On Monday night, energized by the warm weather, I caught an F train to the lower east side to attend the CD release party for the Becca Stevens Band\’s new album,Weightless, at the Rockwood Music Hall. Fortunately for me, I arrived just in time to be the last person admitted before the venue was at capacity. For those of you who have never been to Rockwood, the pros are that it is a very hip place and always free (though the beers are $7). The cons are that the venue is a trough, or a band-conveyor-belt, or whatever metaphor works for a venue that runs six or seven bands a night through two stages, each band getting about an hour long set.The sound check was rushed, which led to some level issues throughout the concert, and whoever was in charge of the on stage lighting must have cataracts as the band was either bright green, or so awash in orange and red that at times it appeared as though they had caught fire.
As the band took the stage the massive applause showed just what a cult figure Becca Stevens is becoming. At the same time the reception seemed to unnerve her and as the first tune commenced with trepidation, the band was forced to stop and try again about ten seconds in. Once things got underway the second time, the sound fell into place and the concert began.
The first tune was the title track off the new album, and as it turned out was a very accurate representation of the tone and style of Weightless. The song â€œWeightless,â€ sticking with the beautiful and characteristic Becca Stevens style of composing, using row-your-boat chanting and layering of her own voice and the voices of Liam Robinson (voice and accordion) and Chris Tordini (voice and bass) to create a harmonically dense and rhythmically folk sound so apparent on the band\’s first album, was otherwise a very typical indie song. Several of the subsequent songs followed suit and were very similar and not particularly interesting, so much so that even the band did not seem that interested in playing the songs and the energy fell flat.
By the end of the fourth tune I was beginning to feel discouraged about the new indie vibe of this band, until they played â€œThe Riddle,â€ a song originally off Becca\’s first album Tea by Sea, which is also on Weightless. While the album\’s new songs where played with reservation, â€œThe Riddleâ€ was the first tune of the night where the band opened up and felt truly comfortable. After â€œThe Riddleâ€ they played one of the three covers on the new album, a unique and very personal adaptation of Seal\’s â€œKissed by a Rose.â€ These two tunes were the definite high point of the night, along with â€œCanyon Dust,â€ a tune with less of an indie vibe and more of the rhythmic and compositional personality of Becca\’s first album. Jordan Perlson\’s cajon playing, which, up until â€œCanyon Dust,â€ simply played the role of the quiet drum set reached its true percussive range supported by the flamenco-like rhythms clapped by Liam Robinson.
The second to last tune was, â€œNo More,â€ which Becca wrote with her father, William Stevens. The song also featured a guest appearance from Gretchen Parlato who did an admirable job of singing under Becca and keeping her voice from overpowering the melody. Unfortunately, Gretchen didn\’t receive her deserved welcome from the crowd when called up onto stage, and the song was so mild and understated that the applause she received as she quickly withdrew was equally weak. All in all, the concert had a thrown together feel at times, only a few of the songs reached the heights capable with such a talented group of musicians, and it would have been nice to get Jordan Perlson off Hot Rods and onto sticks to bring the climactic songs to a more energetic peak.
Weightless looks as though it will be a much more pop and indie oriented album, which may serve to bring Becca Stevens more into the mainstream, but I would worry more about the fans she already has than the ones she hopes to gain. Be that as it may, I will purchase and listen to her new album, and if I am caught whistling one of her tunes walking down the street don\’t shoot me.