Monday, July 6, 2009

Shakedown at the Majestic

The first time I saw Shakedown at the Majestic, I was so late I missed everything but the last song. Who knew such a good band would go on before 10 pm? Luckily for me Shakedown has since played several shows around the city, and I've even managed to be there on time for a few of them. I'm definitely not going to miss this Friday's performance at Webster Hall. These guys have got a great sound!

The biggest thing that surprised me about Shakedown is how solid they sound for a band that's only really been together since November, when after playing their first show under the name Best Summer Ever, three friends Chris Vermillion, Stephen Frandsen and Taylor Nimtz headed to a burger joint for dinner and emerged as Shakedown at the Majestic. It's a name they hope will conjure a fifties vibe, the same sort of nostalgia and retro rock they aim for in their nascent sound. It's a name that fits, seeing as how the band-members cite such old time influences as Chuck Berry, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. The band often describes their music as "powerpop with a fifties vibe." Power is right--there are shades of the Beatles in tunes so catchy you find yourself humming them the next day, and pop is there for sure, in the bubblegum beat of songs like "Bria," sung with all the earnestness of a 1960s boy-band like the Turtles or the Who before they all went psychedelic. They are often compared to Weezer. But, adding to the strong melodies and tight vocals is something else--I know I heard a little reggae and a touch of rhumba in a few of the songs, spiciness delivered with a suit-and-tie seriousness that separates Shakedown from their nearest comparisons, current bands like Ra Ra Riot and Modern Skirts. But not too serious. Shakedown at the Majestic knows how to rock the house. With Stephen leading the audience in body rolls, the music is definitely danceable. In fact, I dare you to hold still. (Shake it, don't break it!)

Like most of the young New Yorkers that I know, the members of Shakedown at the Majestic have been in the city a few years, having initially come in pursuit of careers that have nothing to do with being musicians. Taylor, now with a day job in finance, played drums in various college garage bands and "I always thought I'd grow out of it," he says. "But as life kicked me in the teeth here in the city, I realized playing the drums was cool and I needed to get back into it." He and Chris started jamming for fun, and formed briefly as Suede Silhouette. Then Stephen joined in, things clicked, the feel was right. Shakedown at the Majestic features Chris Vermillion on guitar and lead vocals, Stephen Frandsen on bass and vocals, and Taylor Nimtz on drums and also providing vocals. It is a vibrant combination.

Chris Vermillion has been writing songs since his days as a drummer in a high school grunge band. Musical composition is important to him, and despite growing up in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, he's actually more drawn to Brazilian bossa nova, naming Antonio Carlos Jobim one of his strongest inspirations. As Shakedown's primary songwriter, he rhapsodizes about chord progressions, which is where he'll start when writing a song. Lyrics come later, after the substance of the piece has been created through "catchy, stick-in-your head" melodies and harmonies layered to perfection. While he can be protective of his song-craft, more and more these days he is sharing songwriting efforts with Stephen and Taylor, enjoying the collaboration of jamming with band-mates and letting the songs coalesce as a team effort. Building on its solid powerpop foundation, Shakedown at the Majestic continues to exhibit a distinctive blend of rock and roll, punk, doo-wop, and complete individuality.

Definitely right now the band's focus seems to be on developing their sound and their live performance. When asked about goals, they reply modestly about just wanting to play better, perform better, give the audience a better show. Practice is important to them; they take their music seriously. And, though they are taking things one step at a time, working first to perfect their craft before quitting their day jobs and going on the road in search of fame and fortune, none of the guys are averse to the idea of making music full time if the moment becomes right. Well, the moment seems to be getting closer. With a steadily growing fan base, plenty of opportunities to perform around the city, a debut recording in the works, and the chance to win a trip to Germany as part of this Friday's Emergenza Music Festival, Shakedown at the Majestic is poised to become a major player in New York's independent music scene. Keep an eye on these guys--they will not disappoint.

Come see Shakedown at the Majestic rock Webster Hall this Friday, July 10! Bring your dance moves. You know I'll be there.

Shakedown At The Majestic - Please Lucia! from Back Porch Media on Vimeo.

Photos by Jess White. Visit her photoblog.

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