It’s all too easy and lazy to be dismissive of cultural phenomenon especially when they become ubiquitous. For all I know Daft Punk might be my favorite band, but the fact that they’re referenced 500 times a day in my Twitter feed makes the likelihood of me ever listening to them extremely low. Also, when I walk into a bar or restaurant and there are low lit gas laps, $15 cocktails and bounteous amounts of creative facial hair worn by men in suspenders, I generally turn around and walk out before the door shuts behind me. However, while adhering to personal rules like this may make the process of decision making easier, it also prevents you from finding diamonds in the hipster rough, like the great restaurant I ate at recently that had all of those clichés and more.
So it was with Silent Comedy. I went into the show with a relatively open mind, having read their bio and listened to one song. Silent Comedy is a five-piece band founded by brothers Jeremiah and Joshua Zimmerman from San Diego who grew up with a preacher father in the Pentecostal faith, which, as far as religions go tends to the more, shall we say, dramatic extremes (snake handling, anyone?). The family travelled around the world preaching, playing music and presumably being exposed to a myriad of influences that have impacted their sound today. There is a lot of facial hair on display among the members of Silent Comedy, suspenders and bowler hats as well. There is also one of the most energetic, bombastically in your face, party down live shows I have seen in a really long time. They are definitely one of those bands that if I was trying to get my friend the music snob to check them out, playing a studio track or even showing them a youtube video, would not do them justice. Their live show is where it’s at and that needs to be experienced in the flesh.
Their sound is difficult to describe, a loud, wild mashup of old-timey bluegrass, Dixieland jazz, down and dirty swamp blues, gypsy-klezmer, straight up hard rock swagger and a healthy dose of Irish punk (Pogues and Flogging Molly comparisons kept popping up in my mind throughout the show). There’s a variety of stringed instruments (Justin Buchanan impressed on both banjo and mandolin) being played at any given time on stage, all anchored by a steady, driving Wartsila-Sulzer RTA96-C turbocharged two-stroke diesel engine beat courtesy of drummer Chad Lee.
Their lyrics tend towards the dark side of religious fervor (“oh children lost in the night, waitin for the light of day”). I’ve read that the brothers themselves are not religious but there was definitely an element of the show when I felt like I could be at the coolest most rocking tent revival experience of all time, one where the focus is less on embracing Jesus and the angels in heaven and more on eternal damnation heading straight into the fiery flames of hell. Cool!!!
The Silent Comedy does a few things very well, they’re great musicians, their voices and harmonies are extremely strong (and having seen a few older videos of their performances I can say they’ve definitely improved in this aspect), they’re consummate entertainers and they’re pros at tension and release style song structure. Tunes like “Impossible Name” open up raw and stripped down before exploding into a floor and ear-drum shaking wall of sound. “God Neon”, the single off of their new EP Friends Divide, and the one song that I’d checked out prior to the show was probably the “poppiest” tune of the evening and gave good credence to the adage “don’t judge a band by its singles”. It was a strong nine song set that showcased each member’s musical talent as well as their cohesion as a band. Even though they’re already well known for their high energy performances, I felt like they really brought it for this pumped up Webster Hall crowd and songs like “Light of Day” and “Blood on the Rails” threatened to blow the roof off. I highly recommend you go see them and prepare to rock out, facial hair and whiskey optional, but suggested.