Review: Vintage Trouble and Leogun’s Hot Time at Highline

Vintage Trouble and Leogun @ Highline Ballroom – March 4

Words: Chad Berndtson

Vintage Trouble just feel like one of those bands: right there, on the precipice, the buzz building, the action getting heavy, the critics swooning, the crowds getting bigger and bigger. You see one or two of these every year – the Black Keys were there once, way the hell back in 2002, Mumford & Sons were getting there in early 2010 and Alabama Shakes hit that percolation point somewhere near the end of 2011 and into early 2012. That’s a lot of pressure for a young band, to hit that kind of stride, but then, if you took in Vintage Trouble’s balls-out blowout at the respectably packed Highline Monday night, you were at once enthralled and also certain you wouldn’t see them in a room this cozy again.

It’s not overstating things to call the Hollywood-based group one of the more richly entertaining rock ‘n’ soul bands of recent years: a spiritual union of Solomon Burke-style rave ups, James Brown-style theatricality and intensity, and layers of Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Elvis and a galaxy of other throwbacks. But then, they don’t feel like an old-school soul revue: the sound is very immediate, punched up with raw, squalling guitar and pulse-pounding, un-slick rhythms, and unusual detours into swamp rock, rockabilly, neo-soul and smoldering blues. One moment, we’re clap-clapclap-clap-clapclap-ing, another, we’re shaking ass, another, we’re crowd surfing, and another, we’re watching lead guitarist Nalle Colle taffy-pull big, fat notes with roaring-dinosaur Hendrix tones.

Through it all, it’s awfully hard to focus away from frontman Ty Taylor, a born showman and dapper, this evening, in a green checkered suit. If you think you’ve seen Taylor before, you probably have: he’s been a contestant on Rockstar: INXS, sung for Dave Navarro’s Camp Freddy collective, been part of the band Ghost Hounds among many other collaborations. His roots, not surprisingly, include a youth spent singing in a Baptist Church choir, and a drama degree from Carnegie Mellon, and all of these backgrounds show up in his Vintage Trouble persona, where he’s equal parts hype man, rock front man and emcee, and all charisma.

This is not a band afraid of its theatricality. As it hit the stage – to the Big Mama Thornton version of Hound Dog — Vintage Trouble’s four members stood up on the drum riser and shook hands, two pairs at a time, in a sort of rhythmic join-together. They then tore through a high-energy headlining set packed with their best material – the members appearing genuinely surprised at how many of the songs the crowd seemed to know already, from Blues Hand Me Down to Still and Always Will.

Live is the way to hear them; recorded, to these ears, they sound boxed-up and too focused on precision. And if sometimes you wish for a bit more subtlety and depth and maybe not always so much “pow” to cover up weaker songs, you can’t help but be impressed at what a full experience they are.

Fierce as Vintage Trouble were, they had a near-equal for performance swagger in British imports Leogun, who blazed through a 30-minute firecracker of an opening set.

They’re a trio — London lads — but a trio for whom the word “power” is woefully under-selling it. Rock, rock, rock, they did, with plenty of buoyant blues and outsized soul, sounding at times like an even-more-unhinged Led Zeppelin – guitarist and vocalist Tommy Smith is well within Robert Plant territory as a singer – and at others like a mutant spawn of Rory Gallagher and the Darkness, where pummeling, filthy blues licks compete for stage time with cock-rock mischief. It was a half-hour and about seven or eight songs – including stand out single Let’s Be Friends – but it felt like a thorough ass-kicking: hot-skillet blues rock that’d pique fans of Elvis, Skynyrd, Queen or any base in between.


Of note is that Leogun is the first sign-on to Yamaha’s new in-house label, run by Yamaha artist relations boss Chris Gero. Expect to hear more.

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