Words by Joey Zoldan
Last Wednesday at Rockwood Music Hall, a spacious segmented LES venue, two Royal Potato Family acts offered a primer in divergent courses to sonic spectacle. The Yellowbirds took the ragtag rock and roll route of jagged edges, dragging indie folk tunes through a thicket of sock hop rock and delightful distortion. Superhuman Happiness, versed in the necessarily meticulous instrumental excursions of Afrobeat, offered up a tighter brand of dance music in the opening slot, seamlessly segueing compositions and swapping instruments in a display of precision that was not lost on the headliner. Lead Yellowbird Sam Cohen acknowledged the disparity in exactitude, but then when was rock and roll ever supposed to be executed to perfection?
Superhuman Happiness took the stage as a finely tuned, well-oiled machine, each part moving in sync with the whole, an even more impressive feat considering the complex rhythmic interplay of many of the songs. Bandleader Stuart Bogie conducted the sextet through a rollicking set drawing heavily from the group’s recent release Hands. When Bogie was not punctuating the dense funk rock with saxophone calisthenics, he was banging on cowbells, adding rhythm guitar and involving the crowd in clapping exercises. Catchy tunes like “Second Heart” and “Sentimental Pieces” showcased the band’s uncanny group harmonies and steadily unfolding layered anthems. The syncopated melodies filled the small room and kept the crowd moving.
The headlining Yellowbirds, in the final night of a month-long residency, offered a set of twangy rock numbers in fits and starts. Sam Cohen, formerly of Boston indie cult faves Apollo Sunshine, led his band (and best friends as he gushingly noted) through heartfelt numbers inspired by personal strife and triumph with scratchy tunes like “Pulaski Bridge” taking cues from local concerns like gentrification. The so-called hit single off the group’s sophomore effort Songs From the Vanished Frontier, “Young Men of Promise” typified the band’s guitar-driven wistful brand of indie rock.
At one point, due to a set list misprint, each half of the band mistakenly dove into separate songs, though the miscue led to a comical interlude during which some slightly pornographic set list doodles were divulged. The openers joined in towards the end to add a dose of funk to the set.
To conclude the evening and residency, Cohen and fellow guitarist Josh Kaufman treated the crowd to an exercise in unadulterated cacophonic feedback squall, evoking a demented detuned Allman Brothers and embodying the magic of unhinged six string rage, the epitome of imperfect rock glory.
The Yellowbirds will be touring the west coast for the first time next month.
Superhuman Happiness will be at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park Bandshell this month performing the score they contributed to the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, as well as participating in a tribute to Afrobeat ingénue Fela Kuti.
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