Hoots & Hellmouth, Mercury Lounge, NYC- 5/25
Taking the stage at New York’s Mercury Lounge on the Friday kicking off Memorial Day weekend, Hoots & Hellmouth delivered a set of surprisingly rowdy and raucous folk songs. Headlining an early show after two openers, they battled a strict curfew but managed to work through most of their new album, Salt. Hoots & Hellmouth’s third album, Salt was just released two months ago, and finds rock influences emerge more prominently in the band’s rustic sound.
Though openers Tall Heights showcased pleasant, mournful vocal harmonies, their near painfully slow, sad songs didn’t quite capture a crowd celebrating the beginning of a long weekend. Hoots & Hellmouth were a better fit, and quickly riled up the crowd with a rough folk edge that brings to mind The Avett Brothers. With a thirst for electric instruments and rock and roll, Hoots & Hellmouth blur the line between folk and rock.
Keyboardist Rob Berliner expands the band’s musical palette with his ability to seamlessly switch from the keyboard to mandolin, even within the same song. Berliner allows the band to comfortably jump between rock and bluegrass, but on this night, perhaps spurred on by the small but wildly enthusiastic crowd, Hoots & Hellmouth were closer to a rock band. The slinking, explosive blues of “Lay Low” was a bit harder hitting than the rest of their set, but the whole show found the band with a heavier edge than they have in the studio.
Of course some growing pains are only natural with a transition like that, and with the faster tempos, the band’s rootsy harmonies suffer a bit. The leadoff track on Salt, “Why Would You Not Want To Go There?” began as a lonesome, quiet country crooner but without the soaring chorus harmonies of the studio recording. But once the band kicked in behind frontman Sean Hoots’ acoustic strumming and pushed the tempo, the crowd was jumping and singing along. Though the vocals may be a little rougher live, the band’s reckless energy more than makes up for it. Hoots & Hellmouth turn into a bolder and more adventurous band on stage, infusing their folksongs with gritty rock and roll, bluegrass, gospel and funk.