Sometimes you go to a live show knowing what to expect, and while it’s not very exciting, it is a comfortable feeling to know what awaits you. Like a lot of people, I usually get there just in time to see the headliner, leaving the openers to languish before a sparse and unwelcoming crowd. It’s not a very nice thing to do, but it happens and that’s life. I have never seen the Drive by Truckers before, but I had an opportunity to check them out this week in Norfolk, Virginia’s Norva club. I decided to see if there was an opener for the show, so I checked the listings and found that a band called Water Liars were the openers. Never heard of them. Upon watching a couple of live performances on YouTube, my girlfriend and I looked at each other and just shook our heads. They seemed like a band that we shouldn’t miss.
We arrived 45 minutes early to stake our claim to a decent spot to view the bands. What we saw was a 3 piece band playing cool vintage instruments, with the drummer destroying a small 3 piece set, with a hi-hat and one crash. The simplicity of their brand of Alternative/Country/Folk/Americana music left us slack-jawed. These guys sounded like a cross between Wilco, Dirty Three (minus Violin) , Early Tom Petty, and the Violent Femmes with some sweet 60s pop thrown in, topped off with the most beautiful Bluegrass-inspired melodies I have heard in a while.
There are a lot of urban, East Coast “country” boys, dressed in their best Southern preacher duds- hair all greased back, singing about their girl Mary Lou round yonder at the paw paw patch. But I am not fooled by Downtown Starbucks employees dressed in thrift store Amish wear. Ok then. Water Liars are the real deal, just some humble, unassuming guys who play stark and simple American music, sometimes adding a distorted edge hinting at Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, or a haunting love ballad, reminiscent of Dylan, or even Roy Orbison. Their sound can get a little more raucous, with some dirty reverb and distortion added for emphasis.
They have been a band out of Oxford, Mississippi since 2011, consisting of Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster on Guitar/vocals, Andrew Bryant on drums/vocals, and GR Robinson on bass. Thus far they have 3 full length albums on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum records, Phantom Limb (2012), and Wyoming (2013), and their newest release simply titled Water Liars. The new self-titled album is filled with a combination of good, old fashioned American bluesy Country/Folk/Rock with a Punk edge, with Bryant and Kinkel-Schuster belting out harmonies that will bring a tear to your eye on songs that are for the most part, about love, loss and loneliness. Bryant plays a small kit, and he is not flashy, but I watched him throw down some subtle flourishes with authority, and what he accomplished with one crash cymbal and a hi-hat was far more interesting than what I have seen other drummers do with 4 cymbals and a 5 piece kit.
Songs on the record, like Let it Breath and Vespers highlight Kinkle-Schuster’s clear, beautiful voice which ranges from a crisp tenor to a tear-jerking falsetto, and when he and Bryant team up for some old school harmony, I can’t help but think of a cross between Flatt and Scruggs and Simon and Garfunkel. From there, songs like Pulp, and Ray Charles Dream offer up 60s Pop hooks, and Cannibal shows that they know how to get dirty as well. Over all, their less is more technique showcases the honest emotion to their music. Their live set featured quite a few harder, distorted numbers that come from their earlier albums, which I will be checking out very soon. The album Water Liars hooked me right in, and I suspect that once many of you experience the Water Liars, you will be too. For fans of Hasil Adkins, Wilco, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Woven Hand.
Water Liars Live at the NORVA, Norfolk, Va. 6-10-2014
Video Link for the song Cannibal: