For the lead singer in a rock and roll band, energy can come out at a live gig in one of two ways—in a nervous, self-deprecating way that makes the audience nervous too, or it can come out in a harder, faster, stronger way that grabs the audience with such a magnetic presence and puts them in great awe. Though the same can’t necessarily be said for other bands that played at Mercury lounge last Thursday night, Emanuel, of Brooklyn band Emanuel and the Fear, definitely fell into the latter category, energizing the audience with a level of enthusiasm and commitment that I’ve rarely seen before. Even with a backing band of ten musicians, Emanuel stood out starkly as he took on the roles of band director, ringleader and maybe even mad scientist.
“The more the merrier” really should be the band’s slogan, as the 11-piece band, consisting of keys, two guitars, drums, bass, trombone, trumpet, flute, cello, and two violins, produced a wonderfully lush, dynamic, wall of sound. Just as the Arcade Fire discovered, there really is something fantastic about adding orchestral string sounds to rock music.
But Emanuel seems to enjoy mixing things up too. While certain songs were big, full, loud and in-your-face, others consisted simply of a duet between Emanuel on acoustic guitar and right hand (wo)man Liz Hanley on violin. During these sparser, acoustic sets is when you think, “Wait, is he Irish?” and comparisons can be drawn to Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan.
The hit of the evening was certainly, “Jimmie’s Song,” which is a fantastic, building rock song that has the commanding phrasing and urgency of rap music. In the chorus, Emanuel repeats over and over, “I don’t want to do nothing but be in a rock band/I don’t wanna get a job, I don’t wanna be a man.” And even though this is apparently a story about Jimmie, it seems like some of these lyrics could apply to Emanuel and himself too.