Concert Reviews

Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train Hot

Added by James Gaden     October 26, 2010    
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Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train

Rockwood Music Hall 2, NYC 30/7/2010

  My sophomore installment from this side of the pond takes us to SoHo, NYC and the Rockwood Music Hall 2, an annex (if you will) of the original Rockwood Music Hall venue (196 Allen St, NY, NY) and approximately 3-1/2 months young. Just as intimate as its older sibling next door, it exists a few steps below street-level, a bit more spacious, boasts a balcony and possesses a trendy décor {note: the space holds b/w 100-150 adult humans as compared to its neighbor where 75 onlookers creates a fire hazard}. Unfinished wood floors promote good acoustics and a well stocked bar with delightful drink makers accommodate parched patrons with alacrity. Despite the bucolic vibe, the Front of House (FoH) area (perched in the balcony) is sufficiently equipped with an array of the latest technology in live sound production. My only complaint is how dark they maintained the ambient lighting, pre and post performance.

The opener for this evening (of which Tony was only one of five or six acts on the bill) was a beautiful female named Mieka Pauley. Equipped with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, she made quite an impact. An amalgam between Nora Jones and Anna F, she delivered an inspiring performance. Her unassuming presence delivered one hell of a set, consisting of tunes composed by herself as well as selections penned by a human named Norm Weinstein. The highlight of Mieka’s set was that of a field/plantation spiritual called ‘Marked Man’ where she pounded on her dreadnought guitar to replicate that of a field drum…combined with her ethereal delivery, it proved very effective. Melodic Rock it might not be, however I will be sure and monitor future performances of this up-and-coming talent.

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Tony and the Mercury Train departed at 8:35PM and delivered a remarkable set to celebrate the release of Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train ‘Round Trip’ (Frontiers Records). Despite the report of Tony being nervous from none other than Bruno Ravel (mix and master engineer of said CD as well as fellow,New York denizen) who was in attendance, Tony was in sublime form and sounded magnificent. Performing to a near capacity crowd, the band indulged in an inspired set that traversed a majority of the material from the CD. Compared to their previous outings (circa 2008) at the original Rockwood, the band was infinitely more polished. In addition to tracks from ‘Round Trip’ Tony & Co. indulged in a few surprises, including the set opener, ‘Not Scared Anymore’, culled from the cult-classic ‘Tony Harnell and Morning Wood’ album and a rocking version of the ‘The Show’ from his solo ‘Cinematic’ EP. The ensemble also performed ‘Anywhere But Here’, the collaborative effort between Tony and Brandon Wilde (of which Tony hailed him as ‘the best songwriter ever’ during the band intros), exclusive to the ‘Round Trip’ offering. Tonight’s performance not only consisted of deep tracks, but well known, fan favorites were on tap including: Ready To Fly (All The Way To The Sun, and a strong presence from Mrs. Amy Harnell), 10,000 Lovers & Northern Lights (Tell No Tales) and Lonely Nights (New Religion). Of all the tunes reworked for this callithump, ‘Somebody Told You’ and ‘10K Lovers’ (re-titled for ‘Round Trip’) possess the most dramatic and diverse arrangements from the originals. The latter was announced as being ‘the porno version’, complete with wah-wah guitar and a funky backbeat reminiscent of a soundtrack from a stereotypical, adult-themed movie. The former was originally recorded as an industrial-tinged rocker from the ‘Firefly’ album, but given proper treatment in a more organic format. To add to the festivities, there was exuberant crowd participation for tunes, ‘Northern Lights’ and ‘10K Lovers’.

The set culminated with an impassioned version of ‘Uninvited’, the Alanis Morisette cover featured on Westworld’s ‘Skin’ album. Despite any apprehensions from the performers, Tony and supporting cast made the release of Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train ‘Round Trip’ something worth remembering fondly. If it wasn’t for the impassioned rendition of ‘Uninvited’ to close the set, ‘Somebody Told You’ was the subsequent highlight.

If you are already of fan of Tony or are familiar with the TNTony(!) catalog, I highly recommend ‘Round Trip.’ Not only does it contain a cornucopia of selections that highlights his illustrious career, it contains some wildly clever arrangements and a stellar vocal performance by Mr. Harnell throughout. Although a bit disappointed with how aggressively it is mastered for a rather intimate, acoustic-centric album, it is merely a footnote on this brilliant reinvention of the past. Place any doubts aside, as it pays off beautifully and none shall be disappointed.

Additional thoughts: Being such a diverse collection of tunes, I wish that Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train recorded/performed an interpretation of ‘Crashing Down’ from the TNT ‘Transistor’ release…or anything, for that matter, from that release, as I feel that was an unfortunate omission from Tony’s catalog with the band.

Brent Rusche

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