Morning Brigade is one of those bands that give you a lot to look at. They’re of that rare musical breed – the six-piece chain with no weak link — and every spunky steel spike in this lively railroad of a band has its own energy.
On Friday at Carrboro’s The Station at Southern Rail, the members of Morning Brigade played themselves out to an old train depot full of friends and locals. Save for an out-of-practice oldie or two, the band rolled through its meticulously funky and insistently catchy tunes and musical personalities without any setbacks — casually but emphatically chugging through their set like a train under the stars of the Christmas lights strung above their heads.
Each of them knows exactly what they’re doing and when, so they make a party of it on stage, orderly going through the well-rehearsed motions and having a grand old time about it. Watching drummer Nathan Spain is like watching wolf cubs fighting, they move so fast you’re not sure which limbs are going where or how many ducks and licks and bites you missed in that split second, but you’re just shocked there’s no blood — and if you manage to snag some eye contact with violinist Eli Howells between all his runs, riffs and grand gestures, he’ll always fire back with some oddly cryptic but fittingly enthusiastic facial expression, or a knowing look about the ferocious piano breakdown about to ensue.
They have the harmonic and rhythmic precision of Mumford & Sons and a lyrical and melodical complexity approaching that of the Decemberists or Sufjan Stevens. They exercise tight control over their dynamics, like a friendly folk giant who’d accidentally crush you if he didn’t so strictly rein in his funky indie swagger until the established hour for raging. It doesn’t take another musician to see how central percussion is to the feel and energy of the band, but the rhythm they present doesn’t just come from Spain and back-up vocalist/tambourine player/accomplished xylophonist Mary Koenig; in their own way every one of them contributes to the percussive feel.
With a six-member band, at least one musician at every show is bound to get lost, wander off and find themselves buried in the mix. But with Morning Brigade, there is enough going on and enough musical diversity in the players still represented that you have to listen carefully to notice any sort of absence. And even with their varied styles and instruments, their sounds blend together warmly and sharply, like hot chocolate and whisky or the well-oiled record player they are.
Morning Brigade will be playing again Friday (6/7) at King’s Barcade in Raleigh, and Saturday (6/8) at Six Plates Wine Bar in Durham.