JJ Wilde and The Blue Stones Pour A Rock Exhibition at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

February 19th at Rough Trade in Brooklyn was a night for straight-up rock and roll – no hip hop toss-ins, no pop sentiments, no funk bass lines; just unapologetic, in your face rock and roll.  The night started off with JJ Wilde and her band. Wilde is from Ontario, and at only 27, commands the stage with the raspy voice and authentic and impulsive presence of a much older performer. I happened to spot her, in her pink double-breasted pants suit minutes before she hit the stage in the record store section of the venue. She quickly picked out a CBGB tee shirt. Next thing I knew she popped up on stage donning a freshly DIY cropped incarnation of the shirt under the suit – it doesn’t get much more rock and roll than that.

She tore through her nine-song opening set without even a minor dip in energy or connection to her songs, her band, or her audience. She was flanked by two guitarists, a drummer and a bassist who alternated between 4 string and keys. But as “out there” as her bass player was with Matrix-inspired backbends and full-on “bass face” with eyes rolled back into his skull, there was no upstaging Wilde. She demanded the attention of a sold-out room of Blue Stones (the headliner) devotees and quickly seized it. She spent the entire 50-minute set flinging herself into every cymbal crash of each song, not because she wanted to, or because she thought we’d think it was cool, but simply because it was essential to her being. 

The songs are compelling in their recorded instances, but they don’t come close to the impact and intensity and sheer rock and roll-ness of hearing them live. This was especially true of the live versions of “Wired”,” Cold Shoulders” and “The Rush” which seemed to somehow add another row of teeth. The extra intensity was even more apparent on “Funeral for a Lover” (a song about someone very close to her with life-threatening mental health issues) which she introduced by saying, “this song makes people uncomfortable, but I’m going to sing it anyway because the only way to remove the stigma of mental health issues is to talk about them and shine light on them.” The room grew quiet and trailed her through the painful memories expressed with lyrics like, “Well you know that it breaks my heart; Now I’m up on the phone; I’m not with you to check you’re still breathing; And it hurts, yea it hurts my heart; It has nothing to do with me; Can’t make you wanna keep breathing”. She wasn’t the only one crying at the end of that song.

This spring, she will be on three separate tours with Jimmy Eat World, Rival Sons and The Struts. So, catch her in small clubs while you can, they won’t hold her for long!

The Blue Stones is a hard-hitting, power rock duo also from Ontario comprised of Tarek Jafar who sings and alternates hollow body guitars (a Les Paul and an Epiphone) and Justin Tessier who plays drums and sings back-up vocals. It is nearly impossible to review the show of a guitar/drum rock and roll configuration without comparing them to the Black Keys or Royal Blood, but if one accepts that challenge, perhaps a band like The Record Company could come to mind. Every two-piece rock band must decide what not to play. Thankfully, the Blue Stones decided to forsake the high end of the register and focus on the bottom. The band continued the evening’s rock theme and powered through a 12-song set in about an hour and 15 minutes. The band was on a mission and the songs came fast and on each other’s heels with very little banter in between. The one story Tarek told did an excellent job of framing the band’s identity. He recounted shopping their first demo tape to every radio station and agent they knew. They got almost no response, and when they followed up with one of those radio stations, they were told that there wasn’t anything the station could do with the material because it was too poppy. They decided that day to make sure they never had that sort of response again. To their credit, every song they played was firmly in the rock and roll swim lane and seemed authentic to who they are individually and as a band. 

They played a number of songs from their Black Holes album of 2015 and sprinkled in a few new ones. One of the newer ones, “Grim”, stood out as it incorporated a recorded bass line. Normally, adding a recorded element as essential as a bass line into a live performance poses issues, but it really worked in this case, and added a bit of sonic variety without sacrificing intensity or chaining them to a piece of recorded music. They let it all hang out for their last song, “Rolling”, which featured bottom-heavy guitar and drum solos and whipped the crowd into their most enthusiastic show of support. Unfortunately, it also negated the opportunity for an encore as it left the drum kit in pieces. 

The Blue Stones should be back in the summer supporting their new album. If they come your way, pay them a visit – they are certainly worth a listen.


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