REVIEW: Jesus on the Mainline, Animal Years @ Great Scott (12/11)

Lately, I’ve made a habit of going to shows where I’m not familiar with any of the bands in the lineup. I’ve found that this practice allows for a wide spectrum of enjoyment that ranges from “Where has this band been all my life!?” to “Well, this beer is pretty good, I guess.” Last Thursday night, prompted solely by the gathered intelligence that a 15 member band had the intention of fitting on the stage at Great Scott, I’m happy to report that the evening fell firmly towards the former.

The night’s entertainment began with the sole hometown offering of Sinnet. As they took the stage, singer Aaron Spransy invited the crowd to enjoy one of the free homemade cookies they brought along. Being thusly bribed with sugary indulgence, I settled in for some music. With both his guitar and a rack of keyboards at-the-ready, multi-instrumentalist Spransy led the group through a number of tracks featured on both their 2013 album Year of the Whale, and the more recent Pink Flamingo Hotels single from this past August.

On the whole, I enjoyed Sinnet. Spransy’s vocals have a breathy, pop-centric quality that works well in juxtaposition to the ‘verbed out, Clash-meets-Vampire Weekend guitar stabs and full-on barre chord style indie-pop sound the quartet produces. With their front-man setting aside his guitar in favor of what seemed to be a Juno synth / Nord keyboard situation, Sinnet seemed to take on a different vibe altogether. While the material may have been similar in structure, the bright indie-pop had ebbed and took on a slightly more brooding, instrumental sound. I’d be interested to see where their new material goes given the contrast.

The next act of the evening was Animal Years. The first note I took about this Brooklyn-based group, relating to their singer/guitarist Mike McFadden, was simply, “That is a fierce beard”. Their set began with the type of uptempo, guitar ringing out, everybody-pay-attention-now intro which made clear that, without question, we were about to see some no-nonsense rock music. Drummer Anthony Spinnato flawlessly kept each section pulsing forward in an impressive display of musicianship, as the guitars provided the ringing and driving emotional content that felt wholly lacking in irony.

While some slightly twangy artists are proprietors of what I like to call the “faux-anthem” (You know what I’m talking about, Mumford & Sons. Kings of Leon… Don’t you make that face at me…) the thing that I really enjoyed about Animal Years was that as I watched them work through tracks from their debut Sun Will Rise (2013), I got the sense that every moment was genuine. Every frantically strummed chord and impassioned yelp was brimming with a yearning that felt undeniably real. Also, the fact that they successfully covered and had the entire room singing along to a Macy Gray song was as funny as its arrangement was impressive.

Which brings us to the main event. If the phrase “wall of sound” had not already been coined, I have a distinct feeling that we’d be pairing those words together for Jesus on the Mainline. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to find a better example for the 21st century embodiment of the term. Led by the Grammy-nominated frontman/conductor/sunglasses-at-night-wearing dynamo Andrew Neesley (Also, sorry Mike. I take it back. THIS guy has a fierce beard), JotM is a 15 member powerhouse of sound. Horn section? Check. Backup Singers? Check. Soul version of “Lithium” by Nirvana that made this reviewer feel human emotions despite it being winter in Boston and I’m a shell of person? Check Check.

“If the phrase “wall of sound” had not already been coined, I have a distinct feeling that we’d be pairing those words together for Jesus on the Mainline.”

In their most laid back moments, Jesus on the Mainline exemplifies the best big band elements of Moondance era Van Morrison and the soulful rock crooning of Joe Cocker. On the other end of the spectrum, they seem to harness the raw energy of the recent resurgence in bluesy, soul-fueled rock as seen in artists such as the Black Keys and Hanni El Khatib. Where some bands might seem derivative or called a “throw-back” experience, JotM seem to exist in an anachronistic bubble of authenticity. As a performer, Neesley exudes the confidence of a man possessed by his influences, performing his heart out while simultaneously curating the semi-improvised songs by indicating which of his bandmates should take a solo. It was like watching an orchestra being conducted by a bearded madman and I loved every second of it.

If you have the chance to catch Jesus on the Mainline live, do it. It’s an experience.