Words by Bill Reese. Photos by Peter Butler.
There were no cowboy hats or bulky belt buckles at Crash Mansion in Nolita last weekend, but Nightmare River Band and Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! put on a rodeo of country-punk and alt-country.
Some people familiar with singer/guitarist Wil Farr’s past ventures might be caught off-guard by Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! Opening with the soft piano introduction to “All Quiet Now,” it was clear that this was a different kind of group, a six-piece unit of complimentary pieces. Farr no longer murders his strings, as he so often did in Paper and Sand. Joined He struck the wires of the Rickenbacker with a graceful ease as the lush arrangements of the surrounding instruments made it unnecessary for the guitar to dominate the group. Even with the new arrangements, Farr remained as fiery and passionate about his craft as he’s ever been. As the band dropped into the bridge of “We Will Always Be,” Farr lost himself in the lyrics. Joined by HABOL secondary vocalist Bridget Buscemi, his eyes widened and his neck veins popped out as he sang. “Take my heart love, you can have my heart love, and we will always be…”
Though they are still a relatively new inception, the band stayed tight throughout, acting as a true ensemble, as opposed to the backup band supporting their leader. Keyboardist Jacob Pleakis played the piano and organ, like a Roy Bittan/Danny Federici doppelganger, especially his “Glory Days”-style licks on the poppy “I Could Be the One.” Their showstopper was the banjo-driven shit-kicker “Devil on My Shoulder,” which got the crowd pogoing and clapping along to the chorus.
Nightmare River Band were up next, kicking off their latest U.S. tour properly by dropping into “To the Sea” as the crowd held their beers aloft to toast the group. Frontman Matt Krahula grasped the mic and bobbed to the bouncing bass line provided by “Tall Andy” Tekverk, howling the chorus’ lyrics before the song broke down, only to rise back moments later with twice the force.
NRB’s set was brisk, energetic and filled with more drinking songs then a Jimmy Buffet gig, minus the Hawaiian shirts. At just about every chorus, dozens of bottles, cans and glasses were lofted high above the crowd, several of which splattered all over those in the front row. Nowhere was this more evident than in the anthemic “Jeffrey Dahmer,” with Krahula turning the lyric “Can you tell that I’ve been drinking?” into a call-and-response chant that sounded less like “Can you,” and more like “How can you not?”
Wil Farr did double duty for the night, leading NRB on eclectic guitar and backing up Krahula on vocals. Still promoting last spring’s Call the Cops!, NRB showcased several new tracks, including the country-rocker “Mary,” the swinging “Coral Aquarium,” and the heartbreaking ballad “Why Don’t You Love Me?”
NRB brought up old friend Dan Romer to play accordion on several tracks, including the story-within-a-song gem “Mrs. Myers,” and the soft, Waits-esque intro to “Call the Cops.” After “Call the Cops” dropped into its punky B-section, Krahula jumped down into the audience with a megaphone and danced with the crowd, somehow managing not to get doused with beer. After the bittersweet ballad “Where Do We Go?” the band closed the set a cover, doing justice to Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” with a rousing country-punk rendition.