Reviews JRoddy(JB)1

Published on May 7th, 2013 | by Jared Booth


Review: J. Roddy Walston’s Business is Rock

J. Roddy Walston and the Business, Matadero
The Pour House, May 6

If you really are as good as the company you keep, J. Roddy Walston is on his way to becoming a rock god. Not only did he draw a great crowd to the Pour House on a Monday night, but he brought out dozens of prominent local musicians from the Charleston scene, too. While that’s most certainly a testament to his street cred, the local crew — which even included road warriors Shovels & Rope and Elise Testone — also came to see one of their own, local quartet Matadero, who opened the show with what was likely their last performance for a while.


Matadero at the Pour House (photo by Jared Booth)

Matadero set the tone with a powerful, driving set. They seemed to gain energy from the fact that they didn’t have a guitarist. They never needed one, as bassist George Baerreis and departing keyboardist Sam Sfirri seemed to alternate playing the traditional role of the guitar. Both had moments of individual brilliance, simultaneously pushing the rhythm fiercely forward and playing over top of it. With effortless, intuitive drumming from Ron Wiltrout, the band’s overall sound — spooky, unique, and generally fascinating — was perfect for vocalist Lindsay Holler, whom locals know can freakin’ belt it out.

When I first interviewed Holler several years ago, the first thing she told me was that Tom Waits was her hero. This group was definitely influenced by the quirkiness and raw power of Rain Dogs-era Waits, but Holler also incorporated an engagement with the audience that was like a bizarro version of the Nighthawks at the Diner lounge singer style. And when she wailed out an agonizingly heartfelt version of “Chocolate Jesus” over a pounding rhythm, the band gave it a power that Waits’ original never had.

Matadero closed their set of covers and originals with an emotional moment, as Holler said, “While Sam’s here, I just want to say it’s been an honor and a pleasure.” Sfirri came over for a big hug. For rock’s sake, let’s hope we see them together again.

After a break, J. Roddy Walston and his three business partners practically bounced onto the stage and proceeded to pour more pure, almost boyish energy into their performance than just about any band I’ve ever seen. Walston plopped down in front of his big piano at center stage and immediately mumble-yelled, “How you guys doin’? Hell yeah! Is it Monday? Doesn’t matter here. Thanks for coming out on a Monday night. I’m J. Roddy Walston and we’re going to play you some rock and roll.”


J. Roddy Walston and the Business at the Pour House (photo by Jared Booth)

Seemingly before the words were out of his mouth, the band was in the throes of the rollicking “Full Growing Man.” Seriously, it was like they had ambushed the stage; it was a positively manic start.

It’s not just that Walston pounds the keys of the piano. It’s more like a pulsing demon is rippling through him, making him convulse back and forth on his stool and bitch-slap his piano, his long hair whipping all around the whole time. As anyone trying to snap a photo of the guy (including me) can tell you, it’s damn near a lost cause. This Tasmanian devil (or is he the Energizer bunny?) was made for video; he just doesn’t stay still. When he had hands-free moments, he writhed like a diva, playing up the drama by draping himself over the piano or even on the floor, showing a natural showmanship Madonna would not be unfamiliar with.

With Billy Gordon on guitar, Logan Davis on bass, and Steve Colmus on drums, the band was right there with Walston through the entire set. Davis and Colmus provided at times quite pretty harmonies that added to the richness and buoyancy of their never-static sound. After “Pig With Pearls,” another fan favorite from the band’s self-titled 2010 album, they launched into a new song called “Tearjerker” from their soon-to-be-released disc. Of course, it was one of the jangly-er songs of the night. In fact, it showed that the band’s sound is at its heart more rockabilly than punk.

The fast-paced, never-ending, semi-enraptured movements of the band members (and the audience) screamed punk, but the piano-driven, riff-heavy sound was straight out of 1950s rockabilly. There’s a reason that the band is often described to newcomers as “AC/DC fronted by Jerry Lee Lewis.”

After gleefully indulging the audience with the band’s maniacal and dark breakout hit “Don’t Break the Needle,” Walston introduced a new song called “Sweatshop.” In what was the strongest song of the night, he showed why he’s more than just a magnetic performer. During the few slow moments, he displayed exactly what’s so gripping about his gravelly, often sorrow-filled voice, exercising that gift that so many singers want but so few have: the ability to truly emote, to make the audience feel what you feel. The pain in his voice hurt to hear, in the best possible way. He followed it with “Brave Man’s Death,” the best song from their last album, which continued the heavy feeling and brought the house down with its slow-building power.

At one point, Walston warned the crowd, “OK, guys, we’ve only got two more songs. We’re not doing an encore, so we’re going to go all out on these.” He didn’t lie; they stretched “Use Your Language” and “Used To Did” all the way out, with Gordon showing off impressive solos and the whole band seeming to expend the last drop of that manic energy they had first brought to the stage. With no encore, the band played for only an hour and 25 minutes, but it felt like it had been over two hours (and it was almost 1 a.m.).

Despite the shorter-than-expected set, I’m a firm believer that if there is one reliable marker by which to judge musical performances across all genres, it is the band’s energy level — and how it affects the room’s energy level. By that marker, they couldn’t have topped it.



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About the Author

Jared Booth

is a Charleston-based freelance writer focusing on the local music scene. He is sometimes funny, often serious, rarely objective, and always honest. When he's not at a show or at the beach, the Virginia native can usually be found on a lawn chair in someone's backyard, sipping on a cold Tecate and belting his heart out to George Jones.

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