Thursday nights are a special night for me. It’s one of the few nights of the week that I don’t have many obligations, and my wife and I often find time to do a little something extra. This past week, that little something was taking in a show at The Old Rock House in St. Louis, Missouri.
I found out about Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors through NoiseTrade.com when their song “Fire and Dynamite” was featured on a sampler being offered on the site. I was immediately hooked and decided to look into this band. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Holcomb and his band combines classic American rock and roll with Southern soul to provide a fun, emotional tapestry of joy.
David Ramirez opened for the band, a solo artist from Austin, Texas, and he set the tone for the evening — you’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna yearn, you’re gonna feel the emotion of everything you hear tonight. And it was a solid set of great songs from a master of the singer-songwriter craft. When you create a line like “I could start fires with what I feel for you”, you can pretty much write your own ticket in the troubadour circuit.
You can always tell the mark of a great band by how much fun they have on stage. By this standard, Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors are one of the most enjoyable bands to watch. Drew told the story at some point during the night of the moment he told his father he wanted to be a professional musician, and it’s that kind of personal revelation that allows him and his band to communicate with the crowd in an authentic manner.
The band’s set leaned heavily on their newest record, Good Light, which is available on iTunes and in carbon-based form on their website. While the recording is a great example of do-it-yourself production and engineering, and is a departure from the high-polish production values of their previous outing Chasing Someday, it’s in a live setting where these songs really get to live and breathe. The whole band moves together as one unit, completely in sync with each other, playing off one another’s vibes and attitudes.
Drew himself comes off as a humble, grateful fellow, going so far as to thank the crowd a few times throughout the night for “letting us do what we love” night after night. This was the band’s first trek into St. Louis in over 5 years, and a collection of people were in attendance, eager to take in the band’s brand of soul-infused American rock n’ roll. They even busted into a segment of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” in the middle of one of their tunes, much to the delight of several in the crowd.
Ellie Holcomb, Drew’s wife, supplied support vocals and the occasional lead while banging away on her mandolin or tambourine. The rhythm section was tight and well-balanced, and also helped round out the backup and harmony vocals. While Drew is the chief songwriter and driving force behind the band, the stage was a showcase for everyone to strut their stuff, and they made even the simplest of chord progressions sound as fresh and unique as anything you’ve heard before.
I mentioned that the songs really came alive during the performance, and those from the newest album, Good Light, could not have been more suited to this type of live experience. Supplemented by some simple lighting effects, the band’s live renditions were handled with a lightness hinted at from the album’s title, both in the relative ease with which the band played, and in the romanticism of the lyrics. Holcomb’s not just a romantic about the people in his life — as evidenced in “Nothing Like a Woman” and “Nothing But Trouble” — but also about the geographic origin of his inspiration, the song “Tennessee”, one of the highlights of the band’s performance. While some of the songs had a darker tone, Drew and the band maintained the light of hope throughout the night, always coming back to their joyous, bright tones of elation.
Closing out their concert with 2 of the strongest cuts from their previous album, “Fire and Dynamite” and “Live Forever”, the band then left the stage while Drew himself brought his acoustic guitar and a stool out onto the floor, stood up on it, and played the final song of the night from the middle of the crowd. Again, the less-than-greatest camera in the world, which I happened to have on it, can’t really do it justice, but you can catch that final number right here…