The Damnwells Fitzgerald's April 5, 2011
Before playing a single note, Alex Dezen, singer for Brooklyn-based rock band The Damnwells, let the audience know what it was in store. He said the band's new release Nobody Listens to the Band Anymore was full of mid-tempo rock songs and "We're going to play all of them."
Technically, that was a lie as the band only covered five of the 12 songs on the record, but his point was made. This was not going to be a big, sprawling show filled with varied artistic interpretations of the band's material. Instead, the band buzzed through its catalog of mostly three-minute rock songs with precision.
It was clean. It was focused. But, it was also a little dull.
The show started well enough with "While You Can" from the PMR +1 EP released in 2002 before tearing into the title track from the new release, but the show soon bogged down. As good a live venue as Fitzgerald's may be, it isn't really a listening room and the pacing of the set - loud rock songs descending into quite acoustic tunes - was built more for politely seated guests than fans pushed up against the stage.
Whatever the venue, the band would have done well to stick with the rockers, which represented their best performances of the night. We would have loved to hear more en par with the furious extended outro of "Louisville" and the sturdy backbeat of "I've Got You," both from Air Stereo, their most popular release.
Dezen certainly surrounded himself with capable players. His back up band featured members of opening act Harper Blynn - Dezen essentially is the Damnwells. While all of the guys could play and did a good job on the slick, Americana-infused rock, most songs were just straight readings of the recordings with only moderate embellishment. As lovely as some of Dezen's acoustic songs may be, they felt like a drag on a set that lasted only about 80 minutes.
Throughout the night, we couldn't help feel like the set played it a little too safe. Maybe it was the use of back-up musicians rather than a full-time "band" or maybe it was the desire to reproduce the songs faithfully as they were recorded, but it left us wondering if listening to the music at home would have been equally as entertaining.
The smallish audience, for its part, was well behaved and clearly enjoyed themselves. Dezen's sister, Cameron, is a Houston-based singer songwriter and the crowd definitely had a friends-and-family vibe. At one point, Alex Dezen took questions from the audience and called virtually every person by name. Before the last song of the set, the personable front man, explained that it was up to the audience to bring them back out for an encore joking that the band had fulfilled its contractual obligations in order to be paid.
Naturally, the crowd obliged and the band delivered an encore that represented perhaps the best of what the they have to offer. A big, straight ahead drum intro, which, we'll be honest, had us singing "Do You Love Me" by KISS in our heads, gave way to a very lively version of "I Am a Leaver" followed by the sweetly gentle "I Will Keep the Bad Things From You" from 2004's Bastards of the Beat.
Like the rest of the night, the encore went from raucous to reserved quickly and maybe that is how they wanted it. By that point, we were almost willing to buy into the premise, but the show was over and we walked away not entirely sure how to feel.
Personal Bias: We've followed the Damnwells with quite a bit of interest after hearing "I Am a Leaver" online.
The Crowd: 20-something girls and quite a few members of the Dezen friends-and-family calling plan.
Overheard in the Crowd: During one quiet moment in between acoustic songs, "DAMWELLS! HELL YEAH!"
Random Notebook Dump: Harper Blynn was a pretty entertaining band and they were missing a member who was out after a recent appendectomy. Wouldn't mind seeing them again with the full line up.
While You Can
No One Listens To The Band Anymore
Feast of Hearts
You Don't Have To Like Me To Love Me
The Great Unknown
Like It Is
She Goes Around
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I've Got You
I Am A Leaver
I Will Keep The Bad Things From You