Fruit Bats Return with New Music at Rough Trade NYC

May 13th, 2016

Fruit Bats – Rough Trade NYC – May 12, 2016

Do bats rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix? All those in attendance for last night’s “We’re back, baby!” set at Rough Trade NYC know that Fruit Bats definitely do come back from the dead, witnessing Eric Johnson and band pick up like they’d never left two-and-a-half years after seemingly closing shop. Of course, Johnson never left, keeping plenty busy with solo work and other projects in the interim, but the sold-out crowd came out to see a proper Fruit Bats show and, undoubtedly, that’s what they got. With a new album, Absolute Loser, coming out on Friday, there were new songs, sure, but the set still leaned heavily on older, favorite material, the performance giving fans old and new a good look at Fruit Bats past, present and future.

Opening with “Featherbed,” off 2009’s Ruminant Band, Johnson sang, “Can’t give me too much love,” his arm halfway raised, as if part waving hello and part triumphant fist pump. The set coalesced at a deliberate pace, the band breaking the ice with songs old and new. Things turned up a gear with the addition of special guest Sam Cohen. Rather than muddying the crisp Fruit Bats sound, the third guitar created new space in the material, opening “Shivering Fawn” into a beautiful country shuffle and adding ethereal space-out grooves to “A West County Girl,” from Johnson’s solo EDJ album.

The quintet seemed to take flight for the set’s second half, Johnson’s voice as sweet and strong as ever coupled with twangy guitars and dance-ready rhythms. Each tune made the night for someone in the room, and requests included songs not yet released and old favorites. “Flamingo” found the band at their peak, Cohen returning to the stage, Johnson bringing the room to complete silence with his voice reaching the back wall unimpeded as the instruments all dropped out for a moment before returning with a bam! and then incrementally building to a rather epic rock-out, one of several. After a soulful solo version of “Singing Joy to the World,” during which even the bar went silent to listen, Fruit Bats closed out with their new single, “Humbug Mountain Song,” and one of their old hits, “When You Love Somebody,” everyone in the crowd getting down and smiling, having completely forgotten Fruit Bats had ever gone away. —A. Stein | @Neddyo