Disclaimer: this post represents a shameless promo for some cool bands local to my current residence, so please don’t expect the kind of hard biting criticism that customarily adorns the pages of this prestigious and serious blog.
Having lived in close proximity to the capital of the great state of New York for almost three years now, I have finally found something to love about Albany – actually two things – the bands Wild Adriatic and Mirk (aka Mirk and the New Familiars). These bands both wear their regional identities (Albany/Saratoga Springs) on their sleeves – not only suggesting the redeemability of the Albany area, but that there might also be a lively local rock scene here. Certainly nothing close to what’s going on in Brooklyn, Boston, and Montreal, but nonetheless there is some talented performers producing intriguing music that is definitely unique to upstate New York.
In addition to Wild Adriatic and Mirk, there are several other interesting bands from the area. I wrote a post about a year ago on my favorite jam band Twiddle from southern Vermont. I also wrote about another act from the nearby Catskills, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, who relocated to Brooklyn a few years ago. Rock musicians in and around Albany are building a distinctive sound rooted in the jam rock bands so popular in Vermont and Upstate New York who make their way through the mountain ski resort rock festivals in the summertime (groups like Twiddle, Sister Sparrow, and another local favorite Conehead Buddha certainly reflect the jam band influences in region). An additional source of local musical inspiration is the urban multicultural nature of Albany, firmly rooting a taste for hip hop, soul and R&B music into the area. I think all of these influences neatly coalesced on Pearl Street in Albany this evening with some energetic performances, as both bands accentuated the current artistic zenith in the Albany rock scene.
After a notable opening performance by Philly band Cheers Elephant, Mirk took the stage. “Mirk” is actually the stage name of the band’s lead singer and rapper, Joshua Mirsky, who is joined by a handful of talented performers composing a 5-piece band (bass, guitar, drums, keys, and sax) and an additional soulfullicious singer, the beauteous Tara Merritt. Mirk’s diverse look and sound simply oozes style. Their tunes blend hip hop, soul, jazz, and rock – and their eclectic appearance matches the sound perfectly. Joshua Mirsky successfully works the urban hipster look, bassist Kate Sgroi seems to have some kind of Angus Young school boy uniform thang going (chick bass players rule anyway), and I think Merrit is probably smokin’ in whatever she’s wearing. Even better than the appearance of the band though is their tunes.
Mirsky describes his band’s vibe as resisting categories and more reliant upon a blending of musical genres such as the hip hop and classic soul he loved growing up in Albany. Add those influences to the straight-up rock n’ roll entrenched inclinations of his band mates, and Mirk’s sound resembles a supercharged soundtrack for a 70s blaxploitation flick with rap lyrics. Mirk has two albums and an EP under its belt already (the last album, Grind, came out last summer), and the live set provided some highlights from the two albums and a couple of covers (“Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Give Me One Reason”) to showcase Merrit’s powerful vocal and the jam out capacity of the band. Other than listening to Merrit pound out some soulful standards, the greatest moments of the set came from Chris Russell’s dope sax solo during “Marathon” and Mirsky’s rapped out praise of Albany wrapped around a harmonious signing performance in “My City” (my personal favorite in the band’s catalog).
Mirk is without a doubt a spectacular act to see live, but the band has also produced some super cool music videos. Check out these vids of “Marathon” and “Sunshine.”
Although certainly bluesy and soulful, Wild Adriatic’s music is much more workmanlike than Mirk, as its members seem to reap their influences from classic rock acts (they do a few covers of 70s tunes). Similar to Mirk, the guys sport an idiosyncratic look – drummer Mateo Vosganian possesses the inside lead for the honorary beaded gentleman award, and bassist Rich Derbyshire should never lose his Juan Epstein look-alike afro.
Wild Adriatic’s live set this evening was supported by a hyped up hometown audience, which had already been set ablaze by Mirk’s incredible set. Throughout the show, singer Travis Gray’s vocals backed up by guitarist Shane Gilman’s hard riffs and solos maintained the energy with a sound that continually reminded me of something Foreigner could have composed on their first two albums (songs like “New Sun Rising” and “Trouble” occurring about halfway through the set especially exemplified the style). When the band played “The Spark” later in the set, they demonstrated their bluesy roadhouse side with a provocative Iron Maiden-like riff arising at the mid-point of the song. In addition to tunes from the band’s latest EP (Lock & Key), the guys played a couple of covers (“Helter Skelter” and the Bill Withers classic “Use Me”), and some new, unrecorded tunes (Coopstown and Trouble). The guys closed out their set with “Letter” (my pick for best Wild Adriatic song) and the bluesy “Make Like a Ghost.”
The show ended with an audience imposed encore of the band performing Joe Cocker’s standard “With a Little Help from My Friends,” aided by half of the female population of the audience and the members of Mirk who all climbed on stage to belt out the all too familiar lyrics and execute some group love.
Check out this video of Wild Adriatic’s song “Letter” featuring a hilarious romp through downtown Albany.
Anyway, I think this night’s performances provide conclusive evidence there is something going on in Albany other than political sex scandals and brawls at the Subway Sandwiches on Pearl Street among overzealously hungry public servants. I would even go so far to say that Barak Obama was absolutely correct on a visit to the Empire State capital a few years ago when he quipped, “And that’s what you guys are doing here in Albany. You‘re not going backwards. You‘re going forward.”