Coming into last night’s much anticipated show at NYC’s grandiose The Cutting Room, you knew that the American Babies were paying tribute to modern Americana rock bands such as My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams, and Arcade Fire. But, even with having been privy to that information, what you didn’t know was how utterly mind-blowing the versions of these songs were going to be. Tom Hamilton and company set the room on fire last night, with exploratory, improvisation-based renditions of some of modern rock’s greats, weaving in and out of American Babies/Brothers Past originals.
Opening with My Morning Jacket‘s “Off the Record,” (from 2005’s Z) you knew from the get-go that these guys came to bring the house down. After a couple of American Babies originals, including “Dance All Night” (which was apropos, as just about everybody in attendance was up on their feet dancing all night), they played “Satellite Moon” by Strand of Oaks (off of 2012’s Dark Shores). By the time the band finished their insane rendition of fellow Philly brethren The War on Drugs‘ “Red Eyes”, from arguably the best album of 2014 Lost in the Dream, the early whispers of ‘This is fucking sick!’ and ‘Dude, I didn’t realize these guys were so good’ made their way around the venue. Throw in some Father John Misty (“Death of the Ladies Man”) and BP’s “Leave the Light On” to end the first set, and you could have ended the show there and nobody would have complained.
After a brief set break and a much needed libation, set two was under way with another Brother’s Past original “State Police” which got the crowd warmed right back up quickly. “Let It Ride”, a Ryan Adams tune that has made its way into many of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh‘s sets over the years, got the royal treatment, with some choice jams. The addition of Raina Mullen on vocals for all of the tribute songs added subtle, yet beautiful harmonies that did not go unnoticed. A double play of Babies joints, “Swimming at Night” and “Old Fashioned” (w/ former Babies member Nick Bockrath of Cage the Elephant on guitar) followed suit, and really showcased Hamilton’s singer-songwriter skills. Dr. Dog, another band that has blown up over the last several years, got the Babies treatment, as “The Rabbit, The Bat, and The Reindeer” from 2008’s Fate made an appearance.
What would an evening of tributes to modern Americana rock’s best be without a nod to one of the biggest bands in the world? That band being Arcade Fire. The Babies finished the show with a rousing rendition of “No Cars Go” to end the second set, which brought the energy in the room to a frenzy. An utterly impressed crowd begged for more; Hamilton and his Babies cohorts acquiesced (not really, they were totally down for an encore), taking a step back in time and honoring quite possibly Americana rock’s greatest band of all time, the Grateful Dead. Something about “Shakedown Street” just does it for people, and once again did it for everyone on this night as well.
You know these guys were going to crush their own material, but the fact that they made these ‘cover’ songs their own, fleshed them out with a little bit of a twist, shows you the capabilities of this collective made up of Tom Hamilton, Clay Parnell, Al Smith, Adam Flicker, and Justin Mazer. The lineup has seen some changes over the years, but the overall evolution and current makeup of American Babies has hit its stride, and promises some great things to come. American Babies may have risen from the jam scene, but they transcend the music entirely too much to be pigeon-holed into just one niche, instead proving to be an amalgamation of rock’s past, present, and future.
– Chris Meyer
[all photos courtesy of Patrick Hughes – full gallery at bottom]
Off the Record >*, Winter War Games, Dance All Night, Satellite Moon #, FYKM >, Red Eyes >$, Death of the Ladies Man ^, Leave the Light On
State Police>, Let it Ride •, Swimming at Night, Old Fashioned +, OTR, Rabbit Bat and Reindeer €, Joeline, Bullseye Blues, No Cars Go%
Encore: Shakedown Street ~
*My Morning Jacket
# Strand of Oaks
$ the War on Drugs
^ Father John Misty
• Ryan Adams
+ w/ Nick Bockrath gtr
€ Dr. Dog
% Arcade Fire
*^•€%# Raina Mullen on backing vox