Apr 8, 2015

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Live Review: Houndmouth – The Bowery Ballroom, NYC

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Recording their homemade EP at night might have helped deter traffic noise, but barking dogs bled onto the tracks of Matt Meyers, Katie Toupin, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody’s unnamed music project in late 2011. A name for the band didn’t stick until drummer Shane’s drunken exclaim, “There’s too much hound mouth on that track,” and when the head of Rough Trade records offered them a contract at SXSW in March 2012, Houndmouth didn’t have to worry about anymore hound mouth disrupting their recordings. In support of their second full-length release Little Neon Limelight, they rocked New York City’s Bowery Ballroom with flare on April 1st and absolutely brought down the house.  

You know both the opening and headlining acts will be suited in boots when you see their vans parked outside the venue with Oklahoma and Indiana license plates. Parker Millsap warmed up the audience, grabbing us with slide guitar. His raspy, bluesy vocals truly lit up the room. Around 10:15 the house lights shut off, and Houndmouth’s neon light prop began to flicker as the band walked onstage to Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered as pump-up music. After a short instrumental jam the band opened with an electrifying version of Black Gold, the fifth track from the new album. The guitar distortion and sustained keyboard effects wailing together sparked the energy level for the rest of the set.

Next they played fan favorite On The Road, and towards the end of the song as Matt sang “hey there sugar mama” he taunted the audience, waving his behind and kissing the microphone. One of the many great band characteristics of Houndmouth is that not only does every band member sing, but they also each sing lead on at least one song. The bass player Zak took that role for 15 Years, a classic, upbeat soul tune complete with backup “ooohs.” Just before Shane’s lead song Long As You’re At Home, he informed the audience that some of their parents were at the show. “The crazy woman who bought me a drum set when I was twelve years old is in the house tonight. Thank you mom.”

Katie took a break from the keys and took the role of front woman for my favorite Houndmouth song Casino. During the chorus of Sedona Matt alternated matching dance moves with Katie and Zak, kicking their feet to the beat of the word “cash” in the chorus. Later they played the foot stompin’, country swingin’ Hey Rose and during the last chorus they sang in a fading a capella, eventually stepping away from mics to let the audience lead the song. For Gasoline Katie picked up the guitar and played solo for most of the song, but when the rest of the sounds surfaced each band member was performing on an instrument that they normally didn’t play. Another highlight of the night was My Cousin Greg, a song that clearly helped inspire the title of their new album. “If you want to live the good life, you better stay away from the limelight.”

Matt played the solo, acoustic, intimate ballad For No One as the first song of the encore. When the band came back onstage he whipped out a bottle of tequila and became a bartender to fans in the front row that raised their cups. Then he passed the bottle to Shane who said, “Mom I’m drinking tequila from the bottle” and then took a swig. The energy stayed calm for the first couple minutes of Houndmouth classic Houston Train but then blasted off into shredding guitar solos and loud cymbal crashes. Matt called up Parker Millsap to perform a bluesy, full-band rendition of Dion Dimucci’s Runaround Sue for the last song in the encore set.

Despite their stage attire of boots, sunglasses, bell-bottom pants, leather and white, puffy jackets, Houndmouth proved that they’re not just another band stuck in the 70’s. Their classic rock and indie soul blend delivers such a rousing live vigor that makes the show one of the most memorable concerts within the last decade. The disco ball stage prop also fits their tour theme, and as the audience grooved and sang along all night, their neon light glowed so bright and pink; the Saturday night kind of pink.

Scott J. Herman