The dB’s/ Mitch Easter / Sneakers – Bowery Ballroom (New York, NY)
There really should have been a North Carolina flag in the house for this show, in which three of the Tarheel state’s most storied acts drew a sold-out crowd. There was the classic Chris Stamey/Peter Holsapple/Will Rigby/Gene Holder dB’s lineup’s first show in New York City since 1982. Middle act Mitch Easter was the long-ago bandmate of Rigby and Stamey in Sneakers. And the bill included Sneakers themselves, their first live performance in 30 years.
Given how long it’s been since Easter, Stamey, Rigby and bassist Robert Keely have played these songs, Sneakers’ opening set was remarkably tight, and worth more than just heritage. Even as teenagers, Easter and Stamey had unerring pop sense, and songs such as “Ruby” (with its indelible “talk is cheap” chant) and “Condition Red” were stellar. For Sneakers’ last two songs, Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley joined in to contribute tambourine and cowbell.
Easter’s middle set began ominously with a technical problem that rendered Shalini Chatterjee’s bass inaudible, which Easter attributed to celestial amazement at Sneakers reuniting after so long: “The cosmos have spoken, night’s over.” Fortunately, Chatterjee borrowed Keely’s bass and the show continued.
In recent years, Easter has shown more willingness to dip into the Let’s Active catalogue. He offered up five choice tunes from his former band in what he called “the heritage-series leather-bound part of our set,” including “Ornamental” (with Chatterjee handling Faye Hunter’s vocal part, as pretty now as it was then), “Every Word Means No” and “Flags For Everything”. The new songs, from Easter’s upcoming album Dynamico — his first since 1988 — were also more than solid.
As for the dB’s, their set was a triumph. The opening “Black And White” was just a bit less manic than the runaway train that opened 1981’s Stands For Decibels. But it was still great, kicking up a glorious power-pop wave of chiming guitars, rampaging drums and Holsapple’s keening yelp.
Most of the songs came from the band’s 1981-82 glory days, alternating back and forth between Stamey and Holsapple compositions. Stamey’s quirky “Dynamite” yielded to Holsapple’s pop-soul “Big Brown Eyes”, leading to Stamey’s driving “Cycles Per Second” and Holsapple’s sad and lovely “Lonely Is As Lonely Does”. You could say that the 50-something dB’s don’t move quite as fast as they used to, but they’re also a lot more musically accomplished now than they were back in the day.
The closing stretch featured Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together”, the inevitable “Amplifier”, a heartfelt “Nothing Is Wrong” and finally “White Train” as a victory lap — after which Rigby quipped that they’d played everything they could remember.
“It’s been really great to play in New York City again,” Holsapple said. “Some of us can’t even remember the last time, but we’ll continue to come back, and we will as soon as we can.”
We’ll hold them to that.