered Jones after their set, amidst his thick accent, a very noisy Saturday night crowd, and these old rock ‘n’ roll ears – I’m pretty sure he said they’ll be returning shortly. Looking forward to seeing 21 Against playing at more prominent venues next time to properly showcase their unique talent.
www.21against.co.uk/
BEN CARROLL BAND
W
hen the Ben Carroll Band started up their set, I thought I would be listening to yet another commercial pop group. That is, until Ben's truly soulful voice hit the sound system. Then, Nick Panasevich ripped into his Wurlitzer keyboard and started rolling out the bluesiest riffs this side of Pinetop Perkins, and Lynne Czekala's walking bass lines joined in with Jeff Rothman's heavy backbeat for a performance that cooked from beginning to end. The musicianship of this entire group is not only stellar, but they don't let that talent get in the way of rockin' the house. They sweat and enjoy the groove along with the rest of us. With heavy doses of folk, jazz and especially rhythm & blues influences apparent, Ben Carroll led his band through a diverse set of moods that built to a climatic finale. Listening to their 5-song CD later, I was surprised to hear just how eclectic they really are - "Tricky Girl" is a smokey blues of a love gone wrong - "Take Me Back Daisy," a folk tune in the tradition of James Taylor (forgive me), but Carroll's voice is sweet, not like saccharine, but rather like a ginger snap, with lots of spice. Both "Hold You" and "Cherry Lane" recall the best of Motown R&B, while the sole live recording, "Feel Alright" recaptures the roadhouse sound of their show. A real nice listen.
www.thebencarrollband.com
EARLYMAY
S
orry, this is a long story. But it is true and it has to be told. In one of those weird coincidences that seem to be happening to me at an alarming rate lately, the night before I saw Earlymay at the Luna Lounge I was sitting in a suburban roadhouse. I was slowly nursing a Jack Daniels with an hour or so to kill before I was off to review a concert. A halfway decent jukebox to pass the time would have been nice. Maybe silence would have been even better. But twenty minutes into my stay a three piece cover band started tuning up in the back end of the joint. They started off by murdering a couple standard rock songs. I contemplated seeking a quieter waiting place, but the drink had been cheap enough and I really didn’t have anywhere else to go. I was okay with that, until they played Greg Kihn’s “The Breakup Song”. I had never paid much attention to that tune, hadn’t heard it in half a dozen years, just remembered a time when its sing-songy lyric was constantly on commercial radio. You know the song:

But salvation came the following night when Earlymay hit the stage at the Luna. Bradley Peterson is an emotional singer whose thoughtful lyrics are punctuated by the power chords he beats out of his guitar. The band behind him is rock-solid: Aaron Crockett tears off tasteful leads with Scott Peterson and Robby Vansaders providing a driving groove on bass and drums respectively. I would find out later that Earlymay is also an acoustic band at times – and it makes sense – in the same way it made sense that Bob Dylan went electric, if you get my drift. Songs like “Radiant” and “Come Around” are word driven compositions but powered by rock devices. The band exudes sincerity and the crowd was being infected by it. About three quarters of the way into their set, Earlymay stepped things up a notch or two by throwing out a cover song. Guess what it was? Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah. I’m sure the people around me thought I had lost it when I screamed. But the undeniable rhythm being laid down soon had me recovered. How could this be the same song? Each word of the lyric was now dripping with angst – it was mean-spirited and celebratory at the same time. Biting and mockingly cruel. A Masterpiece? Hardly, but I guess it proved the old saw about it being the singer and not the song.

Earlymay has a full-length CD out on the Mother West label. It rolls more than it rocks and it’s a great listen.
www.earlymay.com
It was the same old song, with a melancholy sound.
Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah.
They don't write 'em like that anymore.
They just don't write 'em like that anymore.


A mildly irritating ditty, but no big deal. But, on this day, with this band – I could feel my temperature rising. I saw it as a personal affront against rock ‘n rollers everywhere. Not only was the song stupid, but this band was expending zero energy on it. They were playing the right notes, it was all in tune, but it was lazy, lame and it was insulting to be their audience. And these weren’t old geezers making an extra buck on the weekend for the SUV payment. These were young guys who should have felt privileged to be playing in a bar. My mind was filling up with blood red images of wrenching the bass out of the singers’ hands, thrashing the cymbal stands with it and then jamming it through the skin of the bass drum. After that I'd kick the guitar player’s ass across the barroom until he agreed to give up his instrument for life. But, I’m more rational than I was in my youth, so I just bottomed out my drink and left. The concert wasn’t much better. It was one of those nights when the demon creeps into your subconscious and whispers, “See? You don’t get off on music anymore.” One of those nights when drinking yourself into oblivion seems like a sound alternative to ever having to hear another band again.