Show Review

Southeast Engine

Brian Ahnmark
Thursday night's triple bill at The Treehouse felt like Thanksgiving two weeks early.

A veritable feast of songwriters brought all the warmth of a family gathering to the intimate venue, minus the pesky in-fighting and stilted interaction with distant relatives. 'Twas a welcome respite from the cold November night, complete with a cornucopia of snapshot-worthy moments.

The heavily-tattooed Max Sollisch, stage persona Dolfish, crooning tales of love & loss in a surprisingly sweet tenor. Alas, pesky appearances and their deception. Columbus quartet Saintseneca, so inspired by the attentive audience that they opted to bypass microphones and soundcheck and just sing into the night, shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity. Four-part harmonies cracking – endearingly – as the singers staved off sickness in the name of performance. No drumkit necessary; footstomps, maracas, a washboard and trashcan filling in admirably. Violinist Grace Chang laughing at frontman Zac Little's attempts to interact with the crowd: “We're so awkward when we talk!” The four members trading off percussion duties, vocals, and no fewer that six stringed instruments, including the skinniest dulcimer ever known to man.

And then there was the girl with the beehive hair blocking everybody's view. (Honestly, why would you even go to the effort before, of all things, a concert? Why not just bring an umbrella to the show? Or a giant foam finger?)

Southeast Engine scarcely waited until the applause died down after Saintseneca's set to take the stage. Except there is no stage, so let's just say they manned their instruments. Unassuming and pure – and itching to shake off a few months' worth of rust, as this was their first live show since a summer tour with Deerhoof. Keyboardist Billy Matheny soundchecked the theme from Super Mario Brothers. Yes, as in the original Nintendo cartridge game. Bassist Jesse Remnant was more than happy to chime in and improvise some wicked new bass counter-melodies. Jesse mixed down the sound as Billy riffed on how excited the band was to return to the “45” zip codes. Except that Columbus is entirely “43” zip codes. Resounding belly laughs ensued, inspiring frontman Adam Remnant to proclaim, “It feels like we're stalling.”

But not for long, as the band eased into “Cold Front Blues” from its forthcoming record Canary. The gospel-tinged intro unfolded into a shuffling groove courtesy percussionist Leo DeLuca, although the Remnant brothers ultimately stole the show with a chorus howled from the depths of their guts. A hell of a way to warm the throat. Adam's screaming harmonica substituted nicely for the horns that texture the record.

A vibrant 11-song set drew largely from Canary and From the Forest to the Sea, Southeast Engine's splendid 2009 LP. Epic, sparkling performances bled into one another, as though the band literally could not wait to start another jam, with no patience for applause. “Preparing for the Flood” and “Malcontent” were a hugely satisfying combination, with DeLuca repeatedly springing from the drumstool into midair; “Black Gold,” a song about Big Oil, took on an angry resonance following this summer's Gulf of Mexico spill. Southeast Engine has a gift, referencing history and old-timey values in a way that is gut-check relevant to the present. The new material spit fire, particularly the punishing finale of “At Least We Have Each Other” as Matheny channeled his inner Manzarek. Likewise, the back catalog numbers roiled with new purpose, “Holy Ghost” and “We Have You Surrounded” snarling as rabid reincarnations.

Ohio's finest folk-rock band is back.

Keep eyes and ears open for Canary this spring.