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Concert Review: John McGrew and Until June at the Hotel Cafe - 5/26/07

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I’ve often found some CD gems while browsing through music stores and choosing albums selected at random. Last night, after my original plans were canceled, I decided to apply that same theory to a live event and catch a couple shows at the Hotel Cafe without knowing in advance who’d be performing.

At 8 p.m., John McGrew and the Sit Backs took the stage. It struck me as amazing that all five members of the band could even fit up there, because the performance area is essentially the size of a crawl space. They started the set with “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and the crowd went crazy when lead singer John McGrew nailed both the vocals and the trumpet solos.

McGrew described the group (which included Nate Weida on piano, the Real G Fisk on drums, Emil McGloin on guitar and Martin Stam on bass) as “Brooklyn meets Manhattan” and to this observer, it was hard to fit them into any genre. If I had to try, I’d say they were a combination of Panic! at the Disco, Cake, Michael Bublé and the cast of Jersey Boys. I’ve rarely seen such a level of theatricality in a stage show, but it felt fun rather than forced.

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The group’s music was so good that at times it was hard to differentiate their original stuff from the standards, and songs included folk, funk, a cappella, gospel and rock components. At various points during the set, McGrew’s bandmates would yell, laugh and “ooh” to emphasize a facet of the song, and their performance created something akin to the atmosphere of a Prohibition-era speakeasy (I imagine).

The group just booked a last-minute gig at The Mint next Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. If you attend, prepare to be entertained.

Until June and more after the jump.

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Until June took the stage at 9 p.m. but first encountered some frustrating technical difficulties with the sound system. The problem was eventually fixed, but to the dismay of the crowd, it meant their set would be cut short by 15 minutes.

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Before they took the stage, I had asked some people sitting at a nearby table for some point of reference regarding Until June’s style, and was told that if I liked Snow Patrol, Keane and Coldplay, then I’d probably like them. After hearing the set, I concurred with that classification. With Josh Ballard on keyboard and lead vocals, Dan Ballard on guitar and backup vocals and Daniel Dempsey on drums, Until June created a full, layered sound.

They performed a number of songs off their recent debut, and my favorites were “Sleepless,” “The Saddest Song” and “What I’ve Done.” They even incorporated a piece of Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” at the very end of their set, which was a pleasant surprise during a night that was chock full of them.

Photos by Michele Reverte