Cold Specks @ Mercury Lounge, New York 08/11/12

November 9, 2012 by  

While outside metal police barriers and lines of street cones hinted at the damage superstorm Sandy wreaked on New York’s lower east side, it was business as usual at Mercury Lounge on Thursday night. Al Spx took to the stage with her 6-piece band, effortlessly sailing their way through a set of her so-called doom soul. If that’s what doom sounds like, sign us right up.

Spx opened the show with an a cappella rendition of ‘The Mark’. It’s the opening track on the band’s album, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, and she sang it tenderly before backing herself on guitar as the song built. She flitted between raw honesty during songs and a dry humour in the spaces between them, openly admitting she’s ?no good at all this banter stuff” as the crowd giggled.

For such a new rising star, Spx played with a quiet confidence. She commanded the center of the stage. Somehow she managed to appear both shy and totally nonplussed by the reality of playing her hugely intimate and personal songs to a packed room. Her raspy and textured voice was the anchor that held every one of the songs together but by no means does that imply her band didn’t pull their weight. They’re older than the usual barely-in-their-twenties buzz band, and looked at ease as they launched into tracks like ‘Blank Maps’ and ‘When the City Lights Dim’.

Guitarist Pete Roberts swayed to and fro during the slow dynamic build of album stand-out ‘Winter Solstice’. His plucked guitar line flowed over keyboard player Thomas Green’s simple melody. Between them, Spx breathed out that smoky tone of hers with as she looked directly into the audience. The band were tight, well-rehearsed and at points almost sounded exactly as they do on the record. From time to time band members exchanged glances and smiles across the stage, and it was clear that their recent slew of gigs around Europe has turned them into something of a well-oiled machine.

Single ‘Hector’ was a highlight, as any fan would expect. A group near the front of the stage whooped politely as Spx plucked the opening lines on her guitar, and then laughed as she kicked off her vintage heels and started to sing. The band also debuted some new material, in the form of a song that has been tentatively named ‘All Flesh is Grass’. Delicate 3-part harmonies laced into the song?s melancholy but kept it from wavering into the ?moody singer-songwriter? territory that Spx herself has said she tries to avoid.

At the end of ‘Send Your Youth’ she swung away from the microphone and leaned forward towards the crowd, singing out a cappella into the silent room. At moments like those we were reminded what fundamentally makes Cold Specks a great band: not only can Al Spx sing, but she can back up that voice with songwriting chops. The band have kicked off the North American leg of their tour with real gusto.