Concert review: Alberta Cross (with Everest) release ‘Songs of Patience’ at Off Broadway, Tuesday, July 17
The music of this once UK, now New York-based band is grounded in hooks, manic vocals and a throw-back Americana flavors. I originally became interested in their music thanks to its indulgent takes on American folk rock with tunes like “Old Man Chicago,” “Lucy Rider” and “Low Man.” But the advent of Alberta Cross’s sophomore record, “Songs of Patience,” reveals a band working to push into indie rock while emulating the ’60s and ’70s, unfortunately making music that’s neither new nor very much their own.
Everest started the evening by deafening Off Broadway with a set of tunes from their 2012 record, “Ownerless.” “I’ve Had This Feeling Before,” from 2010′s “On Approach,” offered welcome dynamics and a playful swagger that was headed off with gusto as the song transitioned into a heavy chorus. “Let Go” struck as a fascinating melange of double-bass drum, funky bass licks and dreamy vocals.
Comparisons to Manchester Orchestra kept slipping into my mind, but every time, Everest infused something new into the mix to subvert my petulant labeling. Whether it was an emboldened worship of the ceiling with a tambourine, a striking verse, or overdriven bass mingling with delayed and active vocals, Everest kept surprising.
Alberta Cross apparently missed the scheduled sound check and so engaged in a longer than normal check before their set, and the small (very small) group gathered at Off Broadway grew restless. Soon, Peter Ericson Stakee appeared before the audience to offer regrets about the sound check, probably regretting too the size of the crowd.
The band brought some yellow stage lights that complemented Off Broadway’s house lights. They flickered on and off for “Lay Down,” while Stakee unleashed a slew of breathy, soaring vocals. The chorus struck a balance between Oasis and Muse, and I was saddened when Stakee’s vocal range or dynamics never shifted to give much-needed resonance and perspective to his skilled, lofty moments. “Magnolia,” the new single from “Songs of Patience,” was a dewey, post-bender, a reminder that the band knows how to party, but the song, with all its Southern vibration, felt out of place, as if Alberta Cross tried to channel a feeling with no real life behind it, like writing about something they neither knew nor had experienced.
Stakee begged the crowd “to move forward.” The audience advanced toward the stage with awkward, beleaguered strides. Much like Alberta Cross’s forced feeling, the entire band-crowd vibe felt disconnected. “Money for the Weekend (Pocket Full of Shame)” had bodies wiggling and featured some amazing electric guitar work from Aaron Lee Tasjan, but the song remained stuck in the blender of the Clash meets U2. I couldn’t tell where Alberta Cross began and ended. Stakee took off his fedora and belted out the chorus with full heart, yet the tune bumbled over itself. Terry Wolfers grew frustrated with the sound of his bass, which rattled the wooden floor and made my face itch with its heavy vibration. This was the only way one could feel Alberta Cross.
Alberta Cross delved into its back catalog with “The Thief and the Heartbreaker.” Stakee abruptly ended the song upon breaking a string and declared, “I don’t continue if I break a string.” I still don’t know if he was kidding or not. “The Devil’s All You Ever Had” was dedicated to Everest and was performed with less finesse and interest than its studio counterpart and featured another, awkward, almost broken and unplanned finish.
“Leave Us and Forgive Us,” from 2009′s “Broken Side of Time,” was a roadhouse highlight and briefly showcased Alberta Cross at the top of its game. Alec Higgins dropped the song’s tasty piano hook as Stakee used his cloudless vocal range to regain the crowds fleeting admiration.
“Wasteland,” drippy with modern clichés, stuck out like the ending of a poorly-scripted teledrama, wherein the hero gets validated just before the evening news. Pure montage song. I pictured Duchovny reflecting on his life while striding the beach after a night of painkillers and booze. With a back catalog of tunes ranging from highway barn-burners to wistful, granola-munching, sunset lollers, Alberta Cross has always had trouble maintaining a cohesive sound. Now replete with stadium rockers like “Wasteland,” “Songs of Patience” seems to worsen this problem.
After a slightly off-tempo version of “Low Man” — it nonetheless approached the grandeur of the studio version — Alberta Cross closed with “ATX,” a peppy, jam-fueled rocker that favored soundscapes over solos and guitarless verses over any kind of real dynamic movement.
Alberta Cross waved and left the stage with a chip on its shoulder as a few girls tried to cheer the band into an encore. No encore came. The house lights brightened and we knew it was over. Stakee downed a shot and headed to the bathroom, surly to wash out the bad taste of a poorly-attended show on record release day.