The London Souls, Bowery Ballroom, NYC – 6/17

Henric Nielsen on June 30, 2010

Before John Biz opens with “Take Care” on what appears to be a Jazzmaster, Lorraine Leckie queries a shy 8 p.m. audience “Who likes to do cocaine?” introducing a set whose highlight is bassist George Koelle donning a Canadian tuxedo (denim top to toe). For better rather than worse, though, Lorraine Leckie and her Demons have attitude enough for a maximum-security prison.

Biz, brimming with zest and gusto, switches to a semi-hollow, sparkling golden Les Paul-ish tool four songs into his set. He comes to a head with cheery “Run.” Biz’s promise is ample as distortion levels surge through a Ramones cover and sundry new originals.

Post-Biz: enter New York quintet Wormburner, playing the release show for Hoboken-recorded sophomore LP Placed by the Gideons. “Breaker Breaker” introduces Temptation Hank & Co. all dressed in black, and we’re talking punk-pop storytelling from the get go. Talk-singing like The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, ‘Burner’s lyrics are Jersey-dreamy: “And we’ll ride this lonesome highway ‘til it ends, you be the one that heaven sent me. We’ll kill the headlights just in case, I know a stretch of road so empty, Breaker breaker what’s your twenty?” The Gaslight Anthem, anyone?

Bassist goes drummer, guitarist goes keyboardist, singer goes bassist etc. in a number of instrument swaps through a solid gig that eventually finds Wormburner at next-to-last “The Interstate,” a story of princess Sally that finds these guys at their finest.

When The London Souls take stage between the Ballroom’s golden drapes, feet crowd the beer-glistening floor; the Bowery is pretty much packed. And when Tash Neal, already shades-down, slips on the lipstick-red 355, Chris St. Hillaire puts drumsticks to work, assaulting percussion barrels as if beating the hell out of some invisible demon.

The triad sets sail full throttle through a mean set. “She’s So Mad” launches the liberally distorted, yet eloquently clean-shaven madness, as Chris pushes unison to Tash’s bruised vocals. Second up is “The Sound,” which features a guitar solo so toothsome it ought to be rated AO (Adults Only), N+ (Graphic Nudity), S+ (Explicit Sexual Situations) and V+ (Strongly Violent or Disturbing).

Vocal duties rotate. Kiyoshi Matsuyama’s bass plucking shepherds the bands and bridges any sonic gaps in a sound that echoes anything and everything from James Brown to The White Stripes. On “Old Country Road,” Tash finds Guns N’ Roses as he lifts his Gibson on end like Slash for the solo; sex appeal thrusts the crowd into dance and bellowing while no drum escapes Chris’s spasmic rhythms.

A steady climb reaches summit on “Stand Up,” which finds Tash as a B.B. King on Benzedrine (and lots of it, with subtle bends and blues-fury). Reggae chorale “Someday,” places the stage in shifting red, green and yellow lights, then morphs into a rock-monster as the clock rolls by midnight.

The threesome swings a hog-wild version of “I Think I Like It” before Kiyoshi employs his bass as baseball bat to knock over mic and stand during the final attack-jam. The London Souls exit, re-renter, tear through “Under Control” (after much necessary bass tuning) and take wing through an instrumental beast where Chris boldly seizures all over his kit, finally killing off the demon. At the Bowery Ballroom, The London Souls is the best bits of your old man’s dusty vinyl collection, a lethal dose of caffeine and everything Quentin Tarantino ever wanted to be.