in performance: houndmouth

houndmouth 2

houndmouth: zak appleby, matt mayers and shane cody (standing, back row); katie toupin (front).

Houndmouth is one of those bands you really want to embrace. It possesses a smalltown sensibility that is unusually cosmopolitan leaning and music ripe with accents of soul, early ‘70s rock and modern Americana all served up with garage rock immediacy.

Last night in an ultra-loose set at Buster’s, all of those elements were on display, but they didn’t always coalesce. It was easy to be won over by the quartet’s good natured performance demeanor, its ability to shuffle vocal duties among all four members, in satchel of full of ‘70s influences (with The Band at the top of the list) and the audience’s sometimes rapturous response. The later was reflected in the hearty sing-a-long that grew out of Hey Rose, one the 11 tunes performed from Houndmouth’s debut album, From the Hills Below the City.

Last night the huge, churchy charge that propelled the album was replaced with a leaner and far scrappier sound. There were a few instances where the formula worked, like the way keyboardist Katie Toupin’s boozy, bluesy cover of The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers bled into the weary travelogue original Halfway to Hardinsburg. Mostly, though, Houndmouth’s ragged live design just sounded sloppy. And when the four members switched off on instruments, which they did twice, the show derailed. There was also the matter of a new and unrecorded song delivered early into the set boasting a melody line that sounded like it was lifted intact from one of From the Hill’s finer tunes, Come On, Illinois.

Again, there were several fine moments, like the big revivalistic choral feel of Penitentiary (which opened the show) and the curious covers medley of John Prine’s Quiet Man and Willis Alan Ramsey’s Northeast Texas Women (which closed it). Much of what fell in between simply needed more focus.

That doesn’t mean the band has to get slicker in terms of production or performance. It doesn’t mean it has to scale back the physicality or drive of its live show. It just needs to realize its fine roots-driven music needs more onstage that just a coarse, pedestrian run-through designed to simulate soulfulness. The show’s finer moments proved Houndmouth is above that.

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