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Kentucky's Scourge and Chicago siren
deliver an evening of sweet and powerful music

The Scourge of the Sea / Martha Berner
Chicago, IL
Mar. 24, 2007
The Scourge of the Sea
The Scourge of the Sea
Martha Berner
Martha Berner
The Scourge of the Sea
The Scourge of the Sea

Story and photos by Tony Bonyata

Anyone only familiar with The Scourge of the Sea's remarkable full-length debut album Make Me Armored, and not their live show, may have expected to see a folk-rock band delivering their many lovely songs in a hushed, gentle manner at their show last Saturday night at Martyrs'. And while the sparse but attentive Northside crowd did witness the Lexington, KY-based four-piece running through a good portion of their sweet, melodic numbers, it was their performance - one that added powerful dynamics, multi-instrumental dexterity and even, at times, that uneasy feeling of wondering if that guy on the high-rise ledge is going to jump - that packed even more muscle onto the frail frame of these beautiful compositions.

The core trio of Andrew English (vocals, guitar and keys), Justin Craig (guitar, keys, drums, vocals) and Robby Cosenza (drums, vocals, guitar) - the latter two also from the rock band The Apparitions - were joined by Dickie Haydon [Petticoat, Petticoat] on bass, who proved a strong addition to the revolving backline of this band.

Along with unveiling two compelling new numbers - the poignant as-of-yet-untitled opening track, complete with down-home harmonies and a wonderful guitar lead from Craig that deftly mixed indie intelligence with a decidedly Southern drawl, as well as the intoxicating slow country-burn of "No Darling" - the quartet also revamped and flexed through better known numbers such as "My Sweet One," "Goodbye Darkness" and "Waterwings." Playing musical chairs throughout, Cosenza and Craig swapped guitar and percussive duties, while English and Craig traded guitars for keys at varying intervals.

The whole affair gave their brief 45-minute set a wild, organic feel - both through the broad sound of the varying musicians and raucous stage histrionics. While English, the band's primary lead singer, has a soft-but-sweet, low-key demeanor (both as a vocalist and frontman), when he took to the keys Cosenza emerged from behind his kit to front his self-penned tune "Chocolate Chips," a ramshackled, bluesy dirge that, by song's end, erupted into a stomping, unbridled slice of country-fried punk pushed to the brink by Craig's own explosive style of drumming and Cosenza's sour-mash guitar tunings and impassioned, pulpit-pounding harmonizing.

On record The Scourge of the Sea's music couldn't be sweeter, on stage, however, this Kentucky quartet also mixes in spontaneity, a power surge of energy and even an underlying element of danger; elements that would all definitely be welcomed on their next recorded effort.

Chicago-based singer/songwriter Martha Berner opened the evening with a ridiculously short 25-minute set. Regardless of the truncated time slot the musician packed in a wealth of emotionally-charged acoustic numbers from both her latest four-song E.P. Ten Tiny Little Pieces and 2005 full-length debut ...this side of yesterday.

Despite her demure, yet undeniably hip appearance (clad in black tie, vest and shock of Dylan curls spilling from underneath her brown tweed cap) Berner's voice was crisp and commanding - turning from a reflective, heartfelt whisper to raspy growl at a moments notice.

As if The Scourge's Cosenza didn't have enough musical positions to fill later that evening, he hopped up on stage at the start of Berner's single "A Town Called Happiness" to help flesh out the spirited number with some light country snare brushwork.
The Scourge of the Sea
The Scourge of the Sea
Martha Berner
Martha Berner

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