Appearing at The Stache inside The Intersection, local Grand Rapids outfit The Bangups opened the evening with a short and well-received half hour set before Little Hurricane took the stage at 8:30 PM.
Filling the contemporary blues duet gap voided by the disbanding of the White Stripes in 2010, Little Hurricane formed in San Diego, CA the same year and followed a similar formula by only featuring Anthony “Tone” Catalano on guitar and Celeste “CC” Spina on drums; both share vocal duties.
From the first songs, unwavering timing of Spina’s kick drum and cymbal splashes carried the songs forward under Catalano’s aching vocals and soaring blues guitar melodies. The duo operate as a perfect yin and yang on stage – Catalano’s stoic expression unchanging as he checks the wildly bouncing Spina for cues. It is hard to tell what exactly those cues might be from the crowd because she never stops smiling.
Diving straight into the first few songs with all of their energy, the crowd really picked up as the tempo slowed up just a touch. The bluesy love song “Summer Air”, carried well into the third song of the night: “Superblues”. Appearing on their latest, 2014’s Gold Fever, the song lives up to its moniker.
Opening with a relentless backbeat and swampy guitar tone out of the Louisiana Bayou, Spina accented the ring out > main riff measures with cowbell beats and grins. The crooning of Catalano’s voice was only outmatched when he switched from the guitar around his shoulder to an electric slide guitar positioned on top of his keyboard.
In the aftermath of “Superblues” a fantastic transition through “Trouble Ahead” off of 2011’s Homewrecker into more “Natural Blues”, a cover of a Moby/Vera Hall collaboration off of Little Hurricane’s 2013 album Stay Classy (A Collection Of Cover Songs).
The band got experimental in their next cover, tackling the percussive jazz piece “Heart Shaped Rock” by Berry Weight, appearing on the 2010 album Music For Imaginary Movies. The track went largely unrecognized in the crowd, but it was well received for its Latin spice fills and late-night romantic stroll vibe all the same. Little Hurricane again returned to Gold Fever for “Upside Of Down” and continued relying on the traditional raw power of the blues, both musically and lyrically.
Despite the weight of emotion found throughout the lyrics of almost every song they played, Spina’s expressive and contagious smile from behind the kit helped propel the song towards a redeemable end point. Songs like “Sheep in Wolves Clothing” and “Lies”, which span both of their albums, carry a heavy Death Cab type of emotive weight to them yet are propelled by the uplifting pounding on the drum kit and a squealing guitar that beg “maybe.”
Little Hurricane is a fiery blues band through and through, and to make sure there was no doubt after their first Grand Rapids appearance they ended their set with more originals and a cover, spanning their entire discography yet again while managing to squeeze in a brand new track as well, titled “Bad Business”.
After Spina managed a triple play providing drums, mandolin, and vocals on the battle cry laden “Give Em Hell”, complete with military style snare play to end the song, the duo moved into blues legend Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine”.
Following an outstanding groove that reached to the merch tables, they moved on with their ultimate blues traveler tune “Grand Canyon”. The song was marked by the back and forth call and response debate between Spina and Catalano ending, both in lyrical P.O.V. and between his sweltering electric slide and her relentless drum roll into crashes.
Little Hurricane definitely left a positive impact on the room and the crowd was well warmed up before co-headliner July Talk took the stage. By the time they did, however, it was as if the show had already started.
July Talk takes their show to the extreme and especially knowing that they were playing in a new city, made the most of their on-stage experimentation. Consisting of guitarist Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay as the unquestionable centerpieces of the show team up for a vocal and visual ballet that combines the eccentricities of Frank Zappa with the on-stage chemistry of Johnny and June Cash.
At about 10:15 PM, Dreimanis strolled onstage along with guitarist Ian Docherty, bassist Josh Warburton and Danny Miles sitting at the drums. They began playing “Blood + Honey” off of 2014’s For Your Bloodshot Eyes: A July Talk EP as Dreimanis brought a ‘random’ girl onstage and introduced her as “our new friend Sara,” continuing, “we met her downtown this afternoon, welcome a local to the stage!”
In reality, “Sara” was Fay, but not once through the night did anybody correct what had just happened nor was Fay ever referred to by name again. But it didn’t matter. Whether a fan or first time listener, July Talk immediately commanded the crowd and had the room hanging on every slurrered drawl of Dreimanis and every sultry twirl of Fay from “Summer Dress” and into “Gentleman”, both off the band’s self titled debut album.
Dreimanis’ deep growl is the stuff 13 year-old punk rockers dream of having one day, and he certainly gets good mileage out of it in trading provocations with Fay. Throughout the show, Fay, dressed in a black spandex onesie, bounced around the stage, literally hanging on Dreimanis, Warburton, and Dochrety. On the next song, “My Neck”, she pretended to strangle Dreimanis at various points onstage and covered his eyes and mouth with her hands while he sang.
July Talk took advantage of the evening by introducing the new market to nearly the entirety of their self titled release (including the rerelease bonus tracks) as well as giving the fans who dragged theirs friends to the show a treat in three new songs.
“Lola + Joseph”, “Push + Pull” and “Picturing Love”, the latter of which features Dreimanis on the keyboard, are all exciting and menacing in their execution. His drawled out accent and abnormally deep voice lend a heavier weight to the lyrics than expected. Some of these songs are engineered to make your skin crawl, and they succeed.
Some of their onstage antics included Fay assuring the crowd that Dreimanis forgot his “trademark” red lipstick and asked the audience for some. Fay pulled the young woman on stage and had her apply the lipstick to Dreimanis and Fay mid-song. During the final song of the set, “Paper Doll”, the singers collaborated on choosing opposite sexed audience members to sing their parts, and the young woman singing Dreimanis’ verse absolutely crushed it right down to the attitude.
During the encore break, Fay was made aware of the birthday of an audience member. As she and her friends coaxed the birthday girl on-stage, it was revealed that the song about to be played, “The Garden”, was actually originally titled “July Talk” but when the time came to choose a band name they decided to go with the title of the first song they ever wrote as a band, and that is the name they continue to use.
The pair of bands wrap up their co-headlining trek east this week through upper New England.
LITTLE HURRICANE setlist:
Fourth, Summer Air, Superblues, Trouble, Natural Blues*, Heart Shaped Rock&, Upside of Down, Haunted Heart, Sheep In Wolves Clothing, Bad Business, Lies, Give ‘Em Hell^, Sunshine, Canyon
* - Moby + Vera Hall cover
& - Berry Weight
^ - CC on mandolin
JULY TALK setlist:
Blood + Honey, Summer Dress > Gentleman, Guns + Ammunition > My Neck > Don’t Call Home > Headsick, Lola + Joseph > Push + Pull > Someone, Picturing Love*, I’ve Rationed Well, Uninvited, Paper Girl
ENCORE: The Garden
* - Peter on keys