J Roddy Walston and the Business serve up one of the best live rock experiences, fueling unabashed celebration and shedding work week stress just in time for Friday.
I’ve discovered my fair share of bio-less, one album bands on Spotify, but I never imagined I’d be able to see one of them play live. Sleepwalkers released Greenwood Shade in 2014, and haven’t released anything since. So when I saw them listed as openers for J Roddy Walston at Vinyl Music Hall, I was excited to see them and even more excited because this means they’re releasing a new album. Considering J Roddy Walston and the Business are known for their blues rock, it was hard to imagine how Sleepwalkers would fit into that bill. Greenwood Shade is a blend of the trippiest of Paul McCartney, the pop rock of The Kinks and a little bit of funk soul thrown in for good measure. ’60s influenced pop rock and country all in one night? Sure, why not?
The thing is, Sleepwalkers live are grittier and rockier than on that 2014 record. Opening with “Run Right Back,” the Richmond band leaned more toward their funky rock tracks for their 45 minute set on Thursday night. Bassist Alex De Jong and guitarist Michael York were the central duo at the front of the stage, sharing vocals and getting into it even if the crowd were still warming up to this unfamiliar band. And, with its rousing chorus, “Run Right Back” was the ideal song to start things off. Following this was “Off on the Weekend,” a falsetto funk gem led by DeJong, who sports a fabulous curly ‘fro. I’m sure he hates to hear the comparison, but imagine if Art Garfunkel led an indie rock band, head lolling and curls flying. Balancing out the heavier tracks were the upbeat “Cheers” and “Cocaine,” with York and De Jong relishing their sharp indie guitars and spitting lyrics like the best of modern pop rock. Most interestingly, Sleepwalkers alternated between these raucous songs and full-on chunky instrumentals, hammering home just how much range is in Sleepwalkers’ sound.
In a recent interview, J Roddy Walston named “Images” by Sleepwalkers one of his favorite songs and called Sleepwalkers one of his favorite bands in the world. It turns out, one of the band members lives on the same street as Walston, and that nod to his openers makes it all the sweeter that Sleepwalkers teased their headliners as the greatest rock band. Certainly, Walston and the Business did not disappoint when they took the stage. Unlike the somewhat hesitant response Sleepwalkers got, the crowd shamelessly belted along with Walston throughout the night. And it certainly helped that Walston and Co. led with hits from their self-titled sophomore album and Essential Tremors. Walston and the Business are known for their boisterous live shows, with Walston center stage always pounding away on an upright piano, his hair covering his face making him look like the coolest Cousin Itt. After displaying that this raucous reputation is well-deserved with a rendition of “Don’t Break the Needle,” Walston asked the crowd “Ready to get sweaty?” As if they weren’t already. It’s just too bad that the tongue-in-cheek answer to that question wasn’t “Sweat Shock.”
Aside from a heartfelt cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” “Take It As It Comes” got perhaps the biggest response from the crowd all night, with people shouting the lyrics along with Walston and bassist Logan Davis soaking up his spotlight as the other instruments faded away. This tour is in support of the band’s new album, Destroyers of the Soft Life, but they only peppered in a few newer songs, like lead single “The Wanting” and the somewhat repetitive “Blade of Truth” featuring a squelching guitar from Billy Gordon and forceful drums from Steve Colmus. From the underrated opener to the headlining set, the night was proof that J Roddy Walston and the Business serve up one of the best live rock experiences, fueling unabashed celebration and shedding work week stress just in time for Friday.