It was like someone dared the weather to be as miserable as possible. Just an awful night. Cold, bordering on freezing rain falling more or less in buckets, city wind blowing in your face. Visibility was pretty low as I drove over the Brooklyn Bridge to get to Hank’s Saloon, but screw it, I was going. My curiosity about The Golden Grass had been piqued by their debut single, and having managed to sneak a little family time in after the workday on what was a short post-Thanksgiving trip south, I made sure that even with the rain I got to Brooklyn in plenty of time to see them share the stage with fellow locals Weird Owl and Worthless.
The latter were on first, playing an engaging shoegazey psychedelic rock in a five-piece congregation that made the small stage at Hank’s – one of the room’s assets, in my opinion — appear even more crowded than usual. Flourishes of synth/organ from Nicole Zamfes and effects gave suitable echo and swirl to their material, with a current of guitar, bass and drums at the core to keep material fluid but anchored in a light, contemplative feel. Bassist Skyler Toski‘s vocals came through with an English accent, while guitarist Curtis Godino had more of an indie delivery, and the blend worked well, the drums not crashing so much as keeping a steady beat to ground the complexity around them in songs like “Slumber Time Blues” and “Summer of Love” from Worthless‘ debut tape. The only issue was the P.A.
Godino‘s mic had a persistent crackle, and the right side of the P.A. cut out on more than one occasion. It happened to Toski too and frustration was evident. Soon enough it would be the running theme of the night, which was twice a bummer since the downshift in mood didn’t exactly mesh with the sunshine in Worthless‘ jams. Still, they made the most of what they had, and while they sounded and seemed on stage as though they were still sorting out the dynamic between players in creating their sonic texture, the late ’60s vibe was appreciably realized. I dug it. The obvious thing to say would be they didn’t at all live up to their name, but there you go.
I wasn’t sure where all the people had come from when I turned around following the end of Worthless‘ last song, but Weird Owl pulled in a good crowd. The Tee Pee Records veterans released an EP this fall called Healing through Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre‘s A Recordings (info here), and “Change Your Mind” from it was a recognizable highlight of their set. The tracks for that were recorded by Jeff Berner (Naam, La Otracina, etc.), and as he’d also recently worked with The Golden Grass on an upcoming release, he turned out to see the two bands play. Weird Owl, who upped the synth level even from Worthless‘ material, with John Cassidy trading off between bass and keys (and tambourine), and J. David Nugent furthering the slowed-down space rock feel with an array of synth as guitarist/vocalist Trevor Tyrrell added an effects wash of his own.
Both the exploratory drift of their performance and the stretches wherein drummer Sean Reynolds stepped up to drive the material forward were welcome, but technical problems persisted. More P.A. crackling and cutting out. Watching them play, it was kind of hard to get lost in the groove with the interruptions, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. Of more concern to me standing in front of the stage was the incense burning on the floor. I guess for a while I was standing right where the smell was coming up and hadn’t realized it and then it hit me all at once. I had to move to the back of Hank’s and wound up staying there for the rest of Weird Owl‘s set, though for what it’s worth, a new song that Tyrrell later referred to as “Craft” when I asked was a standout jam no matter where you were standing at the time. Weird Owl have been around a while at this point and this was the first time I’d seen them. It made me want to pay another visit to Healing and their two Tee Pee outings, 2009′s Ever the Silver Cord be Loosed and 2011′s Build Your Beast a Fire (track stream here).
And as for The Golden Grass, well, part of what made me want to catch their live show so badly was the sense of positivity that bleeds through the songs on their first single, One More Time b/w Tornado. There’s no shortage the world over of rock acts paying homage to the style and substance of the heavy ’70s era, but there is a shortage of those who are willing to let themselves look like they’re having fun doing it. The Golden Grass do not suffer from this if-we-don’t-seem-miserable-we-won’t-be-artsy phobia either on the single or their 456th Div. tape (review here), and I was pleased to find that the same applied to their stage presence, whether it was guitarist/vocalist Michael Rafalowich boogieing down as he took a solo in “Please Man,” drummer Adam Kriney propelling a shuffle all his own on drums while simultaneously contributing a major of the singing, including harmonies with Rafalowich on “Stuck on a Mountain” and others, or bassist Joe Noval grinning, satisfied, as he held down yet another warm, engaging groove. The Golden Grass were a damn good time, and that was the whole point.
Only trouble? They got it the worst when it came to the night’s technical problems. It turned out there was something wrong with one of the power bars that everything was plugged into, and Rafalowich‘s guitar (along with the Xmas lights on stage) cut out a few times early on. Kriney called for tape, but it had already been taped. Some kind soul swapped out for a different outlet a few songs in, but the toll was taken on the mood and the crowd. Having come from a ways away, it was a bummer to see, but the songs themselves were still right on, even through the technical problems. They opened with the B-side of the 7″, “Tornado,” and played the memorable “Stuck on a Mountain” and “Please Man” from the 456th Div. tape, hit “One More Time” — their signature cut as yet — jammed with a drum solo on “Wheels” and finished up with a song I hadn’t heard yet, “Sugar and Spice,” which nailed the lighthearted vibe perfectly. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t, but I hope it makes it onto the album when that arrives.
It was a rough night technically, I think probably most of all for The Golden Grass, but none of the three bands let that derail them. I picked up a copy of One More Time b/w Tornado and said a quick-enough goodnight before heading out into the rain. It was around one in the morning. I was fortunate enough to have been offered a place to crash in Manhattan, and woke up a bit before 6:30AM to start the drive back north. No regrets for the travel, no regrets for the weather, no regrets for the P.A. I had wanted to see if The Golden Grass would be able to convey the same sense of positivity in their live show as they do on the studio versions of their songs, and even in rough circumstances, the answer was a resounding yes.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.