Last Thursday night, I just happened to end up in Bloomington, IN the same night that my friend Andrew Bryant, ½ of Water Liars, was performing at The Bishop Bar. I was familiar with Andrew’s previous southern croons as a solo songwriter from the great state of Mississippi, but Water Liars was a different monster entirely.
In Water Liars Bryant plays drums, rigid but fierce; his boots stomp pedals and arms hammer down like he was busting cinderblocks. His signature gruff, vocal bellow is a harmony undertone, reinforcing the lead voice of Justin Kinkel-Schuster, who takes on front-man responsibilities also playing guitar. No stranger to the stage, Justin’s musical experiences include those with St. Louis, Mo Americana outfit Theodore (check out my very favorite song “Back from the War” on Daytrotter.com).
It may be a bit of a stretch to call the duo by the cliché label of “super-group”, but the history of songwriting from each lends a maturing chemistry allowing for Phantom Limb to become the clear next step in each of their catalogs.
The live show started with the gained out crunch of a hollow-body guitar riff, blasting the audience's attention from their locally brewed Upland Beers and small talk. The song titled “$100” does a good job of characterizing the band in a single shot. Folk influenced, reverb dampened, rock and roll, that’s still a little rough around the edges.
Phantom Limb ends on the opposite foot, leaning towards the roots or the members with the slow, heartbreaking ballad “Low & Long." The 12 bar blues rocker “Short Hair” pulls the tempo back up and adds a little grime. “Dog Eaten” cleans up the sound with a simple guitar/vocal pairing, the sonic juxtaposition on this track may be crisp and pure, but beneath there is still skeleton-dust from memories lamented through lyrics.
The most memorable moment of the live show was the eye-widening delivery of “Fresh Hell-It is Well”. The latter half, “…It is Well,” is a classic hymn that I grew up singing in church, but now delivered as an a’cappella cry by Kinkel-Schuster, with ghastly response echo by Bryant. The recorded version dims the lights even lower on the already haunting aesthetic of the song by sampling a poem read by early 20th century British occultist Aleister Crowley.
In a day where music has become scarcely more than the passing glance of a 99cent iTunes single, Water Liars’ Phantom Limb is to be commended as a complete intact work, with 9 different chapters, possessing dynamic characteristics of conflict and resolve, rather than 9 separate novellas.
Water Liars is currently on tour making their way to SXSW, where NPR has included the band in its 100 artist to check out at this years fesitival: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/01/147637518/the-austin-100-a-sxsw-mix
You can keep up with Water Liars at their label home: http://misrarecords.com/artists/water-liars/
Their song “$100” is available for free download at: http://waterliarsmusic.bandcamp.com/
And you can download the entire Phantom Limb album on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/phantom-limb/id496663027