June 1, 2015 10,000 Maniacs enchanting evening at City Winery, NYC 5-22-15
Jamestown, New Yorkers, 10,000 Maniacs, was one of the most influential Alternative Rock bands from the 1980’s era. Making an impact in the UK with their 1985 sophomore album The Wishing Chair, it was not until 1987’s In My Tribe the band would break into more commercial success in the United States. Closing a chapter in their career, in 1993 vocalist Natalie Merchant departed to pursue a solo career, but 10,000 Maniacs marched on with the exceptional Mary Ramsey on vocals. In their impressive thirty-five year career, 10,000 Maniacs has seen a few line-up changes, and the current members are singer/violinist Ramsey, guitarist John Lombardo, who has played with the band on and off since their formation, and long-standing members Dennis Drew on keyboards, Steven Gustafson on bass, and Jerome Augustyniak on drums. Having been very active in recent months supporting their new album, released April 4th, titled Twice Told Tales, 0n Friday, May 22nd, 10,000 Maniacs brought their folksy brand of Indie Rock to a sold out Soho’s City Winery in New York City. The intimate, rustic space featured candlelight, wood furniture, along with visible wine barrels and racks, providing the perfect backdrop for the New York-based band’s retro style. There were no opening acts, so the band played two sets, each a full hour, with a fifteen minute intermission in between.
With a mixture of old and new songs, 10,000 Maniacs also carefully selected a few cover songs. Highlights included “Trouble Me,” “Candy Everybody Wants,” during which a number of people got up and danced, and “Dark Eyed Sailor.” The aptly titled “Lady Mary Ramsey I” and “Lady Mary Ramsey II” are both traditional Folk songs that appear on Twice Told Tales, which features a collection of such. During their rendition of the former, a jig, Ramsey showcased her talent by playing an energetic violin solo. Another crowd-pleaser was a cover version of Patti Smith’s “Because The Night,” which is one of the songs that got the band heavy airplay in the early ‘90s, along with “These Are Days,” which the band played as the first of the three song encore. They also played a heartfelt track which they dedicated to Robert Buck, founding member and guitarist, who succumbed to liver disease in December of 2000.
The band’s live sound can best be described as clean. The instrumentation is flawless, the group’s thirty-five years of experience in the business is evident in their expertise. Ramsey sings with a calm effortlessness, and whether she’s lending a haunting cadence to a quieter song or belting it out, her voice is a breathtaking instrument itself, with the perfect clarity of a lovingly crafted set of bells. All of the members have an unobtrusive stage presence, focusing more on their craft than on hamming it up. With strong melodies and skilled musicianship, the music stands on its own, requiring no gimmicks or over-the-top showmanship. This is not to say that the band lacks a sense of fun. Throughout the sets, they offered ample audience interaction, encouraging people to drink, dance, and in general, make merry. Gustafson was particularly chatty, telling the audience about his son who wants to follow in his footsteps and become a bass player when he grows up. Encouraging the audience to buy more wine, Gustafson joked, “I read in the New York Times that alcohol is bad for you, so I said, ‘That’s it! I’m not reading the New York Times anymore.’”
Ramsey communicated often through body language. During the encore, when the band played a cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” violin in hand, she commanded the audience to get low to the ground. The audience obeyed, and the lights went dark as the chorus continued to hum quietly. The band broke back in in full force at the same moment that the lights came back on. The audience leapt into the air and danced with renewed vigor until the song’s conclusion. The final song of the night was fan-favorite “Hey Jack Kerouak.” After the show, the band came out to speak with fans and give autographs, demonstrating their appreciation for their fans on the most personal level possible.
Evoking feelings of being in another time or place, 10,000 Maniacs have a tendency to produce music that , in the cozy confines of City Winery, audience members could easily transport themselves via imagination to a quaint Irish pub with its house band, or to the personal abode of some wealthy patron of the arts. The lovely Mary Ramsey looked ethereal in a flowing black dress suit with a hint of sparkle, and the band, as a whole, emanated a sense of warmth and appreciation for their audience. The intimacy of the venue was a perfect complement to an intimate performance, and as this seasoned band continues its lengthy career, it is clear they continue to be enchanted by their audience and the experience of being on stage. Be sure to catch them while they play select venues in New York, Maryland, Illinois, and California for June, July, and September; it is a musical experience not to be missed.