No Line North Escapes This Mad World

Karen Ponzio PhotoDuring a set at Best Video by the group No Line North on Thursday night, the 1963 comedy adventure film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World played behind the band without sound except for the band’s music.

“It seemed appropriate,” Jon Schlesinger, lead singer and guitarist for the New Haven-based band, said in a soft, slightly joking tone. It suited the mood perfectly as a week filled with stories of spy ships and secret international dealings came to a close.

The performance space in the video store had an enthusiastic audience for the double bill of No Line North — which has a new album coming out next month — and area songwriter Bop Tweedie.

Tweedie was armed with his guitar and a myriad of anecdotes, immediately launching into an explanation of how he had to cancel his last performance at Best Video due to illness; he currently had a cracked tooth but would not let it hold him back from the show at hand. There were no signs of any type of suffering from Tweedie or the audience, as his voice remained deep and soothing throughout his set, his guitar playing traveling between an easy strumming to more urgency as needed, setting a casual romantic tone to the selections which he soon informed the crowd “had a theme.”

The theme was soon aptly revealed to be “Love Songs of Bop Tweedie,” since Valentine’s Day had occurred two days earlier. Before singing a song titled “Valentine,” he mentioned that he had thought he would be singing “to a room full of dudes” and that he was happy to see “all the hot mamas.” As the audience began to laugh, he pointed to all of the women in the room one by one, saying “I love you” to each of them. He then began pointing at men, saying “I love you” to them. He then pointed to the back of the room, where Best Video proprietor Hank Hoffman was standing.

“Hank Hoffman,” he said, “I love you.”

The room exploded with cheers and laughter. He continued to endear himself to the crowd, whether it was asking if any Russian spies were in the house or playing a slowed-down acoustic version of the Tom Jones classic “It’s Not Unusual,” bringing out a suprising melancholy. After the final song was played and more I love yous offered, an encore was requested and obliged, completing the circle of gratitude that the set had begun with.

No Line North launched into a vibrant, almost orchestral overture before their first song. Schlesinger’s vocals, whether talking or singing, make one feel at ease almost at first note. He lends this same ease to his guitar work, having no problem providing harder or more intricate layers to each tune as needed. John Leonard on backing vocals and bass added depth and dimension to each song, and Michael Kiefer on drums provided a strong foundation for each song no matter its tone or pace. Schlesinger and Kiefer, also partners in Twin Lakes Records, created a driving musical loop to and from each other while in between songs gently bantering and exchanging smiles and kindness. (The New Haven Independent’s own Brian Slattery completed the musical solidity of this foursome with the addition of his violin.) Songs such as “Sky and Sea” and “Leading You On” gave one the sense of a journey. One was almost able to picture him or herself as a passenger in a car, or on a train, watching the houses and fields go by, wondering what might be found when the final destination was reached. Lys Guillorn joined the band for the song “Butterflies,” her voice adding yet another level of sweetness to the multitudes already offered.

A groovy cover of the Minutemen song “Jesus and Tequila” gave more than a few members of the audience a chance to dance, though a couple of them had taken to dancing to most of the band’s set already. The band chose “Dead Flowers,” a Rolling Stones song covered by Townes Van Zandt, which appears in The Big Lebowski, as their final selection of the night. Schlesinger, after describing the song, said “hopefully that will take you far enough away”. The audience responded loudly and gratefully.

Up on the screen, the characters in the movie all raced to their cars and hurriedly sped away to find treasure. Off the screen, the rest of us packed up and moved slowly towards reality, thankful that we received, even if only for a couple of hours, a much needed reprieve from the world’s madness.

No Line North’s release show for the album Dreams of Trees Part One will be on Saturday, Mar. 25, at Lyric Hall, 827 Whalley Ave. Doors are at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 with proceeds to benefit Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) New Haven. Opening acts include The Proud Flesh and The Sawtelles.

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