Tom Hamilton’s American Babies closed out a lengthy fall tour at Rochester’s Flour City Station. The 31-date tour lasted seven weeks and visited 29 cities spanning 17 states. That’s a lot of miles logged and a lot of notes played. They could have either come out tired and road weary with a just-get-it-done attitude or tighter than ever, ready to finish off 2015 strong. Luckily for us it was the latter.
The band, currently consisting of Hamilton’s long-time partner Clay Parnell on bass, Justin Mazer on guitar, Al Smith on drums, and young singer-songwriter Raina Mullen on guitar and backing vocals, played a set spanning their entire existence and beyond.
Late in the 80 minute set, Hamilton pulled out “Boy,” one of the first songs he ever wrote, originally for Brothers Past. Earlier in the evening though they introduced the audience to a couple of new songs that will likely find their way on their next recording. Each expanded on their unique universe of Americana-based rock. “What Does It Mean To Be” added in an interesting blend of reggae and grunge rock that developed into a long improvisation where some of Hamilton’s electronic history shined through. Eventually the jam wound around to a funked up cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue” that was more a cover of Jerry Garcia Band’s cover of the tune. A long and rocking two guitar assault petered into a beautifully mellow segment that picked up steam again only to find its way back into “What Does It Mean To Be” to complete a delicious sandwich.
They followed with another new tune called “Synth Driver,” with hints of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan fell into more of a 70s rock vibe. Things darkened up quickly with some heavy guitar effects through the middle section.
Jerry Garcia’s influence came back in a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come,” again a cover that was more influenced by Garcia’s version than the original. Some very Dead-like sounds emerged in some of the bands older tunes, particularly on takes of “They Sing ‘Old Time Religion'” and in a beautiful intro to “Invite Your Friends.” Perhaps a carry over from Hamilton’s involvement in Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, or perhaps exactly the opposite? Either way it sounded great, and the American Babies maintained an original and enjoyable take on rock music.
In only their second show ever, Buffalo’s Band of Peace, fronted by Big Leg Emma’s Steve Johnson, opened the show. Guitarist Joe Muffoletto channeled Dickey Betts to great effect, while the band romped through a rousing set of country and jazz infused rock.