In my prior post talking about the visit I spent not too long ago listening to more underground music at Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing, I mentioned how much I owed the NYC area for the talent pipeline it’s provided me. Not just in the form of great musicians and potential networking possibilities, but also in some really amazing friends.
And I can think of no better friend to both my music journalism as well as personal life than the other person who was on the bill at the brewery that night, Amanda Neill. Amanda has provided myself as well as this little blog with openings and opportunities beyond which I could have ever potentially imagined on my own. She is one of this world’s great pure spirits, and if you are ever granted the opportunity to get to know her you will find your life made better for having done so.
But her being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met aside, Amanda is also a musician with an absolutely ridiculous level of pure talent. I first watched her sing alongside Jamey Hamm in a Rockwood Music Hall performance with Barefoot & Bankside, then later did extensive work (including an interview that is a must-read on my blog) with Amanda, Mike Beck and Trisha Ivy regarding their sweet as apple wine country-folk trio Ivy, Beck & Neill. I’ve done pieces for both bands actually, all of which I highly suggest you take a peek at.
But I digress. That night at Threes was an especially momentous occasion, because it represented the first time Neill was going to be playing entirely new songs in a solo setting. Not TECHNICALLY solo as she was backed by Mike Beck and Dylan Sneed on guitars & piano, Rob Ritchie on bass and Jeff Rogers on drums, but solo in the sense that Neill was going to be front and center debuting her own songs under just her name for the very first time. The wheel of the ship was going to be entirely in her hands.
The anticipation buzzing around the room waiting for this moment was palpable, stretching all the way from the BK to Neill’s former home in Nashville. Quite literally thanks to the benefits of modern technology and Facetime.
And once the set got rolling, that excitement immediately hit crackling electricity level as it took Neill no time at all to absolutely dominate the room like it was her second home. Seeing her onstage has always been a matter of pride watching her confidence and strength of musicality build up with each performance, but with a band at her back and solely her willpower as frontwoman to lead them…. seemed to take things to a whole new astral plane, imparting the group with a personality nearly as big as Neill’s own. Their sense of chemistry and flow was instantaneous, and that vibe made every member on the stage at Threes look like they were all playing the most locked in show of their musical lives.
With Sneed playing ferocious bottleneck blues leads, Beck laying down gorgeous piano lines and Neill dictating exact tempo to Rogers that vibe didn’t seem to be too far from the truth as the band danced like a finely tuned machine through tendrils of blues, folk, gospel and Tennessee roots country that was as much sultry as salt of the earth. Early versions of Neill’s “It Ain’t Easy” and “Good To See You” that I’d heard during our interview session last year emerged with a fresh new magic in their full band form, and meshed seamlessly into songs that were still just emerging fresh from the oven.
Meanwhile Neill’s vocals were also eager to join the party, matching the band’s energetic intensity with a voice containing all the ragged edge and electricity of a Janis Joplin or Joe Cocker. And while those may seem like very broad strokes of comparison, the more you hear Neill sing the more you’ll hear that same world-weary, raspy husk that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s the type of vocal gift that’s always ready to rip up substandard, auto-tuned musical convention and smoke out the metaphorical innards at a moment’s notice.
But that’s just my opinion.
And while that may seem like a bit of grisly-minded comparison, to see Amanda take center stage for the first time was way more about much-deserved glory than guts. More beauty than blood, though when it comes to her songwriting you can sense the blood sweat and tears that get written into every single word.
It takes pure passion to be that honest. Strength to be so vulnerable. And sheer ability to not just get up on stage, but to hit it like a storm that’s been waiting to strike with the strength of a cobra’s bite.
Neill’s set that night was Joni Mitchell after a lot of nights at the Tom Waits school of late night blues bars. It was the spiritual binding threads of the church of humanity, the equal purity of folk, the essence of country roots, and the joy of Neill’s own performing and songwriting heart (a joy that leapt easily into her band member’s many smiles). In a world of modulating machine beats, perfectly enhanced pitch and dumbed down Top 40 crayon formulas sketched clumsily from A to B, Neill’s solo set was dandelion seedlings amidst a perfect summer breeze. Equally as unafraid to love as to hurt as to bleed as to feel in all their untainted innocence.
It felt like witnessing a spring bloom turn into the radiant flower it was always meant to be. And if anything, watching Amanda Neill the solo artist finally out on her lonesome put me in mind of two things.
1: That no matter the bands that come and go in New York City, Brooklyn country will always be safe as long as she’s around.
And 2: This was a night of an everlasting pandemonium of musical honesty that not only reverberated on that night, but has continued to for many nights ever since.
I still considered myself rocked.