Hiding behind a mane of hair, heavy-metal denim vest and a low-slung transparent guitar, Jake Orrall poured out huge, disgusting molten riffs all night and hollered into the microphone sounding as bored and disconnected as Joey Ramone or J Mascis. Brother Jamin sat slumped and beat remorselessly on the drums. The duo may initially sound messy but were actually a perfect example of a controlled chaos on stage. The brothers Orrall appeared perpetually synced up together; whether Jake ripped a meandering psychedelic solo or ventured out into the crowd, he always remained in syncopation with Jamin's intricate and tightly wound drumming. It was a truly awesome thing to see and hear.
The band did sound much different live Wednesday night at Off Broadway than on record. Not incredibly so, but noticeably so. It was bombastic and heavy. Where their recordings are pristine and detailed, JEFF live hits like a mudslide of grunge, beer, sweat, and distortion. Extremely loud and heavy, the power and ferocity of JEFF caught me off guard at first as I was expecting the Weezer-esque tunes of "We Are the Champions" and "Hypnotic Nights," but overall I was impressed -- albeit with significant ringing in my ears.
JEFF started the show as a powerful duo and about halfway through the show the two were joined by another guitarist and a keyboardist. Although the additional musicians on stage -- this was apparently one of their first shows as a foursome -- allowed for more melodies, riffs and solos to soar off the stage, JEFF ultimately felt more effective as a duo.
Maybe it was the drive and brute force of compensating for such a skeletal drum and guitar set up, but during songs like "Staring at the Wall" the performance was special and exciting when it was just Jake and Jamin for the first 20 minutes or so of the set. Performing as a duo allowed the group to omit any unnecessary details, and go straight for a heavy slug in your gut. The forceful and simple riff of "Ripper" was especially intense as Jake submerged himself in the rowdy beer-swelling crowd, illuminated only every couple of seconds by camera flashes. It was awesome, untreated rock-star shit.
With the other musicians onstage, you could barely pick out a melody coming from the guitar or the keyboard, but if I had any advice for the additional musicians, I'd say, "Turn that shit up!" There are cool enough keyboard riffs on the band's latest album, "Hypnotic Nights," like "Country Life" but onstage you could only on occasion hear the keyboard. The two musicians were simply overpowered by the Orrall bros.
Fellow labelmates and Nashville brethren Cy Barkley and the Wayoutsiders came on before JEFF the Brotherhood and also rocked ferociously -- just without the fog and lights. Cy Barkley was quite a striking presence on stage; his hardcore punk rock warmed up (or heated up) the audience right before the Brotherhood came along. Leather-clad openers Black Panties played as if it was 1977 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Dudes were somewhere between charming and absolutely menacing in their blatant amateur rock 'n' roll. A breath of fresh (or maybe rancid is more appropriate) air when I caught the end of their set, I knew this was going to be a good night.
JEFF is one of those bands with whom it's easy or fun to play the "sounds-like" game. These guys do sound like Weezer, or maybe Dinosaur Jr. on record, and Jake does bare a striking similarity to J Mascis in appearance and naval-gazing, buzz-saw guitar drones -- and lets not forget that both guitarists are obsessed with the phaser pedal too. But live they sound like the Stooges (sans Iggy) or Black Sabbath or Soundgarden at their most aggressive, and even the Strokes at their most melodic moments. Boiling it all down, it was insanely punk rock as shit.