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Stornoway Lands on the Lower East Side

July 9th, 2010

Stornoway – Mercury Lounge – July 8, 2010

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There was a fire on the top floor of a building catty-corner to Mercury Lounge last night. Stornoway singer Brian Briggs said the structure began burning during their sound check, so they ran outside to watch. The audience chuckled at such relevant stage banter, but the truth was larger than they knew. As Stornoway had gathered just hours earlier on the streets of the East Village for a bit of combustible rubber-necking, this crowd too gathered at Mercury Lounge to gawk and stare and be silenced by something stunning.

Playing only their second US show, Stornoway opened with the standout “I Saw You Blink.” It rode the inside edge of endearing, earnest for its own sake. Briggs looked toward the ceiling, asking, “I need to know, are you the one?” with vocal clarity so stunning and pure, it brought legitimate and spontaneous tears to the eyes of a woman in the third row. This was only the first chorus of their first song. Rolling through “The Coldharbour Road,” “Fuel Up” and “Here Comes the Blackout” (minus the carrot chopping you hear on the album, they were sure to tell us), the band proved that such beauty would come in bunches not bursts.

For the last two songs of their set, Briggs and his mates stepped in front of their microphones, unplugged their guitars and played with no amplification. The need for mutual trust in this moment couldn’t be missed: It is playing without a net, a performer’s voice no more powerful than any single audience member. The audience stood stock still and hush quiet as intensely human voices sailed out in blended three-part harmony. As they closed the set with “We Are the Battery Human,” Stornoway urged us out with the lyric “We were born to be free range, free range.” This was, of course, true. These people could do as they pleased. But for the moment, they stood and watched and clapped. —Geoff Nelson