Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jun 9th 2010 10:00AM by Kenneth Partridge
That's certainly the case with Sparrow and the Workshop, Newcombe's handpicked opener on a spate of recent Jonestown dates. Tuesday night, the multi-national trio wrapped its first-ever trip to New York City, bringing heavy, haunted folk-pop to the Lower East Side bar Pianos.
Although Newcombe's tastes run more psychedelic than punk, it's likely he hears in Sparrow and the Workshop echoes of the legendary Los Angeles band X. Like that roots-minded crew, the upstart three-piece knows the mysterious power of male-female harmonies. On such tunes as 'A Horse's Grin' and 'Into the Wild,' lead singer and guitarist Jill O'Sullivan played Exene Cervenka to drummer Gregor Donaldson's John Doe, floating seen-a-ghost yowls atop his sober tones.
When not mixing it up with Donaldson, O'Sullivan sang too mightily to warrant Cervenka comparisons. Strumming her guitar and at times gnashing her teeth, the Belfast-born, Chicago-reared bandleader was like a Great Plains Grace Slick, a hard-rocking mama with an Americana fetish. On bass, Welshman Nick Packer did the job of a lead guitarist, threading through the empty spaces spaghetti-western lines.
It was only a matter of time before Sparrow and the Workshop played a tune about the devil, and sure enough, it came five songs into the 30-minute set. It's called 'Devil Song,' appropriately enough, and the Goth-punk stampede proved the evening's highlight. Donaldson rolled out a galloping rhythm, and for added backwoods effect, he used as his cymbal a thin, fluttering, saw-like strip of metal. Packer's accompaniment was mean and faux-heroic -- John Wayne meets film noir -- and every bit as dramatic as O'Sullivan's vocals.
Given its lo-tech approach, Sparrow and the Workshop shared little in common with opener and fellow Distiller Records act White Belt Yellow Tag, a UK trio that relied on backing tracks for bass and various other sounds. The machinery malfunctioned several songs in, abruptly ending the set, but not before the group had given Coldplay pop a grungy makeover, suggesting what 'A Rush of Blood to the Head' might sound like were there a bit more truth to its title.