Autumn Defense Warms the Narrows Center

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


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In this seemingly endless New England winter, The Autumn Defense arrived in town a day after the latest snowstorm. It was nothing out of the ordinary for the Chicago band, an offshoot of Wilco. Fortunately, co-leaders John Stirratt and Pat Sansone brought some much needed warmth along with some well crafted pop/rock songs to the Narrows Center last Friday night.

Bob Kendall Band

Rhode Island roots rockers The Bob Kendall Band opened the evening with a well-received set. Kendall led his band through several guitar driven tunes, including the lilting ballad “Midnight Flower,” the title song from their 2010 album. They followed with a new song “Dazed,” a mellow country-rocker from their forthcoming album, Washed Away.

Behind Kendall’s 12 string guitar, the Tom Petty/Byrds influence on the band is clear. But there’s more. Like the headline act, they draw on 60s and 70s pop, the Beatles, and country rock artists like Gram Parsons.

Playing mostly originals, the band kicked it into high gear on “I Wish I was Your Mother,” a 1973 lost classic by Mott the Hoople. Setting the table for Autumn Defense, they closed with their rocker “Athmosphere,” highlighted by a Kinks inspired guitar intro with a Big Star feel. Bob and the band play a lot of shows around town – be on the lookout for the new album and be sure to check them out live sometime soon!

Autumn Defense - Wilco Side Project

The “side project” in the music business serves an important purpose. It allows the artist to step out of his regular role and explore new musical ideas. The artist’s job in the band may change, sometimes they sing lead, and they often play different instruments from their main gig. That’s the case with the leaders of Autumn Defense; with Stirratt moving from bass to guitar and both artists sharing lead vocals.

At the same time, no one really expects a “side project” to become a hit, and with few exceptions that is usually the case. But artists show a lot of excitement and really look forward to these shows. That sentiment was evident Thursday night in Fall River.

At the Narrows Center, fans heard songs from all five Autumn Defense albums, including several from their new release Fifth. They opened with “Calling Your Name,” a mid tempo tune full of pure 1970s pop. The mellow mood continued with three selections from their first album, Circles, including “Written in the Snow,” “Silence,” and the beach-ready “Sun in California.”

Next up was “This Thing That I Found,” which sounded like it was written by (post-Beatles era) George Harrison, complete with Harrison-esque vocals and twangy guitar solos. “Huntington Fair,” an acoustic guitar strummer and crowd favorite from their 2010 album Once Around, followed. “It’s a quiet song for a quiet room,” noted Sansone.

1970s Mellow Rock

The band’s music pays tribute to the classic 70s California pop/rock acts – with influences ranging from Big Star to Badfinger. At times, the vibe is light and airy, but the frequent harmonic shifts and well placed power chord keep the sound front and center. Their lyrics are chiefly about, what else, relationships – successes and failures – and the bumps along the way.

In “Back of My Mind,” a simply perfect pop song from “Once Around,” they sing:

I took a trip to the back of my mind

And found there that nothing was mine

I wanted badly just to see you again

I thought I could just waltz back in time

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Rockin’ Encore

The mood was mellow for most of the show until the two song encore. The first featured a beautiful version of “Sentimental Lady,” a Fleetwood Mac tune that was a big hit for Bob Welch in the late 70s. They rocked out most on their final song (featuring Sansone’s Townshend inspired guitar windmills), Big Star’s “You Can’t Have Me.” It was a nice shout out to the under-appreciated but hugely influential act.

If you missed this show, you still have time to see the band. Autumn Defense is playing Great Scotts in Allston on Wednesday Feb 12.

Ken Abrams reviews Roots, Rock and Blues for GoLocal. He can be reached at [email protected].


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