Review: The Greenhornes @ The Bowery Ballroom, NYC

The GreenHornes

In my not so humble opinion, Jack White is responsible for creating some of the most inspired music of the 21st century. He also happens to be one of the hardest working musicians in rock n roll at the moment. Whether he’s playing under the guise of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, or the Dead Weather, White’s music demands that you stop and pay attention. One of White’s frequent partners in crime, Jack Lawrence(photo), affectionately known as “Little Jack” (we all know who “Big Jack” is in this case), is the bespectacled long-haired bass player in both the Dead Weather and the Raconteurs where he shares duties in the rhythm section with longtime accomplice, drummer Patrick Keeler. Before their involvement with Jack White, with whom they first worked together on Loretta Lynn’s White-produced 2004 LP Van Lear Rose, Lawrence and Keeler had played together with singer/guitarist Craig Fox in the Ohio-based band the Greenhornes, a stoner/garage rock outfit with three full length releases to their credit. Lawrence and Keeler’s involvement with Jack White and friends essentially put the Greenornes project on the back burner for the latter half of the past decade, but in 2010 the band returned with a new album “Four Stars” (literally, “****”), definitely a sleeper hit for the year, and a supporting tour.

I missed their first stop in New York city at Mercury Lounge at the end of the summer, so I made sure I got myself down to see them on their return engagement at the Bowery Ballroom (11/30). And I wasn’t the only one interested in seeing them that night. The place was packed with a rather diverse crowd, where unexpectedly I ran into some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, which is always a pleasant occurrence, and even legendary Rolling Stone reviewer David Fricke. And yeah, when I saw him, I turned into that guy. I was standing by the bar in the back of the performance area drinking a beer, when he walked by me, while one of the openers was performing. Now if you’ve ever seen David Fricke on one of those VH1 rockumentaries or in Wilco’s I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (one of the best rock movies ever, by the way), you know that he has a… hmmm, how can I put it… well, he has a rather distinctive look to him. Being the music nerd I am, I recognized him immediately. To be a dick or not to be… that was the question. I chose to be a dick, so as he was standing by himself in the corner, I went up to him, right hand outstretched, left holding on to my beer (duh…), and said, “Hey Dave, love your work. Mind if I ask you a question?” I have to admit, he was really cool about my bothering him and truly gracious during the encounter. He said, sure. And so I laid it on him, a grievance I’ve had with the powers that be at Rolling Stone and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame for quite a while now: “When is Jann Wenner gonna let Rush and Yes into the Hall of Fame?” The band was kind of loud so he didn’t hear me the first time, and, rather awkwardly, I had to repeat myself. When he finally heard me, he laughed, flashed a sheepish grin, pointed to a women standing to his left and said, “she asked me the same thing. I’ll tell you what I told her: it’s not like I’m not trying.” Fair enough. I wished him the best and let him be.

Unfortunately, as the recent announcement of the 2011 inductees into the Hall makes clear, you didn’t try hard enough, Dave! WTF?!?! Alice Cooper? Seriously? Before Rush and Yes? “School’s Out” before 2112? “No More Mr. Nice Guy” before “Roundabout”? Come on… That’s just fucking lame. And you guys stiffed Bon Jovi? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Bon Jovi (yes, he is – ed. Wait… what? No, I’m not! Who the fuck are you, “ed.”? This is my review… kindly, butt out. Yes you are. Bull fucking shit. Prove it! I know for a fact that you and your friend Tommy would ride your bicycles around your neighborhood blasting Bon Jovi’s album New Jersey from your boombox… and sing along… at the top of your lungs and out of key, no less. That’s not true! That’s impossible! Search your feelings. You know it to be true. Nooooooo! Nooooooo! Yes, dammit! Yes, it’s true. It’s all true. I’m a cowboy and on a steel horse, or a chrome BMX or Mongoose, I ride, motherfucker! Damn you… damn you all to hell…)… ahem, so as a fan of Bon Jovi (stop laughing! I hate you all!), I find it criminal that they were snubbed by Wenner and his cronies. (It’s like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders…)

Where was I? Oh yeah, the Greenhornes. Well, I wasn’t really familiar with any of their material. I was totally oblivious to any of their earlier releases, and their latest record was still on its way to my house via Amazon, so I had no idea what to expect. I really like Jack Lawrence’s playing and I think Patrick Keeler is one of the best drummers to emerge in the last decade, so at the very least I thought I’d be entertained by the rhythm section. And if the band sucked, there was nothing keeping me there…

They hit the stage around 11 pm, by which point grandpa had had his fair share of cough medicine, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. The band was tight and rocking, clearly wearing their influences on their sleeve: Doors-like psychedelia mixed with Iggy and the Stooges garage rock. At times they came off sounding like Where You Been-era Dinoasaur Jr. This I like. They were performing as a 4 piece, with an additional keyboardist/guitarist (whose name escapes me), and the sound was pretty full, as a result. The songs were full of hooks and harmonies which gave them a timeless quality… they could have written any time from 1965 to 2010. This I like, too.

Jack Lawrence was his typical self, holding down the low end on his Rickenbacker bass, which he played both with a pick and fingerstyle. He really is a rock solid bass player. He’s got a great sense for playing the right notes at the right time and laying down a funky groove. He gets busy when he needs to, but for the most part stays in the pocket and propels the song.

greenhornes singerSinger/guitarist Craig Fox, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. If you closed your eyes and just listened to him play his Les Paul and sing, you’d probably think to yourself this guy’s pretty good. He has a good rock n’ roll voice that breaks up at just the right moments and on the guitar he is more than competent. It’s just when you open your eyes and look at him performing that you almost feel embarrassed for the guy. I don’t know whether he has some back condition like Ace Frehley or he got himself in trouble with the mob and his shoes are cemented to the floor, but the guy doesn’t move. An inch. At all. He just stood at the mic singing and playing guitar for the 75 minute set, ramrod straight and still as a statue. It’s a good thing for him that there were no pigeons in the place. I mean, if what he was singing and playing didn’t sound so good, I’d swear that he was suffering from the worst case of stage fright I’ve ever seen. I don’t get it. Seriously, it was painful to watch him.

greenhornes drummerLuckily, if you were in the audience you didn’t have to watch Fox… you could watch Patrick Keeler, who more than made up for his statue-like bandmate. Like I said above, Keeler has to be one of the best drummers to emerge from anonymity in the last decade. He’s also probably one of the more entertaining drummers to watch. His Ludwig kit is bare bones. Kick, snare, a rack tom and a floor tom all set up perfectly horizontal. He uses a minimum of cymbals, just a hi-hat, a crash and a ride, again set up perfectly horizontal. Pretty basic as far as drum setups go. The drums are set up pretty low and he crouches over them, like a panther ready to pounce and then proceeds to beat the fuck out of them. Switching from traditional to match grip, Keeler is like a whirling dervish behind the drums, he’s a flurry of activity resembling Keith Moon at his most manic, and yet he performs with a high degree of economy and control. It’s hard to explain, but it sounds and looks fucking great. Paired up with Lawrence, the two of them are the secret weapon in the Raconteurs’ arsenal, in the Greenhornes, they’re the stars.

I’m glad I got myself to the show. Aside from Fox’s movement, or lack thereof, the Greenhornes put on a great rock show. Considering their pedigree, the band’s songs are designed to translate well in a live setting and to win over people, like me, who might be unfamiliar with the material. Happily, Amazon delivered the Greenhorne’s record to me the next day, and I’ve been listening to it since, and really digging the material. They Greenhornes might not be the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather or the White Stripes, but they are nevertheless a nice corner of Jack White’s expanding Third Man Records empire that you should definitely visit and try to see in person, if you can. I mean they’re no Bon Jovi, but how many are. Come on, sing along with me, “You’re love is like bad medicine…”

Nick Fokas

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