If a twist of chords has ever made you catch your breath…if you’ve witnessed a moment of rock & roll so beautiful it scared you…if you’ve ever been lifted to your toes by a concoction of notes and words…then you get it. And if those are feelings you enjoy, you should be all over Walking Papers. The Pancakes & Whiskey team was thrilled to present their NYC concert on Monday, and had been counting down the days with both records on repeat. The frigid rain that hit the city on this particular night made Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side all the more welcoming and cozy. Weather like that makes for a brutal walk in the city, but it does have a way of showcasing the fervent dedication of a bands’ fans. The crowd that trekked out to Mercury Lounge in umbrella-snapping wind on Monday night – many wearing Walking Papers tees and all of them perceptibly cool humans – are a testament to the Seattle band’s dark and vitalizing sound.
Such passion can be tough to satiate, but Brooklyn indie rockers GRITS were up to the task and earned the audience’s attention right away as they kicked off the show. Lead singer Eric Breeding, who often grinned and yelled “Let’s go!” between songs, not only sang with a lot of soul, but was fiercely in sync with his bandmates – James Ruffino on lead guitar, Nolan Williams rocking both keys and guitar, Connor Jones on drums, and Mike Straus on bass. Songs like debut single “Darlin’,” “Dead for a While,” “Po’ Boys,” and new song “Roll On” (featuring Breeding on harmonica), were like comfort food in audio form.
Not long after, the lights went pitch black, signaling the imminent approach of the night’s headliners. Cheers tangled with the eerie “Thesaurus Tuus” by Daniel Hart (from the soundtrack of A Ghost Story), which built a haunted-house level of suspense as it oozed into the room. Then there were gasps. Snaking alongside their fans in the dark, Walking Papers traversed the space in seconds and stepped up onto the stage, which suddenly felt jaw-droppingly tiny and close. Getting to see an important band in a small venue is a concertgoer’s dream, but Walking Papers’ uniquely gripping presence makes it feel even more significant. As they opened with a spooky, slowed-down version of “This Is How It Ends,” its beat enhanced by a clattering metal chain they’d brought along, it was instantly clear their NYC show would be something special. Making fiery eye contact with every person possible, frontman Jeff Angell brought a performance that sent chills up the spine, as he’s known to do, his voice like a splash of black paint on white canvas.
Getting a heavy dose of Walking Papers’ two albums in such close proximity was like falling into water after days in the desert. Keyboardist Benjamin Anderson tore through his crucial melodies on keys and supplied resonant backing vocals, strands of dark hair flying in front of his eyes as he jammed. The upright bass wielded by Dan Spalding had been delicately raised onto the stage pre-show (prompting some “oohs” from onlookers) and it was a treat to watch him play it, adding texture and depth to their sinuous sound (and filling out sturdy lines from previous bassist Duff McKagan). Drummer Will Andrews was really on fire and kept pushing the pace, crushing the wild rhythms created by former drummer Barrett Martin, all while surging from loud to soft in a way that defies his medium. Deftly picking up both bass and guitar lines on saxophone, Gregor Lothian infused warmth and blues into their enveloping sound. Guitarist Tristan Hart Pierce made us hungry for every solo coming, nailing challenging licks (like those originated by Mike McCready in studio recordings), and making each one into an ephemeral work of art.
A true frontman, Jeff Angell’s stage presence is so intense, it’s hard to determine what tricks he might have up his sleeve at any given moment. His mic stand-flinging alone would be a highlight if he weren’t such a masterful musician, and the unpredictability of his movement constantly kept the audience on the edge of a scream. His slender frame floating like a ghost, Angell often sings on the tips of his toes, as if the music is directly connected to his muscles and coaxing him up toward the sky. The richness of his vocals – every emotive impact striking like a bolt of lightning – triggered well-deserved screams throughout their 17-song set (which featured incendiary songs like “Hard To Look Away,” “I’ll Stick Around,” “King Hooker,” “The Butcher,” “The Whole World’s Watching,” and too many highlights to count).
Walking Papers Setlist – Mercury Lounge, NYC – Nov 26
“This Is How It Ends” (slow tempo)
“How It Feels” (by The Missionary Position)
“Death On The Lips”
“Hard To Look Away”
“I’ll Stick Around”
“Into The Truth”
“A Place Like This”
“Every Man For Himself” (by The Missionary Position)
“Capital T” / “Two Tickets And a Room”
“The Whole World’s Watching”
“Your Secret’s Safe With Me”
“Red and White” (replacing planned last song, “Leave Me In the Dark”)
“You’ve probably never heard this song, but it’s yours now! It’s your responsibility. That means you have to feed it and take it for walks. Like I said, this is your song,” Angell told the Mercury Lounge crowd, right before they whipped out “Every Man For Himself” by The Missionary Position and got everyone to echo its chorus. Keeping the audience involved in the full experience, Angell asked lightheartedly if they’d rather end the night with “a wrist-slitter” (“Leave Me in the Dark,” as it turns out, the original closer on the setlist) or “a bridge-jumper.” The bridge-jumper won out (“I often jump off of bridges to this song,” Angell joked), and it ended up being the vivid “Red and White,” to their fans’ ecstatic satisfaction. “Of course, if you’d all like to jump into the van and head to the next show, we’re happy to have you,” Angell said as it all came to a close. If only.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley