Reigning Sound – The Bowery Ballroom – August 28, 2014
There’s a theory that some people have that the mountain of great music to come out of America—or more specifically the South—has a lot to do with the Mississippi River. That massive flowing body of water just puts a spell on people, and from that spell comes the great genres of American music: blues, soul, gospel, rock and roll. The river is merely a natural world muse for the region and its artists. A part of me believes this. And it would help explain Memphis-born Greg Cartwright, the lead man behind Reigning Sound with an uncanny knack for pumping out songs that fit so nicely into the canon of American music. Almost all of his material comes with a dash of soul, a sprinkling of gospel and a nice healthy dollop of classic rock and roll. Few people are this good at it. (Perhaps Alex Chilton, another Memphis native, who was once wade deeply in the mighty river.)
Cartwright’s on-again-off-again career with Reigning Sound has most certainly switched back to on as of late. Having just released one of the year’s best albums, Shattered, Reigning Sound came to Bowery Ballroom last night to play through almost the entire LP. Their set kicked off with the album opener, the fiery upbeat “North Cackalacky Girl.” Given the newness of the record, the new songs played live came out sounding incredibly polished. Their set even got some assistance from a violin and cello player to fill out the gorgeous backings of the mournful “Never Coming Home.” Cartwright has a long history of working in punk bands, most notably the Oblivians. And if you listen closely, you can hear it influencing Reigning Sounds’ … well, sound.
Although not a band that falls into the punk category, there is certainly a punkish energy behind some of Reigning Sounds’ earlier songs, especially “Reptile Style.” That tune still sticks out crystal clear in my mind when I first heard the band opening for the Hives in 2004. That they weren’t overshadowed opening for a group Spin magazine dubbed “the best live band on the planet” that year, certainly says something. That the latest iteration of Reigning Sound some 10 years later plays that song even better than when I first heard it says something, too. Their band name is fitting, I’ll leave it at that. —Dan Rickershauser