Review: New Highway Hymnal (Lowell 7″ Release Show)@ Dirty Douglas (2/17/12)

Travis drums
Photo taken by Paul Gaughran

Artists: New Highway Hymnal, Big Mess, Dirty Virgins, BTSS
Date: Friday, 2/17/12
Venue: Dirty Douglas (Lowell, MA)
For starters, I hate the term “concert review,” and I see these write ups more as show documentations, but that just sounds stupid. More importantly, I still use the term “concert review,” because I do not distinguish these shows from any other musical performances I would see, at least in terms of quality. I remember one time at a Douglas show, some kid said he usually just goes to shows because it is something to do, and most bands he sees are not that great. There’s nothing wrong with attending these shows just for the kicks, not at all, but I have to totally disagree when it comes to the quality of the bands, and everything else for that matter. I cannot really think of a time when I walked away from a basement show feeling dissapointed, not to say my mind is always blown. But, for me it is more than just “something to do,” and this night is a great exmple of what I mean. Before the show, as I am taking a quick perusal at the merch table, I overhear Travis, drummer for NHH (and overall awesome dude) telling a friend that there is a pretty cool scene here. He jokingly says, ” It’s better than Allston.” I concur.
“Yeah, it’s better than Allston!”
“We’re from Allston.”
“Ohh. Allston’s cool too.” Haha, I actually have enjoyed the few basement shows I have seen in Allston, but I do find Lowell to be superior. I don’t know if it’s the bands themselves, the sound, the merch table, or the ubiquitous DIRTY DOUGLAS sign hanging behind each band as they play. Whatever it is, there’s more of an energy and character to the place, making it perfect for a New Highway Hymnal 7″ Release Show. Before NHH plays, three unique, entertaing opening acts get the crowd rockin’ and rollin, including one of my favorites, Big Mess.
Act I: Between Tall Saints and Sinners (BTSS)- I’m curious just how tall are these Saints? I’m a short guy, but I think I could take them on, being a sinner myself. BTSS is actually just one man, a very talented young man named Brad from Bennington, VT. Brad opens the show on a very serious note: “I just want to say RIP to Whisty Houston, one of the greatest black comedians of all time.” Of course, we will also miss Whisty’s groundbreaking comedy. Besides being a comedian of sorts himself, Brad plays guitar, keyboards, and makes heavy use of loops. The music isn’t conventional, but it is pretty interesting, sometimes it’s just really solemn and hard for me to get into, and then in a matter of seconds I’ll hear something that really draws me into the song. In a way though it just felt like one big collection of songs instead of one song; one long psychedelic experience, with songs simply seaming into each other. At some points, the crowd didn’t really know whether they should appalud or not. It made the moment somewhat awkward, but it totally fit and almost felt right. BTSS just seems like awkward music to begin with. Overall, I enjoyed the music very much, but I spent most of the set wondering why there was a vhs copy of When Harry Met Sally sitting on his amp. It kept me curious the whole time and then suddenly Brad picked up the video, hucked the cover into the crowd and began to rape both Harry and Sally with his guitar, just playing his gutiar with the damn thing, it was great! I have never seen anyone play the guitar with a vhs tape. I’ve seen guys play the gutiar with their teeth, forks, drum sticks, and yes I’ve even seen some guys play with their penises. But for BTSS, vhs tapes do the trick and after abusing Harry and Sally with his axe, he let the kids dish out the rest of the damage, smashing the tape to smithereens. A fabulous ending indeed, a forecast for the wonderful, chaotic endings that would occur later in the evening. I hope to see Mr. BTSS again. He seems like a nice dude, a real inspiration. If I choose a career as a Trash Humper, I would want this man to be my co-conspirator. We all have dreams.

Act II: Dirty Virgins–  I’m sure they get this all of time, but awesome band name! It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Probably the best oxymoron I’ve ever heard. Is it an oxymoron? I suppose virgins could be dirty, at times they may actually be outright filthy. In any case, these guys are just as fun and odd as their moniker, playing noisy garage punk with definite psychedelic flavor. Fans of garage rock revival bands or those that are labeled such, especially those championed on this site will most likely enjoy Dirty Virgins.

Act III: Big Mess– Big Mess is the second best New England based band, or at least my second favorite. Who is number one? That’s a story for another review, right now Big Mess are the stars and as always they destroy it.  “The Hook,” is one of the finest openers I have ever heard and I always look forward to hearing it every time Big Mess hit the stage or floor. Nick Wiedeman and Josh Tracy deliver jostling guitar riffs, whilst Nick Egersheim bashes the drums, each hit is made to kill. When he smacks the drums the sound is nothing short of thrilling.  Big Mess are able to capture rock music at its barest, most stripped down state, cutting out all of the bullshit. Nick and Josh  rapidly swing their guitars around as they bust out driving groove after groove. The band is often loud and I love it, but some of my favorite moments are when the  volume slowly builds up like in Big Mess classics, “No Good Time” and “Gueule de Bois.” This is easily the best set I have seen from them. I can’t wait for the next show.  Check out their music here:

Act IV: New Highway Hymnal!–  The New Highway Hymnal have played several 7″ Release shows for their latest and greatest effort, “Blackened Hands,” but it is at the Dirty Douglas where the band feels most at home. The place is packed and everyone is ready to rock. I’ve never seen a crowd more engaged and energetic before at the Douglas, there is just an unbelivable feeling of triumphant and joy. NHH are sound performers, but what I find most appealing about their music is the way in which they are able to smoothly mix various genres of music into one form. I hear elements of The Doors (especially in the vocals), the noise experimentation of Sonic Youth, and garage music, where current bands like the Black Lips and Natural Child come to mind. With that being said, the band has definitely found their own style both on record and live; you can tell they play a lot just by their prescence alone. As the band finishes its last tune, the crowd goes wild and pandemonium ensues. Suddenly, the music ends and guitars are flung, mic stands fall down, and there is just one giant pig pile over Travis’s drum kit. One of the coolest endings I have ever seen!
Listen to NHH here:

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