If the Bluebird were a basketball arena last night, then Houndmouth was the beloved home team, back from a long road trip and in the middle of blowing out the competition in front of its beloved fans.
The home crowd were certainly given something to cheer about.
While not exactly on their home turf – the band is from New Albany, just across the Ohio River from Louisville – Houndmouth treated their stop in Bloomington as a kind of homecoming.
“You guys are definitely the rowdiest bunch we’ve had on the tour so far,” drummer/vocalist Shane Cody remarked, sending the already electrified crowd into an even more frenzied state.
The band responded in kind, their energy matching the crowd’s every step of the way.
Touring in support of their new album Little Neon Limelight, slated for release on March 17th, the quartet opened their 17-song set by launching into four consecutive new songs. That’s a ballsy move, even for the most established bands, but Houndmouth pulled it off with nothing short of aplomb. It’s a testament to this band’s abilities that the crowd ate these songs up, despite having never heard most of them before.
It wasn’t until about 25 minutes into the show that the guitarist/vocalist Matt Myers tore into the opening riff of “Comin’ Around Again,” a fan favorite off of the band’s 2013 debut From the Hills Below the City. It set a precedent for the rest of the evening: the crowd would go on to scream every word of every old song played that night, harmonies and all. And every time the crowd pulled them off, the band would look around at one another, grinning ear to ear. This was home.
After a rousing, crashing rendition of “Casino (Bad Things),” during which keyboardist/vocalist Katie Toupin took the lead and drew a huge ovation from the crowd, the band wheeled around into the delicate, fingerpicked lilt of new single “Sedona.” The song continues the band’s theme of location, location, location. Exactly half of the songs on their debut referred to specific places and towns, with many more of the songs making references in the lyrics. But whereas their debut kept a relatively local outlook (save for “Houston Train.” an encore showstopper), “Sedona” transplants the band to the Great American Southwest. The imagery evokes neon lights and the soft hues of Sedona sunsets, all wrapped around the band’s tight, gorgeous harmonies. It was certainly a highlight of the evening.
When the band ripped in to “Hey Rose” and bassist/vocalist Zak Appleby stepped up to the microphone, the crowd went nuts. The band used the song as an opportunity to flex its musical muscles, with Myers tearing into the guitar solos with reckless abandon. The band again allowed the crowd to take the harmonies themselves, which made for one of the more touching moments of the night. Myers turned his mic toward the crowd and the band sat back with massive smiles on their faces, relishing the moment. The band followed that fan favorite with the gorgeous new, soul-influenced “Darlin'”, which featured close Myers/Toupin harmonies and a towering, dynamic guitar solo.
Fan favorite “Penitentiary” brought the set into its final leg, and just like at the beginning, the band closed with three brand new songs. The closing song, “My Cousin Greg,” was dedicated to the titular cousin, who was in the crowd. Myers said the band wrote the song in Greg’s basement, and they’d been waiting all tour to play it for him. The song opened with the lyric, “My Cousin Greg, he’s a greedy son of a bitch”, eliciting a huge roar of laughter from the crowd. The band closed out the set on a tear, and left the stage to a deluge of applause.
The crowd, clamoring for an encore, got their wish when Myers came back on stage by himself with an acoustic guitar to play the new song “For No One,” which he dedicated to his girlfriend. The song was beautiful, gently strummed and intimate. Unfortunately, the performance was marred by the behavior of a man in the crowd who was having perhaps too good of a time, it seemed. So Myers took matters into his own hands: at the end of a verse, he turned to the guy and yelled “Get the fuck outta here, brother.” The crowd roared in approval, and the man was escorted out.
When the rest of the band came back on, they locked into an emotional rendition of “Houston Train,” Toupin’s voice providing the perfect juxtaposition to Myers’ cathartic guitar solos and the rhythm section’s motor. As the crowd yelled and whooped for more, the opening band, Twin Limb, came onstage and together they tore into a spirited, electrified rendition of the doo-wop classic “Runaround Sue.” The crowd sang and swayed along, and it was over before anyone could really believe it.
One thing was completely apparent after Thursday night’s performance: Houndmouth is a force to be reckoned with onstage. Every member of the band is immensely talented. Myers plays his guitar with the reckless abandon of his rock and roll forerunners. Toupin’s organ stabs added a beautiful, soulful quality to the music. Appleby walks up and down the neck of his bass like it’s a goddamned treadmill. And Cody plays the drums with the spirit and stately gait of The Band’s Levon Helm. All four of them can sing, and together their voices blend into deliriously gorgeous harmonies (it’s no coincidence that the group has drawn comparisons to the Band). While their music is nothing new – the band isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or anything – it’s performed beyond capably, and with the kind of confidence and reverence that belies their age and experience. The more albums this band gets under its belt, and the more confident they get, Houndmouth has the potential to be a real force for many years to come.
But more than anything, the crowd was intoxicated with the amount of love that was on that stage. Love for each other, love for the music, love for the crowd. And as the last cymbal crashes and guitar chords reverberated off the walls of the Bluebird, Houndmouth clinched that blowout victory that they so rightly deserved. It feels good to come home every now and then. It’s easy to forget that the people back home love you. For Houndmouth, that love was all too evident on Thursday.