In preparation for the Rock N’ Roll Rumble in Cambridge this weekend, sales I went to check out a few bands that were opening the Soft Time Traveler CD Release Show at Brighton Music Hall a couple of weeks ago. What I saw when I got there was…unexpected.
I have to thank Richard Bouchard, sickness the Indie Rock Ranger himself, order for providing a quick summary of the night before the first band went on, so I could mentally prepare myself for something I had never seen live in person: burlesque. What was an unassuming club in Allston became a circus of onstage theatrics, awesome music, and, at times, very little clothing.
Entertaining as the burlesque introduction was, I was ready to get on to the music. Ruby Rose Fox and the Ruby Rose Fox Band made their way onto the stage and immediately launched into a soulful, lounge-worthy set. I was immediately floored by the silky smooth power of her voice. It was like listening to Lily Allen, but more badass. They opened up with “The Dread,” sending the audience into a hip-slapping, head bopping frenzy. The raw power of Ruby’s voice coupled with the smooth rhythms of the backing band made me want to sit down in a lounge with a cigar and some nice scotch. I had to make do with cheap Naragansett and the darkness of Brighton Music Hall.
Ruby ripped through some of her biggest songs, paying tribute to the now-defunct Phoenix and WFNX with “Blue Light City.” The slowed-down tempo of the song mellowed out the room, which perfectly set up the upbeat bounce of “John Michael Holiday.” Just like Ruby’s onstage, the energy in the room was starting to build as she busted into a self-proclaimed “song about revolution,” “Dewey Square.”
The band ended their set with the slow-dance number “Dear Leonard Cohen,” “Neighborhood Watch,” and “Drive Pretty,” definitely leaving the audience wanting more. Ruby’s heart-wrenchingly smooth vocals kept eating at the audience, prompting singalongs at every chorus, while the band’s backup work spoke for itself. The tight, rocking sound of the band perfectly complemented Ruby’s strong voice. They would be a tough act to follow.
The Field Effect were more than up for the task. Bursting immediately onto the stage (after some more semi-nude entertainment), the band started with a new song, bringing their high-energy, high-volume indie rock into the hall. The rest of their set became a high voltage singalong, as their catchy lyrics and infectious rhythms took the room by storm. Frontman Doug Orey’s earnest, soulful voice was in full swing in the heartfelt “Cotton” and the uptempo “Headwrecked,” which, he astutely stated, is “a song about getting drunk with your friends.” Everyone was taking his advice.
Orey’s incredibly relatable lyrics put together with the band’s driving, catchy riffs were what got me hooked on The Field Effect in the first place, as they barreled their way through “Ghost Of” and a new song, “Lions.” The tightness of the band was really showing, as bass player Annie Hoffman bounced around on stage, keeping perfect rhythm with drummer Adam Hand. It honestly just looked like damn good fun on that stage, watching Orey and his mountain man beard belt out these heartfelt songs. They would take things a little slower with the next couple of songs, playing their own tribute to WFNX and the Phoenix with “Dancing With Earthquakes,” and “Porcelain.” The slowed-down vibe of these two songs prepared me perfectly for the finale of their set. As much as I love bouncing up and down for an hour, I’m not in the best of shape right now, so it was nice to just sit back and groove for a couple of songs.
TFE closed out their night with the faster “Till I Say When” and their crowd-favorite closer, “Ogunquit.” For me, this really showed what this band was all about. “Till I Say When” is a fast, yet melancholic song that combines bouncable rhythms with lyrics of loss and hope. It is this balance that The Field Effect bring to all their songs. “Ogunquit” is another example of this. They close out most (if not all) of their shows with their record’s opener. I don’t know a lot of bands that have the cajones to pull that off, but they do. This hopeful song of a summer beach town in Maine blew the doors off the hall with its epic singalong chorus and its dynamic shifts. I know the crowd was a little bitter to see The Field Effect leave the stage.
Next up were the Rationales, a band I was somewhat unfamiliar with. Luckily, all of their songs were so catchy that I had little trouble getting into the groove. The steady stream of Sam Adams probably helped too. But although I was primarily at Brighton Music Hall to see a few bands before the Rock N’ Roll Rumble, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I wound up loving the Rationales.
Blending the best pop sensibilities with incredibly catchy songs and rocking riffs, the Rationales wowed the audience with several new songs, including the slower, slide guitar tinged “Dulcinea.” Frontman David Mirabella’s vocals rang out over the crowd as the simple drumbeats and lap steel provided just enough Americana twang to make this song an instant singalong. The rest of their set was much of the same: infectiously catchy songs that you couldn’t help but jam along to. Other songs that stuck out to me were the crashing cymbals and soaring guitar licks of “Under The Gun,” the piano-filled “Tongue Tied,” the straightforward bass-driven, clap-worthy “Jaded,” and, of course, their epic 2012 jam, “Radio.” It was pretty easy to see why these guys made it to the semifinals of the last Rock N’ Roll Rumble.
I loved how half the night was new Rumble bands, while the other half was Rumble alums. The final band up was the host band of the evening, Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. Promoting their new album, Soft Time Traveler, the Army took to the stage amidst thunderous applause, sporting some interesting outfits and blowing me away with their creativity.
The band played songs almost entirely off their new record. Fronted by the raspy-voiced, dreadlocked Walter Sickert, the Army of Broken Toys dove headfirst into their eclectic, entertaining artsy rock. They didn’t disappoint.
I’m still lost for words on how exactly to describe the Army’s music. Under Sickert’s direction, the band steamrolled through the entire new album. From the clapalong march of “Devils in the Details,” they moved into the dance-oriented “Survive Songbird.” The energy and volume of the room was at a boiling point. With “Baba Yaga,” we were slowly grooving along to the violin-fueled track. Despite its name, “Pornival” was a whimsical, bouncy song, characterized by xylophone and finger-picked violin. Sickert’s voice throughout all the songs maintained its soulful raspiness and grungy bite.
The collective talent of the musicians onstage was evident as the entire record, song by song, made me realize how the Kickstarter campaign for the album was such a success. “Soldier’s Came” floored me with its dark and serious tone, while the country-infused twang of “Radioactive Brush” slowed the room down to a slow, melancholic waltz. The minimalist “Walls” was an echo-laden exercise in what can be done with less, not more. “Dead Cowboys” sounded like it belonged in an old-school Western shoot-em-up, and I was surprised there wasn’t a pistol duel right in the middle of the hall when it started. “Atom Bomb” was an acoustic-filled love song with beautiful harmonies, contrasted with the Russian-dancehall worthy “Droog and Devotchka.” The piano intro for “Cruel Sister” alone was enough to frighten me with the idea of the “cruel sister” Sickert was growling about. Truly a scary (awesome) song.
The whistle-backed, lo-fi melodies of “Glory Box” were haunting and mysterious, as the band moved into the last several songs of their night. The marching rhythm of “Little Paper Song” showed exactly how tons of instruments can sound less chaotic and incredibly tight. “28 Seeds” made use of insanely bold dynamic shifts, with cymbals and every other instrument sounding like they were about to explode. They closed out the night with the slow “Ourselves” and the eponymous “Soft Time Traveler,” a melancholic, piano-driven march. The band came out one more time for a fantastic cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” with Sickert’s voice giving Mick Jagger’s a run for its money in terms of intensity.
It was an interesting night filled with great music. The differences in the bands’ various styles made it almost a learning experience for me. From the lounge-worthy smooth sounds of Ruby Rose Fox, to the indie intensity of the Field Effect, throwing in catchy pop hooks with the Rationales, and topping it off with the art-folk-steampunk-steamcrunk rocking of the Army of Broken Toys, it was one of the most diverse concerts I’d ever been to in Boston. It made me crave even more. Thank the lord for the Rock N’ Roll Rumble.