The Harper Blynn & Damnwells show at Vinyl in Atlanta Saturday was impossibly magical. Mostly because it was overshadowed by bad luck, pure and simple. Bad luck isn’t something anyone ever goes looking for. Not when fledgling careers and comebacks are on the line. Things like emergency surgery and fickle record companies don’t usually end in serendipity. But when you’re from Brooklyn, like Harper Blynn or the Damnwells, you tough it out. After all, how could they call themselves Brooklynites if they didn’t?
Harper Blynn just started their tour a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, the band had to drive directly to a hospital in North Carolina, where J. Blynn, co-lead singer of the group, was diagnosed with a burst appendix. However, the band must carry on. Luckily, with a band in which everyone can sing and take turns playing instruments, it can, and did. To the people in the crowd that were not familiar with the band, it is certain no one would have noticed if Pete Harper hadn’t told them. Sad as it was to miss Blynn, and the consequent songs that were neglected due to his absence, Harper maintained complete possession of the audience for the entirety of the set. Thanks to Sarab Singh, who plays the drums like an unflinching robot (a musically-adept one, of course), and Whynot, who not only plays bass but sings and plays synth/keyboard when necessary, the songs moved fluidly out into the night, and the members seemed to have already worked all of the logistics out, dancing from instrument to instrument with ease like choreographed actors.
The band is clearly comfortable in an intimate setting, but radio-ready hits like This is It and Models/Dancers made the show feel like a little secret, as if perhaps the crowd were winners out of a sweepstakes taking part in an exclusive show. This Is It was even more powerful in concert, the urgency of the message resounding louder live, and Models/Dancers is made even more fun by watching Harper scoot himself around the stage, sometimes singing into the crowd perched on the edge of the stage on tiptoe, sometimes hunched over the keys like the phantom of the opera. The keyboards seem almost an extension of Harper, as he even plays two at once, sometimes backwards, too caught up in the energy of the music to even turn around. If ever there was a vessel through which music positively surged, it’s Harper.
Alex Dezen of the Damnwells did join the band for a couple numbers to help with some extra guitar work, but his moment to shine was to come soon enough. The Damnwells are not just another new band out of New York; they have actually been playing for the better part of a decade. Once riding high on success, including having their music featured in the 2004 film Chaos Theory, dreams were shattered when EPIC Records dropped them in 2006. In March this year, with only two remaining regular members, the band released No One Listens to the Band Anymore, which was funded through pledgemusic.com.
The band’s mixture of Americana roots and straightforward, somehow tender vocals drew many a fan out to Vinyl, even though the crowd was small. Alex Dezen, singer and lyricist for the group, was backed by Harper Blynn, and though the band lent its modern pop energy to the Damnwells’ more laid-back approach, they seemed just as at home playing the strongly grounded Damnwells tunes. Dezen takes the stage with an air of stoicism which only makes his delivery of the more reflective songs that much more heartbreaking. No One Listens to the Band Anymore was somehow fitting for a band playing a club half the size they ought to be. But no matter, for the faithful were down front, singing every word, and any onlooker could tell you that no matter where Dezen goes there must be many just like the ones at Vinyl, waiting to hear the band, and really listen, and glad to have the Damnwells back in their city.
Perhaps this concert reaffirmed some things for these two bands. Perhaps one shouldn’t be apologetic for the way the dice roll. Perhaps really good music combined with on-point musicianship and stage presence really is enough to make it. At the very least it’s enough to ensure that people are still coming to listen.
Written by Nicole Banister
Below is a video so that you may get a taste of what this band has to offer live!