NHD: And the devil went up to Portland
It would be absurdly macho to say that NHD “kicked ass” last night at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio. These guys are too free spirited for such knee-jerk reductivism, but rock they did. They were in town to support their new album, And the devil went up to Portland, which hits the world publicly today.
Their set began with a cover of Phil Lynott’s The Boys Are Back In Town. The boys in this case being the three principals, Salim Nourallah, Billy Harvey and Alex Dezen. My best memory of this song as played by its originators harkens back to an early 80s back packing trip in New Mexico. I had finished the 4 day trail and was hitch-hiking back to my truck at the trail head on the other side of the mountain and was picked up by some young guys with Thin Lizzy in their eight track. It was a nice respite from the road then and a welcome return last night as NHD made it their own — and I’m happy to say it kicks off the LP too. They finished the song with some sweetly delivered three voice oohs and then post-song the audience was invited to try some oohing, which sounded nice, but tapered off ineptly. Billy acknowledged said ineptitude with the kind of self-deprecating humor that laced the brew offered by NHD throughout the evening.
Salim introduced the next song, Hello From An Emergency Room in Hollywood, with the disclaimer that Alex had shown up at the recording sessions for the album woefully ill prepared. “All he had was the title and this one riff,” a guitar passage which Alex then proceeded to demonstrate pre-song, mentioning that he was glad Joe Reyes (renowned San Antonio guitarist and half of Demitasse, which opened the show with a bunch of new songs from their up and coming record) wasn’t seated front row to observe — like I said, self-deprecating and completely guitar-god-free. The song came off without a hitch, including the riff which Alex whipped out on an absolutely gorgeous turquoise/green Gretsch hollow body (a guitar which they seemed to sort of make fun of somehow, as if it were a too prissy kitty cat).
Anyway, the song unfolded into a clever short story in which the protagonist shows up at an emergency room sans a true emergency — he imagines he’s having heart problems but they are actually only of the romantic variety. The song features the somewhat outlandish rhyme, reservations/palpitations, as the character is invited to leave with his faux emergency and subsequently, while moping at the curb outside, gets mugged, facilitating his return to the hospital with a genuine need of their services. It was a brilliant set-up, the unfilled in story and naked guitar line then made abundantly clear and spot-on, like a partially obscured view into a world suddenly flooded with color and humor, complete with a twist ending.
The songwriting strategy so far revealed continued through the night with numbers such as Salim’s I Sent A Postcard, in which an unknown recipient turns out to be whoever is listening with intention — meaning you that is reading this right now and will still be you when you hear the song; and Billy’s Complicatedness, which sports the cleverly empathetic and perfectly phrased couplet, “before I knew you you I knew you were a mess / but I came to crave your complicatedness.”
All night long these three traded off guitars and bass, Billy and Alex swapping expertly composed and executed lead guitar lines (Alex’s contributions on the blue-green babe were especially dirty, splatty fuzz tones on some numbers), each eventually even making it to the drums, which were otherwise held together by John Dufilho, another multi-musical wunderkind from Dallas, but well loved in San Antonio and not only for his brilliantly on point song Josephine Street, about locally legendary, but now no longer existing Tacoland. Richard Martin, who I was hearing for the first time this night, fleshed everything out with ambrosial chords and sound effects from his keyboard and melodica.
Oddball creativity was continually on call. At one point Alex donned some shades as Salim mentioned “it’s on the setlist” for him to wear them on a particular song. Looking like a cross between Ian Hunter and Andy Kaufman he goofed around, pretending to be unable to see the mic. Even though the Rayban move was noted on the script, spontaneity ruled. Further evidence of this aspect of their deal was revealed when Salim introduced Ballad of A Patient Man by mentioning that it was written in the car when the three of them were on the way to our house concert venue in San Antonio to play last year. This acknowledgement touched our hearts I have to say.
As the night unfolded the guys proceeded to play all but one song on the album along with one from the sessions that is not on the album, See You In Marfa, and some songs from their solo albums; Alex Dezen’s Death Metal and Disco (from Alex Dezen) and Billy Harvey’s Party House (from Dear Danger) among them. Each of these songs could stand as a single song distillation of their individual outlooks. In this regard I sure could have stood to hear Salim Nourallah’s Friends For Life — he’s got a very special knack for writing about loss. As it was, the Salim song they played in this section was one from his most recent solo album Skeleton Closet. Titled Terlingua, it’s a slo-mo raver with the timely refrain, “are we gonna live tonight?” Joe Reyes was invited to play on this one — “semitasse” someone shouted — providing reggae chords on an acoustic guitar handed to him by Alex with a good natured admonishment aimed at Salim’s nylon string baby which Joe had initially picked up, “that thing is a piece of shit.” Yeah, good fun, with emphasis on the two and four.
The final song of the night is also the last song on the album, You Thought You’d Be In Heaven, in which the loving vibes of the whole experience matched up perfectly with the songs advice which pretty much boils down to be present and be nice. At this point every one was on stage, with Erik Sanden, the other half of Demitasse, acting out the lyrics of the song with gestures, facial moves and the occasional vocal pitch in. All seven of them were running around doing whatever the song required to insure the paradisal possibility alluded to within.
After the show I went around the room with hugs and handshakes for all the players. When I told Alex it was lovely, he questioned my use of that term. He was right, though the time I had was lovely, so when I spoke to Billy a minute or two later “lovely” had morphed into “organized chaos” a term of endearment which you will totally understand when you see NHD play. Later that night I settled on “mayhem on a stick.” Pretty sure I finally got it right.
Do yourself and all the loving world a favor and go see them on this their album release weekend: 8 and 10:30 PM tonight at The Townsend in Austin and with a lineup of Palo Santo Records bands Saturday night in Dallas at the historic Sons of Hermann Hall.
Preview and purchase the album here: https://nhdmusic.bandcamp.com/releases But really, go see them this weekend and get it from them direct!