4/17/15 – Great Scott

“We’re going to play the new album in full, if that’s okay with you,” Martin Earley said to the sold-out audience of Great Scott. It seemed appropriate enough—the Ballroom Thieves had returned to their hometown stomping grounds to celebrate the release of their new album, A Wolf in the Doorway. And the audience was certainly receptive. Over the course of the evening, the band’s snaky rave-ups were met with hoots, hollers, and howls, while its haunting ballads elicited hushed coos and enthusiastic applause.

Although only three individuals make up the band—Martin Earley on guitar, Calin Peters playing amplified cello, and Devin Mauch on drums and percussion—the sheer amount of sound the trio can produce is nearly overwhelming, but balanced and poised at the same time. From the opening notes of “Archers,” with its harmonies and rustic charm, the club was filled with warm, all-encompassing twang.

The relaxed sensibility of frontman Earley lent the band an assuming swagger onstage. Amicably, but not in an overly chatty manner, he engaged the audience with brief introductions to a few songs and confided that some of the tunes had not been played in a live setting before.

The band ran through the tracks of A Wolf in the Doorway at a decent pace. By the third song “Bullet”—after a brief romp through the tune to HBO’s Game of Thrones—the Thieves had the audience in their grasp, swaying to each stroke of Peters’ bowed notes. Quieter, near-acoustic numbers like “Here I Stand” were a highlight from a songwriting standpoint. Behind the skins, Mauch’s drums were punchy and complimentary, never stepping over the delicate soundscape unfolding onstage.

If there was one element that detracted from the evening, it was a major one—without a clear lead instrument, the audience had nowhere to ground their attention. This was never clearer than with the dirge-like rhythms of “Oars to the Sea”; guitarist Thomas John Cadrin from opening act Long Time joined them onstage, but even his electrified soloing could not unentangle the tune. It’s a good thing that the audience was enthusiastic and devoted enough to follow them down these more unusual paths.

With the celebration of their first album behind them and a national tour just ahead (including a stop at Boston Calling), the Ballroom Thieves are at a pivotal moment. A Wolf in the Doorway crawls onstage and howls loudly to its audience, and although sometimes its croon is scratchy and quiet, ingenuity and authenticity are audible to the intent listener. If the band can continue to plant the seeds of earnest songwriting, their audience will be growing right along with their rustic, charming repertoire.

Big Folk at the Edge of Pop: The Ballroom Thieves
Pros
  • Sharp, concise delivery of each tune
  • Unique, charmingly rustic style
  • Earnest, authentic sound
Cons
  • Still working out live pacing
  • Quiet songs exist in the wake of the loud ones
6.5Overall Score

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