Powerful, Rocking Music at The Bowery Ballroom

July 18th, 2012

Delta Rae/Aunt Martha – The Bowery Ballroom – July 17, 2012

It was an evening of deceptively simple pleasures at The Bowery Ballroom last night. In the middle slot, Aunt Martha, presently of Brooklyn and an all-male quartet despite the name, began their set with an ambient, dissonant chord but quickly turned into an alt-country affair, with the band trying to bring the genre back to its roots from wherever Wilco has taken it. Still, this was country music dominated by keyboards and drums for the better half of the set. Songs started simply and continued to increase in complexity—like they’d been penned on an acoustic guitar and grown into a dense mosaic of loops and melody. The guitarist and bassist began “Wherever You Want to Go” with their instruments slung over their neck, both playing atmospheric keyboards. Halfway through they both stood up, literally and figuratively, churning out the most rocking part of the set.

The headliner, Delta Rae, got right down to it with a blast of harmonized vocals coming at you like a pipe organ in church. The opening number, “Morning Comes,” had the sextet singing, “The devil’s in the details,” which was true for this band using a simple Americana formula and a well-oiled live show to keep the audience enraptured for the duration. Its was powerful, rocking music that had no electric guitar, no solos, but plenty of energy. Delta Rae joins the New Wave of uplifting Americana marked by the likes of the Avett Brothers and the Head and the Heart, and judging by the crowd’s reaction, they’ll be right there with them soon enough.

The strength of Delta Rae’s set was undoubtedly right in the middle, first playing the dark gospel-esque “Bottom of the River” in a gloriously choreographed, hand-clap and foot-stomp a cappella. Then the band hopped into the middle of the crowd and played and sang without amplification, which they mostly made superfluous all night anyway. The trifecta was hit with a pitch-perfect cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” From there, the rest of the show was gravy: high-energy folk songs, co-ed harmonies, occasional anecdotes to add a personal touch to the songwriting and plenty of percussion to go around. The set closed with “Dance in the Graveyard,” which, in between the vocals and tambourines, summed up Delta Rae’s ethos perfectly. —A. Stein