What does it say about the state of New York nightlife that this Sunday happens to be one of the most happening nights this week? Is that just luck of the draw, a lot of good bands passing through town? Or, as more and more of this city turns into a tourist trap (or a permanent-tourist trap) on the weekend, is this a a sign that venues and maybe artists as well have learned that there’s money to be made from an audience who will come out on an off-night just to get away from the fratboys and their fraturniture? You be the judge. One of the most enticing shows this weekend is at the big room at the Rockwood on Sunday night at 8 where the Howlin’ Brothers are playing for a $10 cover.
That eclectic, virtuosically fun Americana trio’s most recent New York show was out back of City Winery just before the 4th of July, on what turned out to be a rare, blisteringly hot evening (that night aside, has this summer been just about the best on record or what?) Unperturbed by the heat despite being suited up in hats and sturdy plowman’s attire, the band looked like they were the happiest guys on the planet. Then again, wouldn’t you be if you could make a living traveling all over the world playing country blues and bluegrass and getting paid for it?
And it wasn’t all good-time drinking or partying music, either. Fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Ian Craft, guitarist Jared Green and bassist Ben Plasse worked the dynamics back and forth, throughout a tuneful, dynamically and historically rich set that went on for over an hour. Plasse, as it turns out, is also an excellent guitarist: he took the night’s longest and most energetic solo on electric guitar, one of only a few songs on which the band wasn’t all-acoustic. Craft started out on fiddle and then switched to banjo – interestingly, it was when he played that antique instrument that the music sounded the least oldtimey. Then he switched to bass, singing no matter what he was playing, which isn’t exactly easy. Green strummed and flatpicked expertly and blended voices with rest of the crew, through a couple of sad waltzes from their new album Trouble and the more upbeat stuff, including a raucous take of Carl Perkins’ Dixie Fried, from the band’s ep The Sun Studio Session. That one left no doubt that it’s about getting drunk and stoned and high on whatever else – probably a lot of stuff – that the guys who were making records there were doing back in 1956. No wonder the early rockabilly artists got into so much trouble with redneck politicians on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.