As the 6 p.m. hour crept up on an intermittently rainy Friday, East Rock staple Neverending Books did something unusual: It opened. On purpose. On time. And from inside, strains of music began floating from the stage, coating books cover to cover, and spilling out onto the sidewalk.
Inside, the kickoff to a new Mercy Choir and Friends residency had just gotten underway. Spearheaded by Mercy Choir frontman Paul Belbusti, the event aims to be a broad and diverse arts showcase with room for anything from music to theater to standup. Performances will take place at Neverending Books on the last Friday of each month.
This first show featured performances by New Haven two piece Swamp Yankee and Bethel-based Quiet Giant. Little as Swamp Yankee is, musicians Danny Ravizza and John Longyear drew the crowd in easily with their creeping brand of folk, songs that start tense before shifting to quietly uplifting breakdowns and bridges. They manage a lot with very little, and their foggy tunes wordlessly capture the hard to place about New England.
Then came Quiet Giant, to fill out the room a bit more with their particular flavor of poppy indie rock.
It is a tough time playing in a genre that has seen as many peaks as the kind of rock Quiet Giant plays. With so many generations of tropes it is easy to slip into those familiar patterns and ruts without batting an eye. Luckily for crowd, Quiet Giant neatly avoids these pitfalls. Danielle Capalbo’s sneaky, pretty lead vocals already give the band a leg up. She is not an indie bro dude, nor is your run of the mill twee high pitched frontwoman. Her voice is smoky, occasionally nasal and always on pitch. And the rest of the band backs it up, going all in – distorted and fun but more than capable of being softer when things need to be.
In a scene full of bedroom pop acts barely playing their instruments, Quiet Giant is a pleasant change. The bass hits harmonies and plays riffs, the guitars ride easy chords when it’s best for the song, but are more than capable of sending off wailing solos and lead lines. And the drums do more than just keep the whole pretty mess together, just like they should. Next up was Mercy Choir, the big dogs in the little book store, the folks with their name on the flyers outside.
The band that took the stage felt every inch the local veterans they are. Every note in every song was squared away. This is home base for them for the foreseeable future and in their nonaggressive way they made sure everyone knew it. Their highly arranged and practiced songs brought in the backyard smokers and made the side room lurkers stand up, everyone wanted a look. Mercy Choir covered a lot of musical ground, bouncing from pop folk to old school rock and roll to more progressive, meandering pieces.
After the show, Paul Belbusti assured the Independent that, despite the fact that those attending the monthly event can always expect a Mercy Choir performance, they can look forward to different iterations of the band. Musicians will come and go, the tone will change and seeing as he has over 10 years of Mercy Choir material, there will be plenty of different songs heard over the course of the residency. With a format like this, so much is subject to change, the acts, the sets, the tone of the event as a whole. Who is to say what next month will hold?
But with Paul and his squad of DIY veterans at the helm it is safe to expect a something good and warm and walled with books.
To listen to an accompanying short podcast from the event, click on or download the audio above.