Live Review: Pearls and Brass and Serpent Throne in Brooklyn, NY 08.19.11

Posted in Reviews on August 22nd, 2011 by JJ Koczan

It was my first time at Saint Vitus. The bar, in Brooklyn‘s Greenpoint neighborhood — the mere fact that I didn’t have to be in Williamsburg on a Friday night was enough to make it worth driving into and through the city in the rain — is still a relatively recent advent, but it’s quickly become a hotspot for heavy shows featuring quality bands. My trip in to catch the revived Pennsylvanian trio Pearls and Brass was the first of two nights in a row I’d be spending there.

The door outside unmarked, the bar appropriately dark and the DJ spinning mostly ’80s metal when I walked in, I knew I was in the right place. The Saint Vitus homebrew ($4) is light and crisp and goes down easy. It was the kind of beer you could easily spend a night with, and doubtless they picked it as their flagship for just that purpose. I didn’t see brew-works anywhere (though they’d probably have room in the basement if it goes all the way back), and the place is split between the bar up front and the stage room separated by a thick curtain in the back.

I dug it. I dug the layout. I dug the fact that it was easy for me to get there from Jersey (if you’ve ever been to Europa, you already know how to get there), and I dug that it wasn’t peopled by assholes either of the heavy metal or hipster variety. There was some of that element — a group of people seemed to be having a photoshoot toward the end of the bar after the show — but it’s unavoidable, and if a place like Saint Vitus is going to stay in business, it’s that crowd’s disposable income that’s going to let them do it. In any case, cool room. There was a copy of the Holy Diver vinyl on display behind the bar, and that’s automatic points in my book.

The sound in back was decent as well, which I first got to experience with the avant/noise-making outfit Eleven Twenty Nine. The trio were instrumental, two guitars and a drummer, and all three members of the band seemed to be working in not only a different time signature, but a different time zone. It was the kind of noodling self-indulgence that you can either read as super-progressive or noise for noise’s sake, and either way, an odd fit for comradeship with the riffy Serpent Throne or the sweet tones of Pearls and Brass.

Serpent Throne took over following a short break and that was where the show really got on track. When last I saw them, I was getting embarrassingly drunk in their native Philadelphia and they were opening for Solace and Pentagram. That was quite an evening on multiple levels, but at Saint Vitus they proved no less engaging. Rather, with their third album — White Summer/Black Winter, which was reviewed earlier this year — behind them, they seemed relaxed and able to settle into the grooves their riffs inevitably led them.

They had several highlights to their set, but the unnamed new song they closed with hit especially hard. They’re not really doing anything that’s never been done before, but the interplay between the guitars is interesting, and as they’ve developed as a band, their songs have gradually become more intricate. They sound like they’re having a lot of fun, and they looked that way on stage as well. With stage banter that centered largely on the freeing of the West Memphis Three, a jovial atmosphere was set.

When Pearls and Brass announced their reactivation toward the end of last year, they did so with a show in the bar of a hotel (at least I seem to recall that was the situation) in their native Nazareth, PA. I tried to get advance tickets to that show, but it quickly sold out, and so I was even more eager to see them at the Saint Vitus bar. Their sunshine blues rock was three or four years ahead of the curve when they released their last album, The Indian Tower, on Drag City, and so I expected they’d pull a decent audience in Brooklyn, and they did. I don’t think there was any threat of the show selling out, but the room was crowded anyway, and the people who showed up knew what they were there for.

Myself included. I’d been a fan of Pearls and Brass since they released their self-titled on Doppelganger Records in 2003, and so the chance to see them now, eight years and one reunion later, was exciting. Guitarist Randall Huth and bassist Joel Winter, whose shared vocals came through low in the mix, played right into Sunn amps and made the most of the tones therefrom. The songs they played carried across a lighthearted Americana despite their distortion, and with drummer Josh Martin‘s punkish backbeat, there was never any energy lacking in the performance.

It was a joy to see them after so long. As I stood and watched their too-short set (though the last song they played was at least 10 minutes long and had multiple movements) progressed, I remembered hearing the Pearls and Brass record and feeling like I’d stumbled on something really special. They were tight like a band who’d never gone away, and should they decide to record new material, I can’t see them having any problem aligning themselves with Tee Pee Records or someone like that should Drag City not be able to put it out. The aesthetic having caught up to where they were half a decade ago, I’d be eager to hear where they went next on a studio album.

The Jersey-bound drive ahead of me, I left almost immediately after they finished. I’d made the drive into Brooklyn with one headlight, and decided to change the broken one before I headed back, which took a humiliating amount of time (big American hands, tiny Swedish spaces). That feat finally accomplished, I hightailed it back to the valley and caught as much sleep as possible, ready to do it all again the next night for Totimoshi.

As per usual, there are more pics after the jump.

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