The Grasping Straws packed the Mercury Lounge for the album release show for their debut full-length cd a couple of nights ago, treating the crowd to a performance that even by their standards was pretty pyrotechnic. Intense singer/guitarist Mallory Feuer’s band, which began as a collective with a rotating cast of characters, has solidified with a tight, dynamically shifting rhythm section of former Beast Make Bomb bassist Sam Goldfine and drummer Jim Bloom. This time out, they had Feuer’s brother Harrison – of Nobody Takes Vegas – snarling and wailing and machinegunning his way through volleys of metallic menace, then descending to a suspenseful jangle that he’d explode out of in a flash for more fireworks. Meanwhile, the bandleader didn’t even play guitar on the first number, wailing and shrieking, twisting and undulating, eyes closed, a shaman either banishing or mind-melding with some mysterious demon, finally ending with a slinky flip of the mic cable behind her back and then back around. It was dangerous in a lot of ways, not the least being that she might have spent all her bullets in the first four minutes of the show. Was she going to be able to keep that up for a whole set?
As it turned out, pretty much. As a singer, Feuer sometimes wields her vibrato like a metal guitarist, shivering and bending through the wall in the least likely places to max out the otherworldly factor. When she does that, she’s the blues valkyrie that Robert Plant always wanted to be. But more often, she just bends the notes a twinge – and then holds them there in a strange purgatory, letting the unresolved, enigmatic ambience linger, ramping up the suspense. The band took their time building to a sunbaked sizzle from rainy-day jangle in Going Going Gone. They followed with another jangly one, On the Line, from their more jazz-oriented early days, then took a volcanic stomp through the wickedly catchy Just a Memory, part minor-key Randi Russo menace, part early Iron Maiden, maybe – with Heart’s Ann Wilson out front, outraged.
From there they stampeded through State of Affairs, a surreal, distantly terrorized Hurricane Sandy tableau, then took a vividly overcast detour into Home, which began as brooding Laurel Canyon psychedelia and then exploded in shards of distortion and reverb on the chorus. Enjoy the Trip and Sunshine balanced bittersweetly nebulous jangle and clang with jaggedly noisy crunch. They closed with Who Do You Think You Are, taking a long climb upward to a blissfully mighty payoff on the chorus.
They also played a cover, an aptly insistent, hard-hitting cover of White Rabbit, Bloom leading the band through some deliciously subtle, tricky syncopation at the end – as one astute longtime LES music maven observed, it wasn’t Elena Zazanis, but it was pretty close. The Grasping Straws kick off their North American tour on July 11; dates are here.