These United States :: 09.09.11 :: Johnny Brenda’s:: Philadelphia, PA
These United States are currently on tour with Southeast Engine – as winning a combo as JamBase can imagine. The bands play Pittsburgh (9/14), Hamilton, Ontario (9/15), Guelph, Ontario (9/16) and this Saturday (9/17) in Toronto and Sunday (9/18) in Buffalo, NY. Check out full dates for this tour here!
These United States are road dusted and well-travelled. They crisscross the country two hundred times a year pausing briefly in mountain towns and eating at gas stations while they pick up bits and pieces of America’s culture. These United States is a band of the people. Their modern folklore songs are filled with wild tales about thieves and lovers, dark and light subjects and enough lyrical references to make you lose yourself in their songs. Philadelphia was a warm-up show for the band’s farewell party the next evening in Washington, D.C. As they played a slowed down version of “The Business” off their second album our thin but spirited crowd took notice of the poignant sincerity that These United States wrapped into the moment.
Johnny Brenda’s cradled both the crowd and musician in a splatter of green and red speckled lights. The crowd quickly discovered the bar’s choice poison of the evening, Brewworks Hop’solutely. This hoppy beverage quickly turned our clarity to a woozy haze as TUS turned up the heat on stage. Drummer Robby Cosenza’s steady bash did an entrancing dance with Dave Wynn’s bass. This low-end shuffle led us into one of the dirty movers off Crime’s known as “Suzie at the Sea Shore.” Jessie Elliott growled a wild tale singing, “We must begin at the beginning, with the pirates at port.” Elliott, singer and leader of TUS, sure did spin a mean yarn. He’s what I would imagine Chris Robinson would have been like if you had fed him a diet of Kerouac, Arlo Guthrie and housed him in Washington D.C. when Obama took office. The old song glowed with energy and life as guitarist Justin Craig wrapped up its end with a nasty bit of picking.
These United States are a no nonsense band, but in the lightest, friendliest, loosest of the senses. They play wonderfully together reading each other’s musical dialogue like a driver reads a sign on the highway. Quick glances between band members were filled with enough information to properly make our ears perk up. Justin Craig’s guitar pulled into the riff of “The Important Thing” with spectacular gusto as the band raced off again down another avenue of rock. The band was showing signs of life. It was not just Elliott who grabbed our attention as Kellogg really started to feel the ballad off Everything Touches Everything. He dipped his head back and sang with a sneer on his lip and eyes rolled back in his head. It was a combination of growing intoxication and an uplifting energy that made the crowd shout out encouraging yelps. This happened again at the end of their grand rendition of Crimes’ “Study the Moon.” It was hard to not cheer on the band as they dripped sweat while they poured emotion into their music.
Elliott had joked earlier that we should all split before the show to see their buddies Wye Oak across the city who were playing at the same time. These United States are a band who appreciate the friends that they have so it was no surprise that they invited Rebecca Marie Miller from the Mynabirds up to join them on “Life and Death She & I” off What Lasts. Miller played the supporting female role that was filed by Dawn Landes on their latest album. The subtle interaction was lost a bit by the sound but it didn’t matter because the mood was so high and the trio of songs up next would be the highlight of the entire evening.
Elliott has a knack for crafting characters that pull from a variety of sources and inspirations. One of these enigmatic characters reappeared in a new song that TUS pulled out to road test in Philly. Little John who appeared on Crimes in “Honor Amongst Thieves” resurfaced in the song “Not Gone Tonight.” This new song had similarity to something off Crimes, a hard charging, straight ahead guitar and drums builder with a spirited chorus. We lost ourselves in the music and the tale of a wily, weathered character from Elliott’s imagination. The band carried the tale of Little John forward directly into a sensational version of “Honor Amongst Thieves.” This version was much less subdued than the album version featuring tinges of the Cold War Kids and Dr. Dog. Elliott spun the song out with an emphasis on the honor amongst the band members and its relationship to that honor amongst thieves. It made sense that the era of hope during Everything Touches Everything had faded away and now, in 2011, the band was in a Crimes mood as they dug into a raw version of “Six Fast Bullets.” This was the new mode of the times and we were thrust into the darkness by J. Tom Hnatow’s hand on the pedal steel and Elliott’s vocal drawl on the chorus as These United States honky-tonked us hard.
They wound through the rest of the show with ease and tossed us a stellar cover of The Faces’ “Had Me a Real Good Time” with Elliott spitting water and doing his best Rod Stewart impression before he found himself off the stage playing in the audience. They uncorked another new song for the encore that didn’t strike as strong of a chord with the audience. It was a fine end, but after that trio of dirty, sweaty rock and roll in the middle it was hard to pay attention to anything after.
Now, These United States is about to enter into a new phase, one that has the band spread between North Carolina, New York and Kentucky. However, as Elliott said, “The thing is we have never really lived in the same city, so nothing really changes. We tour enough that when we are off the road it’s nice to have space.” So, I would expect that you’ll find These United States in fine form as they ready a new album that is sure to dig back into something that first made us take notice.
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