On Friday night I made my second trip to the historic Court Tavern in downtown New Brunswick. I came to see Root Glen, a band I had fallen in love with last time I came to “The Court.” Turns out I was in for a real treat. Two acts, Goodman Brown and Ball of Flame Shoot Fire, opened for Root Glen; both bands were solid, fun, and more than worthy of a second look.
Goodman Brown opened the night with their poppy, energetic rock tinged with Beach Boys harmonies and synth-rock flourishes. Guitarist Peter Bistis, bassist Luke Saenz, and keyboardist Alex Russo are all fantastic singers with distinct voices. Russo’s voice, and the songs he sang, were bluesy in a Tom Waits sort of way, and often tongue-in-cheek, with just the right mix of raunchiness and fragility; they were the best of the set. I find rock bands often struggle with incorporating the piano into their sound, and I was impressed with how seamlessly they did it. Overall, Goodman Brown’s set was a breezy pleasure, and they set a great tone for the night.
Ball of Flame Shoot Fire was the only New York band of the night, and they were also the strangest. Like Goodman Brown, most of the members of their five-piece band sang well, each in their own style. They were also multi-instrumentalists, at one point busting out an accordion, an alto sax, and what looked like an alto trombone. BoFSF opened with a noisy burst of energy, harsh cluster chords, weird melodies, and constantly shifting textures, sort of like Man Man without the tribal beats to hold it together. They soon evened out into more settled territory. When Jess Tambellini took over singing duty, BoFSF really started to take off. Tambellini’s voice was broken, harsh, and captivating. In his songs the background still morphed constantly, but always naturally, in order to fit the mood of what was being sung. In the end, BoFSF impressed me; they’re definitely a band to look out for.
Root Glen mixed it up for Friday night’s show. They still played a bunch of their happy, funky fan favorites like “In Some Time” and “Lost in the Night,” but added a new layer of backing vocals, sacrificing some of the bounce of their stripped-down arrangements for a richer sound. The rest of the night, they played new tunes that were in a very different direction – they’re much longer, often with multiple “movements,” and are, in general, more ambitious.
The new harmonies worked wonders, when in tune. “Lost in the Night” was especially a pleasure. The backing vocals were used primarily in the chorus, which was a good choice – the texture becomes thicker there anyways, so the extra voices fit in with the existing song structure. Frontman David Moroney has a unique, insistent voice that still clearly broke out of the background texture. “Lost in the Night” was my favorite song of the night.
The new material was hit or miss, but some of that may have to do with its newness. They simply didn’t feel as tight as Root Glen’s older songs. The longest number, which was described as an “epic rock song,” was best at its thickest, when Moroney was burning up Court Tavern with wild, distorted solos with a healthy dose of effects pedals.
The MVP of the night was Andre Gonzales. As I mentioned the last time I saw Root Glen play, he is an absolutely killer bassist, and he consistently ties the band together with his complex, funky bass lines.
Root Glen also played an electrifying cover of “Psycho Killer,” one of my favorite songs of all time. So extra points there.
And once again there was a dancing bear. More extra points.
For the time being, I’m more of a fan of Root Glen’s older material than anything new they played. However, I’m very excited to see what they become as the band becomes more comfortable with these new songs. I hope they surprise me.
Root Glen is taking the rest of the month to do some recording prep, but never fear: they get back on the tour bus in April. If you’re in the NJ area, you can check them out at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch on April 9th, or at Rolf’s in Warren on April 16th. I’m especially excited for their Brooklyn show at Bar Matchless coming up on April 23rd. In the meantime, you can hear some of the band’s stuff on their website, and check out my review of the first Court Tavern show to see a live video of “In Some Time.”
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