Sullivan Hall Surrealism
This concert couldn’t have happened; this band can’t exist. Not in 2011. Suitcoated, lefty guitarist/crooner with a cheshire cat smirk, singing ominously swinging late 70s style powerpop in a creepy Iggy Pop baritone, flanked by a woman young enough to be his niece (was she even old enough to be in the club) wearing a Mad Men era red-and-white dress and doing blue-eyed soul harmonies while hammering out chords on a gorgeous Gibson Flying V. To her left, Jimmy Buffett’s keyboardist, indulging his New York noir fixation on piano and organ. Behind him, the bassist, putting to the test Mance Lipscomb’s claim that it is actually possible to sleep and play at the same time. The spikily towheaded drummer – as the audience will discover later – is a refugee from major label hell, seemingly hell-bent on redeeming herself. But that shouldn’t be a worry, she can choose her gigs since good drummers are always a hot commodity. Just the visuals alone are enough to dislodge any remaining picograms of LSD from your liver and send them flying straight at your brain, just as your college friends used to warn you.
How do you react to this kind of Lynchian sensory overload? The Sullivan Hall bathroom doesn’t even smell like pot like it usually does, there’s a big crowd in the house and you don’t want to let on that your mind has gone deep down the rabbit hole into a time warp from the CBGB or Hurrah’s of your dreams, that you were either at, or wished you were, you can’t remember which. Meanwhile, the songs keep coming and Sam Sherwin’s “Who, me?” expression offers just the hint of a leer. It’s a scene from Steppenwolf but with electric instruments.
The drummer hits the cymbals insistently on offbeats, the organ swirls with a graceful Alan Price menace, and Sherwin brings in a little Memphis via the LES on his guitar. “That’s not how we do it anymore,” the woman in the 60s dress wails. Meanwhile, Sherwin is intent on revenge. “I’m just that kind of man that sends your love right back to you,” he offers, snarling behind the bright Americana shuffle of the tune. It’s pretty obvious that this is not a love song.
The next tune’s a sunbaked slide guitar boogie. “Think it over,” the harmony singer warns him, and he does, and then lets the organ ripple and rise and flood the place until the song literally gets smashed to pieces as the waves rise and knock it over. The most surreal number has Sherwin railing about “licking my wounds at the scene of the crime,” then insisting that everything will be ok…if you want it to. As if. Like the song before it, it falls apart, but slowly, in a drizzle of Riders on the Storm piano and resigned jazz chords from the guitar. They follow it with a sad, swaying country ballad set on the banks of a canal. “I wish I could have fallen in love with you,” Sherwin broods, but it’s clear from the beginning that any hope of that was doomed, destined to float away with the dead fish.
In the next song, Sherwin’s in jail. It’s not clear what he’s there for and he doesn’t think he should be. Tell it to judge, says the guard (in the bright, pretty voice of the harmony singer), and Sherwin does. Oh baby, does he ever. But it works! He’s sprung from the Tombs, no the worse for the experience, and now it’s payback time. They take the show out with a catchy, rising three-chord vamp: “Get close!” Sherwin grins, maybe wondering how or if anybody in the crowd will. By now, the bassist is awake and locked into a slinky soul groove, the drummer is firing off one unexpected crash after another, the girl in the dress hasn’t let her sabretoothed smile slip and Sherwin raises the neck of his guitar like a ringmaster with a whip. Proper, impeccably produced versions of most of these songs can be found on Sherwin’s new Iodine Cocktails album, but as you can imagine, it’s impossible to bottle an experience like this. Outside the club, the temperature has plummeted, jet trails streaking from the lights of the cabs making their way down Sullivan Street. “Stay away from me!” barks the curb. Will you make it home?