Round IV of WEXT-FM’s Local 518 benefit concert series not only attracted a standing-room-only crowd of fans to the WMHT-TV studios in North Greenbush on Saturday night, but also drew a delightfully diverse crowd of musicians who kept the music flowing freely – on stage and off – for more than four and a half hours.
If you weren’t already aware of the decidedly incestuous nature of the Nippertown music scene, you might have had a somewhat difficult time figuring out just which band was onstage at any given time during the evening.
Kicking off the main stage festivities, Slender Shoulders – the indie-folkster duo of vocalist-guitarist Katie (who also performs solo as Bear Grass) and guitarist Rick Spataro – went with a more-is-more philosophy, their ranks swollen to a quintet that included bassist Eric Margan and the ubiquitous Matthew Carefully on drums. (Carefully’s performance was his third in the four Exit Dome concerts – each with a different combo).
An hour or so later, Margan was back onstage again, anchoring the basslines for Que Caro, a nifty quartet led the sublimely smokey vocals of Caroline Corrigan. They opened with “Edward Hopper,” a captivating slice of pop featured on their new three-song disc, “The Fairweather EP.” They nailed some great vocal harmonies that harkened back to ’60s pop, even offering a slice of four-part a cappella that had jaws dropping to the floor. But – wait a minute – isn’t that Spataro back there on the drums? Sure enough…
Celebrating the release of her new CD, “True Colors,” singer-songwriter Nancy Walker & Friends represented the acoustic scene with a sparkling set highlighted by gems like the chugging “She’s On That Train,” and the empathetic accompaniment of guitarist Larry Clyman and percussionist Sam Zucchini (of the Capital Region’s premier kids’ band, the Zucchini Brothers) on bodhran and djembe.
Next, bassist-vocalist Chris Carey led the five-piece Rodeo Barons in what was arguably the best performance of the night. Their cracker-jack songs dipped deep into the ’70s country-rock vein, and the band – featuring several members of Railbird (Carey included) – had all of the exquisite musicianship and tastefully layered harmony vocals that you’d expect. And, hey, isn’t that Sam Zucchini playing the drum kit? Why yes, it is…
Building the night to a red-hot climax was the brash and brilliant Charlie Watts Riots, turning up the volume and the onstage energy with a blast of potent skinny-tie power-pop, much of which was drawn from their A+ debut album, “Long Story Short.” Is it too early to hail vocalist-guitarists Seth Powell and Brendan Pendergast as Albany’s own Lennon and McCartney? Fueled by bassist Mike Pauley and Joe Putrock’s power-pounding behind the drums, they aced such hook-filled gems as “Greater Good” and even tossed in a very impressive cover of Wings’ “Jet.”
And wrapping up the whole shebang? Well, really, who else could it be except Phantogram, the Nippertown break-out band of the past year? Of course, WEXT-FM has been a staunch supporter of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter since they were recording under the name Charlie Everywhere. With Tim Oakley (of the Mathematicians) pumping out the big beat from behind the drums, their always intriguing blend of ambient swirl and electro-dance wallop took on a new dimension, as they showcased selections from their upcoming EP, like the tribal tattoo of “Make a Fist.” Yeah, this was a fine warm-up for Phantogram’s national network television debut on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” on Wednesday.
If you were only paying attention to what was going on onstage, however, you missed some of the very best music of the night. During each change-over between bands, mega-talented singer-songwriter Bryan Thomas was churning out slabs of smart funk-rock out in the hallway next to the merch tables. Thomas was simply brilliant, whipping through one solo set after another that drew from his new excellent new five-song EP, “Smash to Pieces,” as well as reaching waaay back to his old catalog nuggets.
Acting as emcee, WEXT DJ Dave Michaels kept the whole thing rolling along on schedule (how is that possible?!?). Meanwhile, Michael Eck (Lost Radio Rounders, Ramblin Jug Stompers) joined WEXT’s tireless Chris Wienk behind the scenes in the studio, manning the between-act sessions of the live, on-the-air/online broadcast for the home listeners.
Mondo kudos to all of the fab folks at WEXT-FM for throwing the party. And to the sound crew and the volunteers, as well as a deep, very hearty thanks to all of the musicians who donated their time and considerable talents to the cause. Most of all, thanks to everybody in the audience who made a donation to help keep WEXT-FM alive ‘n’ thriving.