Live Review – ARMS At Mercury Lounge In Manhattan

ARMS live

New York – For longtime fans of Harlem Shakes, the group’s disbandment in 2009 was devastating. But the psychoacoustics of that beloved band live on in the work of guitarist and former Shakes member Todd Goldstein, who now performs under the moniker ARMS. Friday night at Manhattan’s Mercury Lounge showcased all the magic that Goldstein and his band mates continue to shoulder.

For those inclined to adore Goldstein’s particular take on Americana/indie rock, ARMS’ music feels a bit like sonic reincarnation of what made Harlem Shakes so great. The music itself hints at former creative sparks in much the same way that electricity shifts from one circuit to the next, but puts a personalized spin on previous sounds.

And so, fans flocked to Mercury Lounge to glean the continued occultism. Friday night’s venue is situated a stone’s throw from famed Katz’s deli on the Lower East Side, an area that’s never known the meaning of  “slow.” ARMS shared the bill with Brooklyn-brethren Conveyor, and the four piece experimental rockers set a high-energy tone for the evening well before ARMS even showed face.

But by the time the main act took the stage, a touch past 9PM, the concert floor was at capacity and the crowd was audibly eager. After giving thanks to all in attendance, Goldstein and Tlacael Esparza launched into the set with a song off their most recent EP. “Comfort” is a tilt-a-whirl of a track, that’s as jangly as it is sentimental, and was just upbeat enough to set a choice mood for the show to follow.

ARMS live

In fact, the set at large beat out all expectations. It could be argued that ARMS’ recorded tracks do not do the work justice. Performed live, the songs take on extraordinary personality. This is, in large part, due to Goldstein’s erratic, sporadic, and unapologetically expressive stage presence.

Some sound troubles plagued the band early on, but it was a light-hearted hurdle for the crew onstage and for those who bore witness. “For those of you that know me, you know this happens almost every time I play,” said Goldstein with a sly grin. “At this point, it’s part of the show.”

After laying the technical problems to rest, ARMS struck into a new jam, the title of which remains a mystery. But it was a hoppy, embolden rock ballad, and an impressive first listen. The nameless track will surely make waves, once it surfaces in earnest.

“How was the week?” Goldstein questioned mid-way through the show, with casual but genuine interest. “Shitty!” responded one front row attendee. “Why was it shitty? On a scale of one to ten?” he pressed on, laughing as the crowd concluded the week ranked at about a two on the “shitty Richter.”

The banter sent a calming wave of humor rippling through the crowd and, just like that, the audience reflected upon the taxing tendencies of the daily grind, and collectively let those demons dissolve to a backdrop of sonic escape. It was a pretty way to exist, if briefly; in a parallel world where all that counts is artistic showmanship, passion and meaningful expression.

The remainder of the set rolled together a masterful mix of new and old tracks, and Goldstein performed each song with steady precision and illustrious focus. Yet, an evident standout of the night’s showing was not an original, but rather, a cover of Rufus Wainwright’s “Foolish Love.” As a prelude to the remix, Goldstein explained, “I put together a covers record. I’m in my early thirties now, so I feel like it’s the right time to do that will full credibility. Well,” he added, with humility, “I feel like it’s credible. Maybe you don’t agree.”

Shortly thereafter, ARMS concluded the set in a fit of sweat and smiles, and pitched the crowd back out into the endless ebb and flow of the churning metropolis.  It was a memorable showing, and the perfect bandage to a “two” on the “scale of shitty weeks.”

ARMS released their debut LP, Kids Aflame via Melodic in the UK in 2008, and Gigantic re-released the record the following year. The bands sophomore LP, Summer Skills, came to us in 2011, followed most recently by the group’s second EP, quite literally titled “EP 2,” via Paper Garden Records in 2013. At the time of this writing, ARMS did not have any shows on deck but, for such a talented and much-loved band, this certainly won’t be the case for long.

Liz Rowley

Liz Rowley

Born in Mexico and raised in Toronto, Jerusalem and Chicago by a pair of journalists, Liz comes to with an inherited love of writing. After discovering a niche for herself in music journalism and radio while at Bates College in Maine, she always keeps a running playlist of new music to soundtrack her place in the world. Liz is passionate about helping dedicated, talented musicians gain the exposure they deserve. A recent transplant to Brooklyn from Hawaii, she is plagued by an incurable case of wanderlust and cursed with an affinity for old maps and old things like typewriters and vintage books. She adores photography and running and is very good with plants. Having come of age in Chicago, Wilco speaks to her soul. If she could be anything, she would be a cat in a Murakami novel.
Liz Rowley