After set opener “Trailways Ramble” came to a stirring close at his Time Off record release show on Saturday night, Steve Gunn asked the crowd gathered at Johnny Brenda’s if the volume was “Black Sabbath” enough. And though the Brooklyn-based guitarist was likely joking, he has more in common with the heavy metal pioneers than just a new album. Like the Birmingham trio, Gunn is a master of longevity. His fifteen-year career, now marked by many strong releases with a variety of collaborators, began in high school hardcore bands that were probably influenced by Ozzy and his crew to some degree. But unlike the metal rockers, Gunn is a musical chameleon; he works not so much within the framework of a genre as he does around the capabilities of an instrument – and in his case that instrument is a guitar.
But first, Psalmships called the show order – their dark and introspective tales floating through the room as the audience gradually filtered in. But whatever soothing mediation the crowd experienced during Psalmships’ set was quickly jolted awake by concert middlemen Endless Boogie.
The show quickly blasted way off to the other end of the spectrum with quintessential New York City rock & roll band impacting every nearby eardrum with a wall of heavy-handed but fun rock. The highlight of the first two sets happened midway through Endless Boogie’s run of extended instrumental jams when the long-haired / long-banged Paul Major called Dan Balcer up on stage.
Known endearingly to most as Harmonica Dan, Balcer is the guy you buy records from at the Philadelphia Record Exchange. But he’s also a wildly talented harmonica player and despite most of his harping being buried way down in the mix, the crowd seemed ecstatic just to see him on stage.
As Steve Gunn started his set with the melodically spiraling desert jam “Trailways Ramble” the ambience of the room quickly changed from a rowdy downtown NYC club to a dimly lit lounge off of the main square of a busy bazaar. The Lansdowne native was backed by his band of John Truscinski on drums and Justin Tripp on bass. The trio had an on-stage dynamic that appeared effortless and tight, no doubt strengthened by the recent run of dates with Kurt Vile’s camp.
In the spirit of a record release show Gunn stuck to the tracks on Time Off, giving the six songs some room to breath within the hour-long set. “Old Strange” was prefaced by a lengthy instrumental intro while “Lurker” was given a coda of jangly strumming that harkened back to its former incarnation as a 15-minute solo cut. Centerpiece stand-out “New Decline” gave Gunn a respite from his acoustic guitar as he busted out some twangy electric riffs in front of Truscinski’s bluesy drumming. All the while Gunn was confident and in command, clearly delighting and stunning the crowd with his impressively intricate guitarwork and ability to blend and move between playing styles.
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