Bursts of icy rain and wind are not deterring Reignwolf’s loyal New York fan base. Past the silver marquee outside Music Hall of Williamsburg boasting the fast-approaching “REIGNWOLF NEW YEAR’S EVE,” the wölf pack gather for a show that will become historic. A nineteen-song setlist clocking in at one hour and forty-seven minutes, it ends up being one of Reignwolf’s longest performances to date, rivaling only a few Seattle shows (as Jordan Cook later confirms for P&W). With 2019 slipping away, MHOW first welcomes the fresh opening set from New York’s own Pom Pom Squad – made up of Mia Berrin (guitar/vocals), Alex Mercuri (lead guitar), Mari Alé Figeman (bass), and Shelby Keller (drums). Songs from their recently-released Ow EP make up their lively set, and it’s a hit with the MHOW crowd, who react positively to Mercuri’s guitar work and Berrin’s upbeat vocals. “I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands here and it’s one of my favorite holidays, so I’m happy to be sharing it with you,” says Berrin, who jumps onto the bass drum in a way that surely makes Reignwolf proud. At 11:27pm, sudden darkness causes fans to let out loving screams at an end-of-the-world volume. Reignwolf’s smoke machines hiss like a pit of snakes as the room fills up with their familiar haze, and then we can see only shadows; one shape dividing into three independent ones.
Gradually, the silhouettes sneak through the fog and reveal themselves to be frontman Jordan Cook, bassist S.J. Kardash, and drummer Joseph Braley – but not until well into opener “I Want You.” The song’s heavy yet laid-back vibe is hypnotic, and the tone of Cook’s opening line, “I’ve been here before…” seems to nod to their previous fiery shows in New York. He tweaks the lyrics we know well from Hear Me Out: “You’re in my head” becomes “You’re always in my head,” and he personalizes it by singing “New York, I want you.” His vocals are arresting and the guitar sounds he creates are snowflake-original. There’s no break before “Alligator,” though his innate showmanship kicks in and he asks Brooklyn how we’re doing, urging us to get even louder. Somewhere between the “shut up!”s and “ooooh”s, Cook’s mic cord gets twisted around his guitar neck and he works it into the melody; there’s no way to know if it’s intentional or not. He often wraps the mic cord around his own neck too. New song “Monster” – the one he teased in our recent interview – is a vehicle for his untethered blues guitar improvisation. The rhythm section’s synergy is equally sick. Braley and Kardash smile at each other when they lock into certain sinuous grooves that they like.
Amid the fits of squeals that follow, Cook says, “I’ll tell you what – we’re gonna chill out for a little bit, because we’re almost getting to that time. And after that time, we’re different people, you know?” He’s smiling, but he’s clearly not kidding; the chills he’s prompted remain throughout an enveloping cut of “Son of a Gun.” Unexpectedly, he then starts cutting into the gnarly grr-grr-grr riff of “Neighbors” – an old gem named after the neighbors who always called the cops on him when he played it – and just before faces start melting Indiana Jones-style, he stops and says playfully, “I wanna tell you a little story first. No, you haven’t heard this, I promise,” he laughs. “It kind of makes me think when friends, fans, family, whoever shows up for you on a night when there’s so much else to do.” Fittingly, Cook has to plead “hear me out” three times just to quell the ensuing cheers. “Honestly, one of our good friends from here – well, not far away from here – he lent me this guitar when I smashed mine. So people that trust me for a whole tour with their guitar – no, I wouldn’t either! But no joke, he showed up for me. And he saw this guitar for the first time, I was told…um…this month…just now. So there’s a couple new war wounds there, but I love you man. I really appreciate this,” he says, throwing us back into a raging “Neighbors.” We’re then surprised with another old essential, “In the Dark,” during which he easily coaxes fans into a loud call-and-response. “People are saying five minutes, so…” he trails off as they dig into “Black and Red,” Hear Me Out’s classic-sounding opener. Its extra-sticky ¾ time signature is constructed by Braley and Kardash with deft precision.
Over and over again, Cook’s guitar solos are completely different from those captured on Hear Me Out and span a range of emotions. Sometimes, he lands on a slick little lick and repeats it higher and higher up the scale with frenetic energy. Most often, though, there’s no telling which notes might come next; his fingers fly across his fretboard, chasing his every intricate whim faster than human eyes can follow. The satisfied snarl that appears whenever he’s relishing a moment in time is frequently present on his lips. “What time you got?” he asks excitedly, beads of sweat dripping from his hair and rolling down his face. In 0.01 seconds, I realize he’s asking me. “What time you got?” he repeats as I scramble to check. “Two minutes,” I report, my voice ragged from screaming and singing like the rest of the crowd. “Two minutes!” Cook replies. “Welcome to Reignwolf, damn it. 2020 baby, 2020 baby…are you ready?” In one swift move, he climbs off the stage with his guitar, mic, and a fistful of cords. Kardash and Braley disassemble their setup and follow him to the ground, quickly reassembling in the middle of the room without hesitation. Cook asks us what song we want, but there’s no time to sort through the cacophony of requests. “I get to call this one! Are you all ready? Seven. Six. Five. Four. THREE. TWO. ONE!” he shouts with plenty of support. The new roaring twenties begin with “Wanna Don’t Wanna,” followed by a succulent taste of the super-rare “Juicebox.” 2020 then brings a song “so new that we’ve never played it before,” as Cook announces, “and there’s no lyrics until tonight, so check it out.” He later tells P&W that its title is “Almost Midnight,” and it’s a killer addition to their unreleased repertoire.
The three are still encircled by their ecstatic fans on the floor when they dive into “Lonely Sunday,” an old favorite that doesn’t pop up much these days. Climbing back onstage, Cook strips off his leather jacket, switches to another gorgeous guitar, and responds to fans’ Hear Me Out song requests in a sweet tone. “We’ll go there, we’ll go there. We’re gonna go backwards before we go forwards.” He tells us to clap and everyone in sight obeys, syncing up with Braley and Kardash as they lay the foundation for “Electric Love.” Co-written by Kardash, it’s another one of their early hits, and the lyrics are personalized for us yet again. “Listen, New York, I’m gonna give you my soul,” sings Cook, as well as “Now Brooklyn, I’ll let you know / I’m never gonna turn my back on you.” “Ritual,” a song whose sultry riff came from Kardash, presents another opportunity for him to impress with his bass work; he moves back and forth constantly to stay close to his bandmates’ ever-shifting contributions. “We’ve been touring our faces off, and it’s felt so good, we want to keep it going,” Cook says between songs, triggering tons of applause. “The one that kicked it all off before was this one. This doesn’t mean we’re done.” Fans are already yelling “Are You Satisfied?” and he laughs as he yells back, “Well, are you?” Right in the thick of it, he stops to sit on the bass drum and finish his thought as Braley and Kardash keep the rhythm alive. “We started our first recording with this song called ‘Are You Satisfied?’ and this is a promise to have much more of those recordings for you. That’s my wish for 2020; I’m gonna share it. I hope to not jinx it with you.”
“You know what’s unbelievable about this show, though, is that almost every greatest moment I’ve ever had happened in this city, in New York.” Cook begins listing out past N.Y. shows, even pointing to individual fans who attended them. “Let’s make this the best night we have. 2020! Happy 2020 to everybody. We love you so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for supporting us on a night like this.” Without pause, he begins searching for a place to plug in other than the stage. “I’d like to turn it upside down and go over there, if that’s okay,” he says, pointing to the back of the room. Their transition to the floor takes over seven minutes – still in the middle of “Are You Satisfied?” – but the lag doesn’t matter. Cook doesn’t care if anyone might question his reasoning; if he wants to shred elsewhere, he’s going to. He’s certainly never been one to pump out carbon copies of recordings or follow a plan. Once he’s found his new spot, he sings unaccompanied until his mic is plugged back in, placing his hand under his mouth like an imaginary megaphone. The foundational song unravels beautifully and Reignwolf are far from finished. Thrilling longtime fans, “Bicycle” comes next, and when Cook laughingly notices a delay, Braley and Kardash join him in the back of the room too. Cook even weaves a piece of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” into the searing song. The excitement in the room bubbles over when they slice into a razor-sharp “Over & Over.”
Reignwolf are still on the floor when they treat us to “Hardcore,” and the grungy song features a devastatingly cool bass solo by Kardash. “You’re not going home!” Cook shouts with a smile as the band sets up on stage one last time. Up next, impressively, is “Old Man,” and they pour it out in a way that’s thoughtful and unhurried. Cook’s guitar solo sounds like a tour of secret rooms within his soul. He smacks and knocks his fist on the battered body of his guitar for extra rhythm. Before we know it, Braley’s addictive drumming pulls us into their final song, “Dead of Night,” another surprising and scorching rarity. One moment, Cook is showing off his insane slide guitar chops in the depths of the crowd. The next moment, he’s sitting onstage, his microphone draped over the amps to keep it within reach as he jams. “We love you. Thank you!” Cook says at 1:14am when it all comes to an end, waving and smiling warmly before the three heroes walk off. And after a pure-rock experience like that, his initial promise to us all about New Year’s Eve rings true: we’re different people now.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley