When you’re psyched to see Welles and he suddenly walks outside, it’s a good sign for the night. His unassuming cool presence allowed him to sneak right past people lined up outside of Music Hall of Williamsburg to the amusement of his fans. A security guard positioned a velvet rope barrier around Jesse Wells as the rocker politely folded into the line. When the rope briefly got unhooked, Jesse half-whispered, “You can’t hold us in,” with a mock-rebellious tone. The humor of that very New York scene prefaced Monday’s fine combo of Welles and Black Pistol Fire in Brooklyn. Two real-deal rock outfits we’ve covered a ton, they’re must-sees if you dig guitar-powered grunge that tempts your muscles to jump. Getting to catch these two bands on tour together feels like spotting a comet during an eclipse. And it was a blast to hear others loudly singing along to Welles. His genre-defying knack for songwriting has always deserved more attention. He got plenty at MHOW as newcomers started dancing too.
Jesse’s rugged voice and warm guitar tones are addictive as is, but his super-sticky melodies will take a ride in your brain for days. It’s well-crafted wit to which he applies all that hard-rocking finesse. Opening banger “Codeine” from his fiery debut record, Red Trees and White Trashes, came with a blunt intro that became a recurring joke: “It’s about drugs.” The viciously catchy “Rock N Roll” had a similar backstory: “It’s about rock n roll, man.” After an edge-of-your-seat “Dirty Thirty,” Jesse said decisively, “I’m gonna do what I said I was gonna do,” and dug into the heavy “Do You Know How to Fuck?” Setlist riches abounded with “Hold Me Like I’m Leaving,” then a jumpable new song about candles and sins, “Hard Livin’” (“It’s about hard living, man”), and “Bachelor’s Degree.” MHOW’s excitement bubbled over for the classic “Life Like Mine” before Welles wrapped with an untethered, riff-laden “Crystals” (“It’s about fuckin’ crystals, man”). During this long rager’s barrage of snarling guitar, it became even funnier that Jesse had, beforehand, deadpanned the suggestion, “It’s in D if you brought a harmonica.”
Fellow stage-smacking thrashers created extra fun in the wake of Black Pistol Fire. The Austin-based duo methodically fed off this energy, doling it back out in the form of a frenetic “Hipster Shakes.” Just as this happy crowd had expected (and clearly missed), Kevin McKeown was soon rolling onto his back to shred and windmill-kicking with the pure-rock verve of another era. As if to save time for more gooey blues rock goodness, McKeown’s first greeting was auctioneer speedy, “Yes-thank-y’all f-comin’-out! We-preciate-chya!” During a crisp “Pick Your Poison” and a crowd-riling “Lost Cause,” that competitive edge to McKeown’s presence revealed itself too. If you’re headbanging up front, he’ll seriously pick you out and approach mid-solo with a face that seems to say, Oh, you think you’re dancing? I’ll get you dancing! It’s subtle, but it’s one of those enduring rules for this band. You can’t flank the stage without catching some of Kevin’s sweat. You can’t wear an old Black Pistol Fire tee without earning some eye contact from McKeown or Owen or both. And even if you’ve studied up, you can’t really figure out what this offstage-cryptic, onstage-expressive frontman is all about.
Beyond sweetly thanking their tech and sound guy, the most McKeown said was, “It’s been a minute since we’ve been back,” and with a big grin, “I’m just glad that we’re back, doing this shit again today.” The rest of their time was well spent cooking up simmering hits with excellent grit. Eric Owen’s sinister drumming seems tighter and harder-hitting than ever, further showing the practicality of his trademark cutoff shorts. It’s especially wild to see how he’s set up to multitask, adding a bassline of precise effects while drumming simultaneously. In addition to some sultry unfamiliar tracks, Black Pistol Fire’s unhurried setlist included a solo-fueled “Speak of the Devil,” “Look Alive,” a nice and edgy “Show Pony,” “Hope in Hell,” a “Cry Hell” that triggered big screams right away, “Bad Blood,” and “Level.” It was really heating up with “Run Rabbit Run,” fan favorite “Bully,” and the twist that is “Always On My Mind,” which starts out slow and steamy then races unexpectedly. The finale was their slick take on “Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac straight into their own “Where You Been Before” – an epic sequence that ran for nine-plus minutes.
Each of McKeown’s motions felt more reckless than the last, especially if your nose was anywhere near the stage. It wouldn’t be a proper Black Pistol Fire show without him making a crazy eyebrow-raising leap (sometimes even startling his own bandmate). Springboarding off the kit as if a swimming pool awaited him safely below, he flew – ensuring that everyone’s memories of this show remain complicated and hazy. Visually, it was a blur: sticks getting beaten to a pulp, fingers digging into strings, shiny droplets everywhere; rapid flashes of McKeown’s striped shirt, purple socks, and white loafers (mostly viewed from beneath as he kicked). Musically, it was a total rock high that kept creeping and kicking in all over again.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley