“Ok, we’re going to turn around and count to three, and it’s going to be like we just came through the Madison Square Garden curtain.” The six piece band Holy Ghost Tent Revival turned around, just as they said, and the lights blacked out. They turned around and I’m not sure it was like they appeared onstage at the Madison Square Garden, but they’d riled the audience up. They’re a strange band to describe. They’re from Greensboro, NC. They have a circuslike, vaudevillian quality to them. I can’t decide if this is because they’ve got anywhere between one and three horns playing (depending on the song), the jumpy alternating basslines or the all-together, big-family-feeling harmonies they employ in every song.
They’re up there to have fun, that much is certain. When mic checking, three players alternated between phrases like “Marky Mark’s Chunky Bunch” and “All pomegranates must go!” I would say they’re old fashioned, except that they’ve got a dash of Weezer and a pinch of Reel Big Fish every now and again, amidst sudden bursts of horns and rollicking, finger-lickin’ playing. It’s hard not to like their jazzy, optimistic feeling. They mentioned they were essentially playing their newest album from start to finish so you’ll excuse a lack of song titles, but look out for “Sweat Like the Old Days.”
Harvard was second up to bat. After revealing they were also from North Carolina, singer Jesse Clasen addressed the audience a la Slingblade’s speaking voice (not a bad Billy Bob Thornton impression, all told). They must feel ambiguous about their Southern roots; they also have a song called “Deliverance.” The band reminded me largely of Glassjaw in style and intensity. It was refreshingly edgy. I also heard a little Slint, but I always hear a little Slint in everything. Clasen is really into nervous hand gestures; he is shaking them or fluttering them or thrusting them out into the audience as if to pass them a wave of his abundant internal energy. They shake so much they look ready to just explode into flames. He sometimes uses them for the tambourine but even this can barely contain his jingling jangling excitement. The audience digs it though.
Of those standing in front of the band, there was not a single head not bobbing to the music, many making an emotional eye contact. In an interesting turn of events, Clasen also had a fondness for looping, making his voice a layered human synth for many of the songs. “French Girls” was the highlight of the tracks that night, mostly because of the gentle bass, minimalist and effects-laden guitar, and Clasen’s vocals that slid up into that falsetto attic (so haunting when the right voice goes there). Clasen can sound as sweet as Ray LaMontaigne when he wants. To give you an idea of how overall rocking this whole band was, I will leave you with this to think about: a mosh pit broke out at the end of this set. It only lasted 30 seconds, but it happened, folks.
DC local four piece Stereosleep were first up on the stage. Singer Donny Ray had intense vocals with real range and a Cee Lo Green tonality. The band is tight and barely paused between songs. Ray would announce the title of a track and they’d jump right into it without missing a beat, so to speak. I felt like I was playing music soundalike bingo listening to a band touched by many styles: sounds of Muse, Sublime, swing band, lyrics like Chris Cornell’s, breakdowns like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and even a whisper of post-rock made it into the set. Jazzy songs like “Sail” and the wild west-ish “Edge of a Gun” were a hell of a lot of fun since the band’s whole heart was in it.
- Holy Ghost Tent Revival