Live Review: Band of Heathens at the The Mint (Los Angeles), April 13, 2011
At some point, you’ve probably heard someone say about a band, “you’ve got to see them live.” The Band of Heathens is one of those bands. The Austin-based outfit has put out three fine albums over the last few years and have garnered a pair of Americana Music Association award nominations. But – “you’ve got to see them live.” On stage, you get to fully appreciate their group’s three frontmen (Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist) in action and how well the band (which also includes bassist Seth Whitney, drummer John Chipman and keyboardist Trevor Nealon) plays together live.
At their Los Angeles show, the band followed impressive sets from a young L.A. band Patrolled By Radar and expat. Texas rocking troubadour Jonny Burke with a rousing version of “Should Have Known,” from their new album Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son. The song nicely exemplified the strengths of the Heathens’ music: the three frontmen all playing guitar, the rhythm section laying down a rootsy groove, keyboards enriching the spaces between, and the guys’ sweet but earthy harmonies. Over the course of the hour-plus set, Brooks, Quist and Jurdi all took turns singing lead, although there is a wonderful coherence to the music despite the multiple singers and songwriters.
Jurdi also alternated between guitar and being a second keyboardist, Brooks sat down with a lap steel every now and again, and they all played slide. This was Southern-style roots rock at this most sublime. Sure, traces of Little Feat, The Band, The Eagles, Drive-By Truckers and various jam bands surface during their set, but the Band of Heathens’ powerful sound overshadows its influences.
For their set, the band concentrated on their new album, a New Orleans-flavored collection of songs. It allowed them to accent their more funky and soulful sides. “Enough” motored along on a strong New Orleans beat and “Medicine Man,” snaked along with a Sonny Landreth vibe while the impassionedly played “The Other Broadway” also was especially stirring. The set’s best one-two punch, however, was when they paired “L.A. County Blues” (a Hunter Thompson-referencing tune from their prior effort One Foot In The Ether) with “Polaroid,” a particularly hooky Top Hat track that suggests Del Amitri mining a more Americana roots sound.
After the club let them extend their set a couple songs, the band wrapped up their set with a cover of the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings’ tune “Look At Miss Ohio” (which they did on Ether too). It was a nod to being in Southern California (where Welch was raised) but also showed the connection between two acts who both readily draw upon music from the past to create their own original music. While BoH is still on its own label and playing in clubs, it is easy to see – after experiencing their live show – that they could easily jump to bigger things very soon.
– Michael Berick