That Noble Fury at The Middle East

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That Noble Fury started strong, making their debut in Cambridge on Wednesday evening.  They played The Middle East—specifically “Upstairs” (which is not upstairs)—and, despite its small size, is one of the most applauded musical haunts in the Greater Boston area.  It’s a place for the populace—there are no chairs and no one is ever far from the band.

Hot Sauce opened with a strong, female voice backed by an electric sound.  Even before I spoke to Jeff Shwom, their charismatic drummer, I saw that they were a band who knew exactly why they were there.  The opening band’s job is to thaw the audience and get people moving.  It can be a difficult task, a myriad of past performances have taught me that the average crowd will stand, unmoving and stone-faced through most any opening.

Still recovering from the loss of their bassist, Hot Sauce prodded the people with dance-inducing covers everyone knew—Ray Charles, Winehouse, and James Brown.  Strong guitar solos speckled throughout their performance made them a memorable act.  Everyone called for an encore as they left the stage, but Hot Sauce stepped aside for Jon Menard.

Menard slowed things down a bit with Matt McGonigle on drums.  A prolific writer, Menard is currently working on his fifth album.  Tonight they presented a soft sound, sending couples around the room to into a gentle rock together.

The average out-of-towner may not think of Boston as the likely hometown for a crunchy, country group, but the audience gave a warm welcome to Cold Chocolate as they began their smooth, funk-bluegrass sound.  I was impressed—granted—I just about swoon when I heard a banjo and any song can only improve with a stand-up bass.  They played an almost completely original set with one Bela Fleck cover that revealed technical skill and a passionate song writer. You don’t write bluegrass for the fame.  I got the chance between acts to ask Ethan Robbins what his goals are moving forward.  “To do this full time,” he answered without pause.  I won’t be surprised if he does.

Amidst red lights and a roaring crowd, That Noble Fury came onstage with an amazing energy.  Anthony Blaha, a songwriter and front man for the band, works professionally as an actor and it shows. Even his hair is more expressive than mine.  These guys weren’t just playing, they were performing: wildly head-banging, dancing, and interacting with the crowd.  They have an alternative rock sound that juxtaposes soft and whispery with loud and strong, legato with staccato, and varied the rhythm to great effect.  Even they have some difficulty characterizing it. “It’s hard to describe what you sound like inside a band,” Anthony told me the next day when I spoke with him and Tom Fellows, the other song-writer and front man.

They both towered over me and had more than a little character between them.  Tom was funny, but mostly quiet in Anthony’s overwhelming presence.  Anthony answered my questions with long pseudo-philosophical explanations; he gave a dozen answers when I asked about his goals.  He wants something sustainable that people can pick up in 10 years and still be moved by, something that affects people and something that adds a little good to the world before he dies: “Music has this weird thing, coupling it with words just cuts right to the heart of someone…you’re trying to do good, you’re going to die, you’re going to lose, but you fight anyway—that’s that Noble Fury!”

I was impressed not just by their performance or their music, but by the way the whole concert came together in a varied, sensical way, with natural-feeling undulations and over-arching themes.  When I asked about this, Anthony responded, “We, as a band, believe in an album as an art form…if people could get lost for an hour in our album—that would be a goal.”  Several fans spoke to me after the show, several of whom I truly believe could sing every word off the album, and I can safely say that Anthony has reached some of his goals.

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