BOBBY: WILD SOULS OF FOAM
Words by Kristina Ensminger
What: First headlining show in NYC
Where: Mercury Lounge – New York, NY
When: December 3, 2011
The first time I listened to BOBBY’s self-titled lucid-dream-pop debut (Partisan Records), I was on a 14-hour train ride from New York City to Montreal. It was the perfect introduction—experiencing the album in the same setting in which it was written and recorded: isolated, surrounded by nature, observing the world vicariously (my filter was the Amtrak window; Tom Greenberg’s was the imaginary ghost of BOBBY—the protagonist who serves as the band’s inspiration and the spirit through which the music speaks). When the echoing apologies of “The Shed” faded out, I started the album over and returned to the spectral “We Saw.” And then I did it again. And again. And again.
Although I was instantly hooked by the polyrhythmic textures and artful lyrics, it wasn’t until repeat round 10 or 15 that I truly understood what was so engaging (er, addictive). This album can’t be chopped up into marketable mp3 morsels for the A.D.D. generation; it was designed for an excavation. The more I listened, the more I found myself digging deeper into the music, mentally dusting off the edges of each song, and finding it almost impossible to put down my brush. With every listen, another intricate treasure was exposed…distant echoes, brief percussive accents, tiny shards of sound.
Of the original seven members of BOBBY—which included Mountain Man’s Molly Erin Sarle, who sang on the record, and later bandmate Amelia Randall Meath, who toured in her place—only three remain. The current four-piece consists of frontman/guitarist Tom Greenberg, multi-instrumentalist Paolo Menuez, drummer/boy wonder Martin Zimmermann, and the newest addition, Maia Friedman, on vox and keys. The current lineup feels more cohesive onstage and the depth and breadth of BOBBY’s sound remains, despite the lower head count.
After wrapping up a West Coast tour with Little Scream, BOBBY returned to the Mercury Lounge (after a stellar set opening for Mountain Man this summer) for their first headlining show in New York. When the band took the stage, a warm red hue turned the leaves of the lush kick drum fern a desiccate brown, just in time for the opening strums of “It’s Dead Outside.” The energy of the crowd was palpable and the band’s reciprocation was evident. Greenberg sat in his signature stage chair in socks (and an Andy Warhol wig left over from Halloween), and everything about the performance felt more comfortable and more personal than their previous sets.
Rather than trying to recreate the album, the band took the studio skeleton of each song and fleshed out a new live form; the result was a raw, bloody-knuckled version of the original—less refined, but more potent. The live version of “Ginger (Water Birth)” was much darker live, building into a chaotic crescendo of Pole Position engine revs, screams, moans, bass drum thumps and cymbal rattles. In addition to the old favorites, they played two new songs, one of which featured Menuez belting out incredibly strong backup vocals and facing off with Friedman in a surround sound bird battle of alternating “hoo” chirps. The new material feels more tailored to fit the four-piece, and their sophomore effort, which they’re currently writing, doesn’t seem to be retracing any of the steps they laid on their debut. After their most rousing performance yet, at least in my handful of experiences, the drum fern returned to its original green glow, and the ghost of BOBBY lingered in the form of a lone Warhol wig on Greenberg’s wooden chair.
Madeleine L’Engle believed that a good piece of literature never has to convince you to believe in it or agree with it. I feel the same way about a good album. And it’s not my intention to coerce you into believing in BOBBY, although I think you should. Like most objects of greatness, it’s difficult to explain what qualifies it as such; but like all great albums, it simply is.