Club Helsinki Hudson
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Autumn Defense – like Wilco, of which it is an offshoot – is one of the dwindling number of bands who still think the Beatles were onto something. Like the Fab Four before them, they’re a vocal group and a rock ‘n’ roll band at the same time. That may seem obvious or simplistic, but when you really think about it, it’s really kind of rare – or, I should say, it’s rare that a group can take on this mantle and pull it off as well as they do, and as they did in their gorgeous concert at Club Helsinki Hudson on Thursday night.
Autumn Defense serves as a venue for singer-songwriters Pat Sansone and John Stirratt — who serve as foot-soldiers in Jeff Tweedy’s brilliant post-rock group, Wilco. They’ve got some Wilco stuff going on; or rather, occasionally Wilco treads into Autumn Defense territory. (I, for one, can’t wait to see Wilco again, now that I’ve seen Autumn Defense, and see where they fit in with that group, especially live.)
But mostly Autumn Defense is its own thing – a post-Beatles pop-rock group featuring a whirlwind of infectious melodies, sunny harmonies, dazzling guitar textures and honky-tonk piano playing. The group tends toward lightness, relying on chords with suspended fourths and seconds and major-sevenths (you’d know them if you heard them), signifiers of a kind of post-Beach Boys California rock.
It could get treacly – and at times Autumn Defense comes perilously close to crossing the line into treacle, as they do with their awfully America-soundalike “The Swallows of London Town” (and as they did with what one hopes but fears wasn’t an ironic cover of Bob Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” – don’t look it up, you will regret it) – but Stirratt and Sansone balance their affinity for Paul McCartney with a great affection for George Harrison, too, which manifests in some surprising melodic and structural twists and turns.
The group played as a classic foursome with Stirratt on guitars, Sansone alternating on guitar and piano, Greg Wieczorek playing very musical drums and a bassist whose name I think is James Hagerty. They redeem any cheesy tendencies with their alternately soulful and brilliant, radio-ready (if there was such a thing as radio) pop-rock tunes including “Back of My Mind,” “Feel You Now” and “This Thing That I Found.” Look for those three recordings and you’ll see what I mean, except live the group breathes even more, adds extra swing and bounce to the rhythms, and becomes fully three-dimensional.
It doesn’t hurt that Stirratt and Sansone, while not showmen per se, are utterly comfortable and confident onstage – not always the case, even with rising and better-known artists. They know what they’re doing, they know how to entertain, and they make you wanna shout. Which, after all, is what it’s all about.