An Ecstatic Gospel Rock Party in Williamsburg with Jesus on the Mainline

by delarue

Monday night at 11:30 or so is Rev. Vince Anderson‘s weekly dance party at Union Pool. If you want to get your dirty, funky gospel groove on, there is no better place to do it. This past Monday night was an exception since Jesus on the Mainline played a raucous, careening show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg that was every bit as fun. Their roughly hourlong set cast them as sort of a cross between Anderson’s gritty jamband funk and the ecstatic, towering, anthemic New Orleans vibe of Brother Joscephus, with generous splashes of oldschool soul and occasional hints of circus rock. Fronted by charismatic trumpeter/conductor/singer Andrew Neesley, the band seems to draw on a rotating cast of A-list New York jazz talent. The obvious star of this particular sixteen-piece edition of the band was singer Mel Flannery, whose raw, powerful, brassy alto and stratospheric harmonies in tandem with Lauren Davidson (who was sitting in for Amanda Brecker) were nothing short of spine-tingling. Neesley may not embarrass himself on the mic, but Flannery’s otherworldly wail is transcendent: she got to take just one lead vocal all night and deserved them all.

When he wasn’t singing, or taking a tantalizingly brief, energetic trumpet solo, Neesley worked the dynamics up and down, pairing off soloists, signaling the band to drop out for a dip to just the keys and percussion, or the five-piece horn section, then leading everybody back up to a wild peak. Most of the songs went on for about ten minutes with plenty of time for solos. Guitarist Simon Kafka played slinky, in-the-pocket soul riffs, where Andrew Miramonti went for jaggedly dancing, explosive leads, thrashing as he played them. Keyboardist Pascal Le Beouf, who’s a distinguished jazz pianist in his own right, turned out to have sizzling, incisive chops on the organ as well. The most intense instrumental solo of the night came from tuneful, precise trombonist Natalie Cressman, while trumpeters Mike Gorham and Augie Haas got time in the spotlight along with trombonist Frank Cohen. The low end was bolstered by the twin pulse of bassist Tomek Miernowski and tuba player Mark McGinnis in tandem with Dave Scalia’s drums. In the quieter moments, percussionists Jake Goldbas and Austin Walker could be heard along with Tim Emmerick, who began the show’s first song with a bucolic banjo intro, later switching to acoustic guitar and singing harmonies as well.

While the tempos tended to sway and swing at a leisurely pace, the energy went up to redline with the first big rise from the horn section and stayed that way. Most of the songs were in major keys, eschewing the dark otheworldliness of some gospel music, especially the old stuff. And while the tunes often went straight to church, the lyrics didn’t. The catchiest song of the night was also the hardest-rocking number, with a gorgeous Le Boeuf organ solo and a more unhinged one from Miramonti. The show’s high point came courtesy of Flannery, whose sassy, indomitable low register was just as searingly powerful as her highest notes, fronting a gospel-soul number midway through the set and earned her the most applause of the evening. Neesley and Emmerick also teamed up for a rousing, slowly undulating tribute to getting so blitzed that the only option is to keep the bender going for another day, and that also resonated with the crowd. This music crosses a lot of boundaries, agewise, incomewise and otherwise, drawing a very diverse audience that represented Brooklyn a lot more, one suspects, than the typical crowds at this venue. The band doesn’t have any shows booked at the moment; watch this space.