Waterstreet @ Fontana’s Bar, New York (10/12)

credit: Melissa Valliant/Chicago Tunes

About 15 people gathered in the basement of New York’s Fontana’s Bar last Tuesday to watch Chicago band Waterstreet rock out for an hour, and I don’ t think any of them left disappointed — perhaps a little deaf, yes, but disappointed, no.

Overall, the quartet put on an impressive show, filling the room with a hard-rock and blues sound that had everyone tapping their feet. It was difficult to look away from frontman Evan Hand, whose soulful vocals and powerful stage presence commanded attention. Dressed in tight orange jeans, a bright yellow T-shirt and a black leather jacket, with untamed curls flying everywhere as he fiercely played guitar, Hand looked (and sounded) the part of a rock ‘n’ roll frontman. However, it quickly became obvious that the second guitarist/vocalist, Joe Shadid, didn’ t need to be front and center to get noticed. Shadid blew me away with his ability to add some real soul to the group’s sound with his exceptional guitar technique. He proved to be one of those remarkable musicians that really draws you into the music, forcing you to feel it as intensely as he so clearly does. Hand and Shadid’s different vocal styles and pitches perfectly complemented each other, and both of them contributed to one of the real highlights of the show: the occasional killer guitar solos.

This is not to say that the drummer and bassist were any less impressive. Mike Crusen’s pumping basslines, such as the one that introduces “Nobody’s Ground,” played a major role in the catchy quality of the music. And drummer Rob Gould had no problem keeping up with the fast-paced, percussion-heavy songs. Sporting a “Drive Shaft” tee, Gould had already won over part of the audience — who subsequently chanted a few “You All Everybody’s” — before the show even started.

credit: Melissa Valliant/Chicago Tunes

Waterstreet’s peak moment unquestionably was their performance of “Psycho,” which really emphasized Hand’s vocal ability and proved that he has the chops to sound just as good live as he does on their latest EP. “Come on Back” came in a close second with its unapologetically brash instrumentation and one of the aforementioned “killer guitar solos,” but it’s hard to beat the power evoked by “Psycho’s” powerful transition from slower verses to its fast-paced, heart-pounding chorus. Waterstreet’s way of combining head-banging rock with soulful and bluesy guitar and vocals puts them somewhere in between the hard-rock/funk/blues style of Lenny Kravitz and the “harder” and faster sound of Buckcherry’s screaming guitar and vocals. And it works.

The group did, however, trip up on one thing: volume. Waterstreet made the mistake of crossing that thin line between “rock-on!” loud and tinnitus-inducing clamor. Don’t get me wrong: A little extra volume can fuel the crowd’s energy, but it’s never worth it if that crowd’s hearing is accompanied by a subdued, high-pitched ringing for the following two days. And not only is over-the-top volume uncomfortable for the audience, but it also unfortunately hurts the band’s overall sound. I thought the vocals were slightly overwhelmed by the instrumentation, but I couldn’t decide if that was a result of disproportional microphones or if I simply wasn’t hearing clearly because of the overpowering volume of everything.

With that exception, Waterstreet’s performance was both entertaining and impressive, and I hope they return to New York again soon.

Extras:

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