The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.
Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube – had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.
But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.
Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.
The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.
Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.