Words & Images by: Nell Alk
The Rosebuds :: 01.16.09 :: Bowery Ballroom :: New York, NY
Raleigh, North Carolina-based indie duo The Rosebuds were in full bloom during this extensive set at New York City's Bowery Ballroom. The impetus behind this mini-tour, which included a total of six venues across five states, is unknown, but Manhattan fans could not have been happier. And we were on our best behavior; the show garnered a sizeable crowd, as always, but not to the point of feeling squished among an aggressive audience. The attendees were respectful of one another, allowing neighbors space to groove and move around. It proved a pleasant surprise, especially compared to countless other performances at the Ballroom. The absence of shoving and dirty looks cast at those with a photo pass was a welcome relief and indicative of the type of listener this kick-ass couple attracts.
During their performance, the pair drew from all four of their full-length albums, from their impressive debut, The Rosebuds Make Out (2003), to their most recent gem, Life Like (released October 7, 2008 on Merge Records). The discs might be thought of as bookends, released exactly five years apart with two LPs in between. Bookends, however, implies a beginning and an end, an oeuvre, so-to-speak, which is somewhat misleading considering the fact (more realistically, the hope) that these two have a long, illustrious musical career ahead of them.
Known individually as Ivan Howard (guitar, vocals) and Kelly Crisp (keyboard, vocals, tambourine), The Rosebuds performed with two guest members, Logan Matheny on drums and Megafaun's Brad Cook on bass. They opened with "Blue Bird," a catchy number plucked from their second album, Birds Make Good Neighbors (2005). The selection was a wise decision, as it prompted happy clapping and loud shouting from the ocean of onlookers. Then again, what 'Buds song doesn't evoke just such a reaction? Over three years old, it implicitly invited veteran devotees to join in. Featuring a mild tempo that brings to mind a beach scene, this tropical surf-y song had hips swaying and heads singing along to the ever recognizable "Oh oh oh oh," a signature trait of The Rosebuds' aesthetic.
After easing into the show with a lighthearted love song, the quartet followed it up with "Life Like," a heavy and disarmingly beautiful song written from the perspective of an animal (a "beast") being hunted in the winter woods. Featuring insistent electric guitar, a deep beat and eerie keyboard, the tone is ominous. Like much of their music, it contains "really disturbing or sad lyrics," something Crisp has pointed out as being a recurring theme in their audible art. The foursome played this ironic tune with great vigor (and tambourine banging!), capturing the attention of any stragglers who weren't won over by the opener. Characteristic of nearly the entire new record, this song inspires ass shaking. Incidentally, it has been remixed with T-Pain's "Can't Believe It" to create a winning product titled "Can't Believe It's Life Like." Peep it on their MySpace page.
Kelly Crisp :: 01.16 :: NYC|
The theme of the evening may well have been "bounce around and get down." The setlist overflowed with danceable tracks such as "Cape Fear" (which insists listeners "shake it, shake it") and "Bow to the Middle," both off of Life Like. From Night of the Furies (2007) they played the upbeat "Get Up & Get Out," which marries disco-esque instrumental accents with Howard's smooth croon. This had everybody hopping, arms in the air. The runner-up, theme-wise, would have to be the "belt-it factor," where The Rosebuds indirectly, and later explicitly, encouraged group participation.
Two standouts were "Shake Our Tree" and "Nice Fox." The former, performed acoustically, served as a respite from the ever-popular electric guitar. Pardon my aside, but this introduces my solitary complaint about this performance, namely the bass static made for fuzzy overall sound. The recorded versions maintain an even balance between instrumentation and vocals but live were overwhelmingly loud, with the volume obscuring the beautiful lyrics. Granted, this is prone to happen when translating tracks for the live medium, not to mention I was standing side-stage, but it seemed to me they could have boosted the mics and toned down the intensity a tad. Despite this eardrum destroying detail, the show was wonderful.
Returning to the subject of singing-along, "Nice Fox" is a wistful ballad that inherently lures listeners to sway and contribute to the chorus: "And it don't mean nothin' at all." The song was accompanied by a story about a fox that hung around their house down South. The fox eventually met its demise and together Howard and Crisp gave it a proper burial. The ceremony included a wooden cross, on which they wrote, "Nice Fox." Their explanation was well received, entertaining and endearing, providing context to a sweet, unusual, tender tale. Evidently, a common motif throughout their collection of songs is nature and animals, as well as mortality. It aligns with what Crisp once told me about the motivation behind their music: "We've got our two loves; Ivan's is melodies and mine is... stories that matter or that I care about." Narrative. Rather than writing strictly in the abstract, The Rosebuds tell stories, miniature tales set to a tune by talented musicians with a thing for melody.
The Rosebuds :: 01.16 :: NYC|
As the evening wound down, the encore came and included four songs, two that stood out to me, each for different reasons. The first was an acoustic "Back to Boston," an old school 'Buds song and the first song on the demo they originally sent to Merge Records, who signed them right away. The audience went wild, clamoring for it before they knew what was coming. The second notable number was the last song performed, "Wildcat," which is the indie equivalent of a lullaby. Crisp and Howard not only invited us all to sing with them, but also welcomed one audience member to the stage to see it through to the end. Howard, dressed in his signature newsboy cap and sweater vest, sang in a plaintive voice pretty enough to make angels blush, and it was clearly something not soon to be forgotten by the special guest singing beside him. At the end, Howard leaned down, bending his slender, lanky frame, and hugged the mystery singer. They laughed together and as the impromptu talent departed, so too did The Rosebuds. With arms around each other they took their bows. They exited, Crisp's blonde locks and virgin white frock swaying as she shuffled out. Then, up went the lights and down went our spirits. Until next time.
The Rosebuds :: 01.16.09 :: Bowery Ballroom :: New York, NY
Blue Bird, Life Like, Cape Fear, Cemetery Lawn, Hold Hands & Fight, Leaves Do Fall, Shake Our Tree, Nice Fox, Border Guards, In the Backyards, Bow to the Middle, Get Up & Get Out, Boxcar
Encore: Back to Boston, I'd Better Run, Drunkards Worst Nightmare, Wildcat
Check out recent Rosebuds feature/interview here.
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