If you read our review of Mercy Union‘s dynamite sophomore album, White Tiger, last week, it should probably come as no surprise that even though I live in Massachusetts and the official record release show occurred on a Friday in New Jersey, I was going to be there. And I was! My “forever-plus-one” and I hopped in the car, dropped our teenager off at her grandparents’ house, and made our way to Crossroads in Garwood, NJ, a club that has become a sort of home-away-from-home for us the last half-dozen years or so. (Really, if you live in the greater NYC area, you should make it a point to go to Crossroads for dinner and a show. You won’t regret it.)
Felons were the first band out of the gate on this evening. Astute followers of the New Jersey music scene will no doubt remember Zak Ferentz from Ferentz and the Felons. The Hudson County street folker retooled his band during quarantine lockdown. Now known simply as Felons, the band still features Ferentz on acoustic guitar and vocals, but he’s backed by a bass player and, well, I don’t have nearly enough knowledge of electronic music to have even the foggiest idea to know what Plantcham was playing on stage right, but I know that it combined for a really cool and weird and interesting sound. Sort of acoustic folk punk meets drone synth with all sorts of samples in the mix. Ferentz at one point introduced a song as being “about doing too many psychadelics” and I’d say that sounds about right. Check the video for “Sheep’s Wool” here for a pretty accurate example.
Brooklyn’s Early Riser were next up, and I have to say, I’m really, really glad I finally got the chance to see them. For the uninitiated, it’s safe to say that Early Riser continue the evening’s theme of bands that are tough to confine to a specific genre box. The sound is centered around Kiri Oliver’s playful vocals and small body Martin acoustic with additional texture provided by Heidi Vanderlee on cello and Nicole Nussbaum on bass. Drums are handled by none other than Mikey Erg, and all members provide harmonies. It’s like posi folk punk power-pop and it inspired a random and unexpected dance break in the crowd!
Much like yours truly, Lenny Lashley made the trip down from Massachusetts. Accompanied by frequent collaborator, the multi-talented Cody Nilsen on pedal steel, Lenny occupied the night’s direct support slot. I think Lenny is the artist I’ve seen most since Covid started a couple years ago because I tend not to wander too far away from home now, so it was fun to actually see him play a road game. Lashley bounced between acoustic (a 1937 Martin reissue, I believe) and electric (a tele-style Nacho Guitar if you’re into that sort of thing) and, while he’s got a massive catalog, stuck to songs mostly from his solo repertoire, including a few tracks from his upcoming album Five Great Egrets (more on that later). Lashley and Mercy Union frontman Jared Hart go back to the days when the former welcomed the latter’s old band, The Scandals, to Boston many years ago, so it’s been fun to watch the connection continue across state lines well over a decade later.
Which brings us, of course, to the Mercy Union portion of the evening. Hart and the gang (Rocky Catanese on guitar and occasional lead vocals, Nick Jorgensen on bass and backing vocals, recent recruit byt familiar face Matt Olsson on drums) fired up the margarita machine and fired straight into “1988,” “The Void” and lead single “Prussian Blue,” the three tracks that open White Tiger and set its sonic tone. The new material was, naturally, pretty well received from the home crowd, most of whom had clearly been listening to the album on repeat for at least the duration of release day if not, in some special cases, considerably longer. The 16-song set was heavy on White Tiger, naturally, with a few songs from their debut album, The Quarry, a couple reworked Hart solo songs, and a completely on-brand singalong cover of Goo Goo Dolls classic “Black Balloon” for good measure.
It was apparent from the earliest notes of their set that the band wore not only loaded for bear, but were having fun in the process. It is obviously a bit of a daunting task to put out an album on your own label two-and-a-half years into a global pandemic, and then to host a record release show at a well-respected club in your backyard (a club that, coincidentally, yours truly traveled to for a Scandals record release show a bunch of years ago). The night was full of smiles and gratitude and shoutouts and guest appearances on gang vocals, proving that while the sound may have branched out from traditional punk rock, the vibe and the ethos once you’re inside the four walls of a sweaty club remains every bit the same.
Look below for photo slideshows from each set of the night. You can still order Mercy Union’s White Tiger here or get it wherever you buy your digital music!
LENNY LASHLEY (W/CODY NILSEN)