A brief spell of springlike weather following a week-long deep freeze created the perfect conditions for Eastbound Jesus to cook up a barnburner in Albany on Saturday, February 1. It was the second half of a two-night stand at Red Square, all of which was recorded with the intention of releasing a live album later this year. The recordings were engineered by Bryan Brundige, who sat in with the band on trombone for several tunes.
Eastbound Jesus is a six-piece electric band that plays a blend of rock and roll, country, blues, and bluegrass infused with upstate soul that can probably best be described simply as northern rock, a phrase that also serves as the title to their second album and a sort of band slogan.
The band swung by the Rensselaer campus on January 30 to spread the word about the shows with an appearance on WRPI 91.5 FM. Listeners were treated to acoustic renditions of five songs performed live in the studio. The arrangements highlighted the gritty country baritone of guitarist/vocalist Adam Brockway.
The stripped down radio set offered a different window into the essence of the songs, which the band described as being highly collaborative in nature. While many songs originate with a single songwriter, they are typically then worked into group compositions, with no restrictions or expectations about what styles and influences can be drawn upon to make a song work.
Radio listeners also heard the band reflect on their history together. While members of Eastbound Jesus have played together in various bands for about a decade, the current band was formed by drummer Carl Anderson in fall 2010.
In their three-plus years together, Anderson stated that they’ve each reached new levels of proficiency as instrumentalists. “I started out in this band not knowing how to play the drums. Now I sort of can,” he joked, an understatement from the leader of the band that won the 2011 SPAC Battle of the Bands at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and that hasn’t slacked off since then either.
Brockway noted that the band has mastered its material enough to add new layers of interest to its live performances, citing varied introductions and transitions between songs as elements that have made shows more interesting for band and audience alike over the past year.
The Saturday show at Red Square was opened by The Blind Spots from Ithaca, NY, who also made a stop at WRPI for an interview that afternoon. WRPI listeners were among the first in the world to hear working mixes of two unreleased tracks from an unfinished upcoming album.
The Blind Spots delivered their punchy pop-rock in matching white outfits to an audience that seemed appreciative of their novelty and lighthearted energy. Guitarist Mike Suave brought several songs to a peak with delay-laden soloing reminiscent of 60s psychedelic pop. Keyboardist David Openshaw was instrumental in establishing the mood of each song with the textures he added. Maddy Walsh’s powerful vocals formed the basis of each song.
By the time Eastbound Jesus took the stage, the room had become packed and brimming with excitement. These were not folks taking a chance on some Saturday night entertainment, these were Eastbound Jesus fans. A few songs into their set, Brockway asked the crowd how many had also attended the previous night, in response to which, quite a few hollers could be heard and raised hands could be seen.
Not a song was repeated from Friday save one, a new tune called “Beat the Bricks.” Another new song was debuted, a bluesy romp with lyrics inspired by AC/DC and a recurring riff quite like one from “Real Emotional Trash” by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.
While Friday featured sit-ins by members of opening band Driftwood, Saturday saw EBJ share the stage with Bryan Brundige, of The Chronicles, on trombone and friend of the band Tony Meier on keys for several songs.
Most in the audience had come to dance, but the energy reached a new level when the band, joined by Brundige and Meier, busted out a cover of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Lovelight” (popularized in rock and roll by the Grateful Dead).
Fiery originals turned into crowd singalongs, including “Holy Smokes!” and “For The Ride”.
When the band finally left the stage, the void was filled by a peculiar audience chant calling for “Five more songs!,” indicating deep love and respect for the performers.
The encore was a generous three songs, with the first taking the cake in terms of novelty. Guitarist Dylan Robinson got behind the drum set while Anderson took the spotlight to deliver a delightful and daring Michael Jackson impersonation as the band unleashed a cover of “Black and White.”
Positive vibes were in the air as the buzzing crowd filtered out of Red Square.
Looking ahead, Buffalo-based jam band Aqueous will grace the same stage on March 1, stopping in at our very own radio station WRPI at 2 pm to promote the show and perform live in the studio.