Concert review and interview: JEFF the Brotherhood (with Sleepy Kitty and Juiceboxxx) brings Nashville chaos to Off Broadway on Tuesday, July 31
During the single hour containing JEFF the Brotherhood‘s set, I had three beers poured on my head, one pocket knife placed in my back pocket and four bruises just waiting to show up the next day.
While I was not personally accustomed to Tuesday night’s uproar, this brand of chaos seems standard fare for the Orrall brothers from Nashville, who released their album “Hypnotic Nights” on Warner Brothers July 17.
Openers Sleepy Kitty, an indie-rock duo from St. Louis, started the night at Off Broadway with large heaps of reckless (and bass-less) enthusiasm, a spirit that quickly won over the still-thin crowd despite technical difficulties during their set. With harmonies alternating between full, choral sweetness and ear-splitting shrieks, the duo swiftly reminded crowds why it’s worth heading out to LouFest early this year, where the band will play at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 25.
Milwaukee’s Juiceboxxx offered an eclectic touch to the evening as a rapper whose style and songs owe just as much to basement punk shows as they do to old-school hip-hop. Yet in spite of his unswervingly earnest and even volatile performance, the audience seemed torn between buying into Juiceboxxx’s stage presence (asking a girl up onstage to “Bruce Springsteen” with him) and wishing his backing band would walk off a few songs early.
Yet by the time JEFF the Brotherhood took the stage, it was clear that St. Louis had turned itself out just to see the brothers play. After two blasts of smoke from the fog machine and a few heavily distorted notes rumbling out of vocalist Jake Orrall’s signature (and see-through) three-stringed guitar, the audience, which appeared near-capacity, started hollering back their appreciation for the band — and all of that noise was only for sound check.
The band came back on to kick off their set with a relatively calm rendition of “Mystic Portal II” from its latest album, giving the audience a brief moment of respite to prepare themselves for the eventual build-up towards JEFF’s signature sound — a wall of heavy distortion, static melodies and, when used, vocals and lyrics that inevitably recall a pop-punk tendency towards simple lines and straight-forward hooks.
These qualities were most noticeably showcased during songs such as “Mellow Out” from “We Are the Champions,” or “Bummer” from earlier effort “Heavy Days.” During that song, drummer Jamin Orrall fell nearly silent as his brother sang, “We must be drinking a little too much on the weekends,” with painstaking vocals layered over a half-muted guitar, creating a tone of regret relatable to anybody who’s ever made a few late-night mistakes of their own.
Recent single “Six Pack” was an obvious high-point of the night. The song — a summer anthem dedicated to getting out of town and day-drinking by a lake with friends — had the entire room shouting along to the simple chorus. “It’s so hot in this tiny room,” the song goes, and while most that night would have agreed, it didn’t cap the crowd’s enthusiasm in the slightest.
The rest of their set was evenly split between long, heavy, psychedelic jams such as Wicked Lady’s “I’m A Freak” and “Dark Energy” and other punk-influenced tracks teeming with energy, such as crowd-favorite “Ripper.” During that song, Jake Orrall climbed off-stage and played the track’s blaring solos with the crowd head-banging and singing the riff around him, before hopping back up onstage to lead a defiant chorus of “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna go.”
Despite the fact that there was no encore — only a brief break to take a couple of shots — the audience seemed to be losing energy by the time the clock struck midnight, although the band finished strong with “Whatever I Want,” a blistering, slow-burn jam clocking in at seven minutes (note for collectors: the song was released on vinyl by Jack White’s Third Man Records).
The show at Off Broadway marks only the fifth or sixth since the band’s “Hypnotic Nights,” produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, was released two weeks ago.
“This was one of the best shows we’ve played in a long time,” Jake Orrall said to me after the show. “We didn’t expect anyone to come because we’ve never really had a good show in St. Louis and it was such a big venue. But the turnout was awesome, and everyone was super fun.”
Yet in spite of the album’s major label status and star producer, Orrall says there hasn’t been a big shift in the crowds coming out to catch JEFF just yet.
“It hasn’t been long enough to really notice, because it’s only been out for a week and a half. But I think that the Black Keys being one of the biggest rock bands in the world now has definitely helped people who are interested in what Dan does other than his band to get into our music. That’s a huge boost for us.”
The band also recently played on Letterman, during which they gained attention for Orrall’s admittedly odd outfit choice — a long, black, sequined dress.
“When you’re playing a show like that, you’ve got to fucking go for it,” Orrall explained enthusiastically. “People are like, ‘Oh, he wore a fucking sequin dress and put a bunch of glitter in his mustache.’ But that’s what you should do. You should try to make an impression on people and get in their heads.”
In the end, there are two things Orrall gets excited about for the future — the first, hopefully upgrading the band’s vehicle, a white short bus with no A/C, and the second, returning to the City Museum, the guitarist’s favorite part of St. Louis.
“Best place ever,” Orrall says. “I’ve come up here just to go to the City Museum. … Get drunk, swing on some rope swings and explore? I’ve recommended that to so many people. You guys have got a good thing going on with that shit.”