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Words: John Belitsky | Photos: Damian Charles
Doors were supposed to be at 8. At 8:06 PM the opening act, some musicians from North Carolina called Foreign Air, were still sound checking. As far as sound checks go, this one rates as notably, eerily auspicious — are they supposed to sound this good when they’re not even playing? I’m posted upstairs at Bowery Ballroom cooling off on an unusually warm March night with a cold pint in hand, looking down at the line on the sidewalk below. Foreign Air flirts with my attention as their saxophonist belts out something that immediately grabs me; but I’m waiting to meet up with Andy and James of the UK band HONNE, who are having their photos taken 30 feet away.
Andy & James seem reasonably excited and comfortable, in a four year old who’s just learned to ride a bike, kinda way. Two years ago they were teaching kids how to play instruments in England. Tonight, their show in Manhattan is sold out. In fact every show on their US tour is sold out. Selling out shows isn’t easy but once you do, dominos start to fall quickly. And there seem to be dominos starting to fall for HONNE.
This afternoon a pretty serious after market for their tickets sprung up, with procrastinating fans ponying up to 100 bucks for passes that sold at just a $15 face value. After tonight’s show the band’s headed to a show in Toronto before they play a whirlwind of seven shows in four days at SXSW. They’ve worked with SOHN recently on a beautifully rendered remix of “Gone On Are The Days” and are due to release another collaboration with UK star Izzy Bizu. It’s not difficult to imagine that this might be an integral moment in the narrative arc of HONNE’s story. The next time they play NYC in July, they may be at Hammerstein Ballroom or Irving Plaza,or shit — the 3,000 capacity Terminal 5. That’s a huge leap, and Terminal 5 is geometrically larger than Bowery Ballroom, but 24 months ago they weren’t playing anywhere, really. Stories like these, of explosive exposure and rocket ship rises, exist to infuriate artists grinding out careers one slow earned fan at a time. When the artist seem to not deserve the attention, other musicians turn on them quickly. But Andy and James aren’t the type of guys you root against. I met them for breakfast the day before their show, and jawboned loosely about politics, music, and authenticity. Just three guys smacking on food, talking about whatever came to mind. Easy. An hour later I was inviting them to barbecue at my house with my family next time they’re in town. These two gents are gems, and their music holds up.
“You guys know what people are paying to see you play?” I ask Andy. His eyebrows raise as he blurts out “I know — this is mental, I heard people are paying $100?!” This isn’t false modesty, this is genuine surprise. “Something’s happening here,” I tell him, and watch as quickly alternating waves of comprehension and confusion wash over him. I can’t help but wonder if this is the point it gets way more serious, less fun, or just more profitable for these two?
By the time HONNE takes the stage, Foreign Air has already made a strong argument for spending $100 to catch this bill. This is only FA’s second show, but lead singer Jesse Classen comes to this project from HRVRD, bringing with him a sound that is noticeably mature. They’ve already been compared to Glass Animals and Alt-J tonight — and I’m going on record saying their sound will find just as broad an audience in very short order. In a room largely filled with people who came to see HONNE, we all feel lucky to have caught Foreign Air.
Some smoke. Blue lights flash on. It’s go time. The space is at capacity. Up on the mezzanine Atlantic Records coterie of music machine mechanics take over VIP tables and list towards the stage, waiting to see, I would imagine, if their boys can deliver a great show. If they’re the real McCoy. A couple wanders into the VIP section, cautiously moving through the invisible barrier that cordons off the industry folk from the masses. The air is still for a second — this is NYC and these fans know the drill — if all goes well, this might be the first and last time HONNE plays this room. HONNE, the fans, the label heads, they’re here to drink this all in. The show opens with the crisp, clear sound of “Warm On A Cold Night”, perhaps their best known track, and Andy’s surprisingly soulful vocals bounce off the back wall, leaking out onto Delancey Street. They got soul, and put it all on display early. Half the audience bobs their heads and the other half weaves into their pockets to fish out cell phones and snap pics. They like HONNE. They really, REALLY like HONNE. The record label VIP’s, who are known for famously maintaining their stoic gaze at any of the infinite shows they’re forced to catch each week, reach into their pockets and start recording video from their cell phones too, smiling widely. The audience begins singing along, because they really, really like HONNE, and apparently they know the lyrics. And that makes sense, since a good portion of them paid $100 to see them. The room fills with energy, the boys deliver a better-than-studio-sound, and suddenly Terminal 5 feels like a cozy little home for HONNE’s return tour. Hopefully Foreign Air is on the bill.
Warm On a Cold Night
Loves the Job You Hate
Top to Toe
No Place Like Home
Someone That Loves You (Dedicated to Ricardo)
Gone Are the Days
All in the Value