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Live Review: Tired Pony at Housing Works Bookstore, New York City – 25th September 2013

 
By on Thursday, 3rd October 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

Photos by Julia Gray

Have you ever had that perfect storm kind of gig? You know the kind where the performance is exclusive, you’ve been personally asked to attend, friends from all over the country meet up there, and you hang with the former members of R.E.M. afterwards? No? Oh, sorry, then you better stop reading now.

Indie supergroup Tired Pony gave their one and only concert on the east coast last week in New York City (they did one in London and will do two in LA and that’s it!) It was a benefit gig at the Housing Works Bookstore and proceeds went to support the organization’s mission to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through advocacy and services. Additionally, it was the launch of Heaneyville, lead singer Gary Lightbody’s (Snow Patrol) new label. Named in honor of the recently departed Irish national treasure Seamus Heaney, it will release the band’s new album ‘Ghost of the Mountain’ in America. (Read Carrie’s review of the new album here.) It had been billed as an acoustic set with only about half of the members in attendance, but it turned out to be much more than that.

Tired Pony New York City 2013 1

Crammed on to the tiny back-of-the-room stage were eight – count ‘em EIGHT – players. All that was missing was Irish singer-songwriter Iain Archer who was ably replaced by Mike Mills (ex-R.E.M.) on Archer’s signature song. Not a bad substitute if there had to be one. Not so much a small acoustic set anymore, the band opened with the lead track from their new album ‘I Don’t Want You as a Ghost’. Quipping that they only had two albums to draw from Lightbody and Peter Buck (ex-R.E.M.) tore through a perfectly sequenced set that had the two floors of the bookstore buzzing.

Tired Pony New York City 2013 3

Songs like ‘Northwestern Skies’ and ‘I’m Begging You Not To Go’ had such a rich and complex rise and fall that I could barely take it all in. And has anyone noticed that Peter Buck is a truly spectacular guitar player? No? Well, I’m glad I got to clear that up. Stood directly in front of him, I was completely mesmerised by his playing. The guy isn’t flashy or animated, but the punctuated style he plays with is so eminently identifiable. Uber-producer Garrett “Jacknife” Lee (Snow Patrol, R.E.M., U2) was also there just killing it on guitar.

With as little an opportunity they get to rehearse, the band were remarkably tight. That’s what you get, though, with the caliber of people you have in this band. Rounding out the ensemble were drummer Richard Colburn (Belle and Sebastian), two keyboard players Scott McCaughey (ex-R.E.M.) and Troy Stewart (The Windsor Player), and locals bassist Richard Hammond and singer Rosi Golan. ‘Wreckage and Bone’ was a highlight of the show; identified as Lightbody’s favourite on the album, it was more complicated, almost syncopated, than the recorded version. ‘Blood’ also stood out with its driving opening and five guitars. It gave the chance for both Buck and Lee to shine with parts much more elaborately arranged than on the album.

Both Tired Pony albums are readily categorized as country-tinged Americana, but little of that comes through in the live performance. They have taken a truly outstanding set of music and transformed it into an exquisite live experience. Now if only they could tour this show!

Tired Pony New York City 2013 2

After the cut: the set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Tired Pony at Housing Works Bookstore, New York City – 25th September 2013

 

Album Review: Tired Pony – The Ghost of the Mountain

 
By on Monday, 19th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Tired Pony Ghost of the Mountain coverInternational rock supergroup Tired Pony, headed by fearless leader Gary Lightbody, have left behind the gloomy ‘Northwestern Skies’ of Portland where they recorded ‘The Place We Ran From’ in 2010. Having settled themselves this past winter in the Topanga Canyon, California, studio of producer Garrett ‘Jacknife’ Lee, the band are now set to release their deceptively bright and mellow-sounding second album, titled ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’.

While ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ was recorded as quickly and spontaneously as its predecessor, the result this time around is more polished and purposeful. The music on ‘The Place We Ran From’ felt slightly out of focus, as its lyrics explored Lightbody’s pair of fictional protagonists. ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ has the premeditated lyrical intention of developing a tragic plot line based on those characters, and Tired Pony’s musical approach is suitably more deliberate.

The album’s first single ‘All Things All At Once’ is a neat segue from past to present, as it continues in the Americana-style vein of ‘The Place We Ran From’. The rest of the album ventures into different musical territory, making effective use of the band members’ multi-instrumental talents and the sweet female backing harmonies provided by Minnie Driver, Kim Topper, and Bronagh Gallagher. Opening tracks ‘I Don’t Want You As a Ghost’ and ‘I’m Begging You Not to Go’ are mellow, laid-back tunes that set up the juxtaposition between their music and the gravity of their lyrics.

The strongest track on the album is ‘The Creak in the Floorboards’, which originated during the band’s initial touring run in support of ‘The Place We Ran From’. Performing the song during a live show at Irving Plaza, NYC, in October 2010, Lightbody described it as “hot off the press,” having been written that very day. Clearly three years of mulling it over have benefited the song, which in the album version is more restrained than its live predecessor, with more subtle instrumentation and backing vocals added to sweeten the mix. Its lyric “you’re the raven, I’m the wolf” foreshadows a later track, cementing the idea of the songs revolving around a literary plot and set of characters.

Lightbody’s lyrics on ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ alternate between catchy, straightforward choruses and ambiguous metaphor, as in the temporally flexible ‘Wreckage and Bone’ (“Let me live here with you years ago…We can count the years from then to now”). His typically awkward lyric delivery is smoothed over by lilting melodies and relaxed rhythms, which allow for more flexibility in his singing. His voice is light and easy throughout, most notably in the extended chorus at the end of ‘Blood’.

The main criticism of any Tired Pony album will be that it sounds like Snow Patrol ‘Lite’. This superficial criticism, based on Lee’s production and Lightbody’s unique lyrical style isn’t entirely unfounded. ‘The Beginning of the End’ has a synthetic rock sound and an anthemic chorus that could easily have fitted on to Snow Patrol’s last album, despite Iain Archer’s vocals on the verses. But in general, these are not the stadium-style singalongs of Snow Patrol, and in my opinion, that comparison marginalizes the sizeable contributions of the other band members.

What began as something of a lark for Lightbody and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck has grown into a band to be taken seriously on its own merits. Supergroups of rock come and go, but if ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is any indication, Tired Pony is one that could potentially have some staying power, despite the nomadic nature of its members. For fans who may have doubted that this second album would ever come into existence, ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is certainly worth their continued interest.

9/10

‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is out in the UK today (19 August) via Fiction Records. Its American release follows on 1 October on Lightbody’s own label Heaneyville. Tired Pony will perform live on 14 September at London Barbican. Ticket information can be found at the band’s official Web site.

 

Single Review: Tired Pony – All Things All at Once

 
By on Tuesday, 9th July 2013 at 12:30 pm
 

Header photo by Cheryl Demas

Tired Pony, the supergroup fronted by Snow Patrol‘s Gary Lightbody, has just released the first single from their forthcoming album, ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’. Titled ‘All Things All at Once,’ the single continues the band’s experiment with a folky, Americana-type sound, as well as Lightbody’s lyrical exploration of a set of fictional characters, both of which began on the Tired Pony’s first album, “The Place We Ran From.”

‘All Things All at Once’ received its first radio play Monday morning on BBC 6music. In an interview with breakfast show presenter Shaun Keaveny, Lightbody described writing and recording the song after the rest of the album had been completed: “It’s kind of one of those things about Tired Pony, that kind of spontaneity, in that it’s a song that not only made the record but became the single.”

The song does feel raw and rough around the edges, as one might expect from a track recorded so quickly. The unpolished sound lends an authenticity to the song’s emotion, even as the jangly guitars and light rhythms belie its undercurrent of melancholy. Lightbody described the new album as “kind of a very sad story, but the music is so uplifting. Hidden in the cheeriness is a quite a few sad songs”. Count ‘All Things All at Once’ as one of those dichotomous tunes.

Band members Garret “Jacknife” Lee, Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, Troy Stewart, Richard Colburn and Iain Archer draw from their own signature styles to create a full multi-instrumental sound on this track, but it’s their backing vocals that really make the single special. If Lightbody’s contemplative lyrics don’t stick in your head, the “whoa-oh-oh” in the chorus definitely will.

8/10

Tired Pony’s album ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ will be released on the 19th of August on Fiction Records. Stream the single below.

 
 
 

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