Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Retribution Gospel Choir - Canopy Club, Urbana


By Jon Stone | @jwstone

Retribution Gospel Choir. What are we to make of this name? A gospel choir. Ok, got that -- sounds kinda holy. Let's keep this going. So, retribution? Apparently this is the gospel choir -- the one that you sing in as a reward for, uh, a life well sung; or, wait... was that punishment. I'm confused. I kind of love it. And I don't usually get excited about band names. Sometimes they seem more like a necessary evil than working to productively represent (as an abstraction) a band. There is something about the name Retribution Gospel Choir that just totally works for me.

Alan Sparhawk from Low fronts the band. And RGC doesn't feel like a side-project. Their second record (titled, aptly, 2) came out last month, and it both builds on Low's foundation and moves that jarring, heavy Sparhawk sound to a new place. It's an excellent record.

They came through Champaign-Urbana to the Canopy Club a few nights ago and played a 16 song set that included most of that record, and several from their eponymous debut (2008). It was a small show -- only fifty people at a too-late-for-such-a-good-band time (they didn't go on until 11:30 pm). But I digress (and show my age).

  • Huge sound, three dudes. This is the Sparhawk signature thing, I realize, but here it is again. It comes across strongest on long, heavy tunes like "Electric Guitar," "Your Bird" and the amazing single (and the track that opens the LP) "Hide It Away."
  • Pop sensibilities: Like a friend of mine said on the way out of the show, "Fun -- like Low but upbeat." And it's true. There is still a darkness here, but we get some pop in there on tunes like "Workin' Hard" and "White Wolf" -- both which clock in at under 3 minutes. This tunes had punch on stage -- really fun to watch.
  • Great drums and bass playing. Mimi Parker's drumming does a lot to create the Low sound, so drummer Eric Pollard offers the element that does the most to separate RGC from Low (fast, very technical playing) and he kills as a back-up vocalist with really high and strong harmonies. Steve Garrington (also of Low) is aggressive and powerful. His move into the bass position on this record (replacing Matt Livingston) solidifies my feeling that RGC is Sparhawk's new main musical vehicle.

It was a fun night. I look forward to seeing this band start to move. I bet we see them all over the summer festival circuit -- and with much larger audiences to boot.

Setlist: Breaker / For Her Blood / Workin' Hard / Destroyer / Hide It Away / Poor Man's Daughter / '68 Comeback / White Wolf / They Knew You Well / Your Bird / What She Turned Into / Electric Guitar / Take Your Time / Encore: cover song I can't place (ends with "it takes a friend to stop a friend") / Kids Lyrics

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