I have quite a few bands to recommend and I'll get to that time permitting, but I wanted to do something a little different this time. I recently saw the band Augustana at Webster Hall, and well I've been high on this band since the CD came out two years ago and far before "Boston" became the piano-ballad smash that's all over Vh1 and radio stations. I wrote a review of the disc and it never got picked up by any publications, that review now has a home at http://www.residentmediapundit.com The site is a more worked up version of this blog that I work on with a partner. The web site for now is mostly CD reviews, movie suggestions, and computer tips/help. It's my new pet project and a lot of the reason why I've neglected this one so much. To that degree I also have a new job that requires a lot of time so I don't know how often I will get to keep this thing alive. But it is my goal to do so. With that said, here's my live set review:
On the heels of their piano-ballad smash "Boston" San Diego-band Augustana played a packed Webster Hall last night and proved to be more than just a one-song wonder. Opening with title track "All the Stars and the Boulevards" the band showcased it's flair for rootsy, jangle-pop and began the night in an unconventional mid-tempo swoon. Shortly thereafter the tempo picked up with the punchy "Hotel Roosevelt" and the equally punchy "Bullets" which was followed up by a new song, "Heart-Shaped Gun." The song features a syrupy sweet melody, and a little of the vocal style Layus uses on the song "Sunday Best." I think the refrain to this one was: " It's hard to miss when you're shooting a heart shaped gun. You'll slit your skin to find freedom, you'll kill yourself to find anything at all." The band played "Wasteland" after before seguing into another new song entitled "Love Me." I have to say I was dissapointed with Layus up to this point. For one he wasn't entirely talkative and seemed more into his own thing than the crowd. To that degree he seemed far more subdued and out of it than I recall when I saw them two years ago. He seemed dazed, stoned, or maybe drunk. There was a glaze to him and didn't seem to be getting into the songs as much as I had hoped. Maybe I'm just a snob who saw them on a really good night.
To Layus' credit he does improvis the vocals a little, and certainly emotes to the -nth degree, but I suppose I was just hoping for more. One of his strengths has always been his empasssioned singing that brims with conviction. The Webster Hall show was no different. Whereas "Love Me" was short and sweet in a simple, singer/songwriter vein, the song "Sunday Best" replete with mandolin pushed the set in a different direction. Since Josiah Rosen's departure with the band a few years ago, the band has gone through a few lineup changes. The newest addition is guitarist Chris Sachtleben and the young Nashville teen certainly brings a lot to the table. His adept mandolin playing, and the abundance of keys definitely gives the band a rootsy, folky, country feel that made the set far more intimate and compelling. It's almost as if his Nashville roots have shaped the band's songwriting. A new song called "Cocaine" followed "Sunday's Best" and was probably the best of the new songs he played. I believe it featured Layus on harmonica, and Sachteleben on lap steel but I may be mistaken. It had a bit of a Ryan Adams like feel to it.
The band played "Lonely People" next and after a series of quieter, stripped down songs it was nice to see the band bring the rock punch back. They definitely gave the song a lot of life and it certainly bolstered their cred for being an adept rock band. A new song called "Sweet and Low" was next and featured the same kind of vibe that "Kiss Me" had. Another new song entitled "Either Way I'll Break Your Heart Someday" followed and this one definitely had a Willie Nelson feel to it. It just felt like a classic. Something you would have heard twenty years ago. The song "Boston" was next and the band closed with "Coffee and Cigarettes." The band came back on for a one-song encore and played "Mayfield." The song is actually pretty mid-tempo and really isn't that much of a driving rocker but live it was definitely amped up and punchy and got the crowd really jumping along.
For the encore openers Vega4 came out and danced around with the Augstana boys. That final touch really pushed the set in a nice light and was a good way to end the set. As a side note, the opener Vega4 was very impressive. Their sound is something akin to Snow Patrol or the lesser-known Irish band Rubyhorse. Their lyrics were a bit corny in some spots but the band definitely had an incredible stage presence and really played the crowd. For it being their first time in America, I was incredibly impressed. They played with a polish and a confidence as if they had played New York thousands of time before. I definitely think that they will be the next Snow Patrol. So people watch out. Vega4 is about to explode onto your airwaves and you heard it hear in this blog first.
In closing, the new Augustana songs from the five we heard are all acoustic-based and mid-tempo. There is nothing loud or crunchy about them. The songs are very much country and folksy and that may alienate some. A few of the fans last night definitely seemed a little turned off but I do think it's a true statement to how diverse and accomplished this band is. For a band whose oldest member is in his mid-twenties I have to say I am incredibly impressed with how well-worn Augustana seems. Dan Layus sings about torture and pain as if he's lived for years and years. It's a truly intimate and captivating touch and I hope that their music continues to touch lives in the way it has touched mine.
- ▼ February (3)