We recently had the distinct pleasure to premiere an exclusive early stream of Atlanta-based Big Brutus‘ sophomore album, The Odd Willow, ahead of the official release date on March 5th. While preparing the premiere article, The Odd Willow quickly became one of my personal favorite albums I’ve heard so far in 2017. The album unveils it’s dense layers with each listen: whether it be a different song becomes a standout, newly discovered nuances, or just certain lines start to jump at you. Stylistically, the album jumps around: you immediately hear NOLA influence with a big band style, there is gorgeous acoustic folk harmonies, spacious sonic sounds, rousing electric guitar riffs and more as singer-songwriter Sean Bryant explores death and mortality. The album really is fantastic, but then the next question became how would this big ambitious album translate live?
Big Brutus is really Sean Bryant and a collective of talented friends that may be playing with him live. There have been plenty of solo shows along the way, but on the night of March 5th for the Big Brutus Album Release Show at The EARL in East Atlanta Village, Sean brought the full 7 piece Big Brutus band. On this night Big Brutus was Sean Bryant, Ryan York (former Slang, now Man Up, Yancey) and Grant Taylor (former Slang, now Towers), Trey Hawkins (Poison Coats), Kyle Bennett and Scott Box (Chelsea Shag), and Alex Nicholson (Tarnation).
The energy in the room that night was high, full of family and friends there to support Big Brutus. A lot of times these type of shows can end up being somewhat of a dud. While tons of family and friends are THERE to show their support, that support is more just showing up, and then ruining the show for the other attendees as they spend their time catching up with old friends. While there was certainly a lot of love and the catching up of friends throughout the room, as soon as Big Brutus took the stage, the crowd was in sync with the band and what was happening on stage. And how could they not be?
Starting with the first two songs on the album “Death” and “Scenery”, the band immediately grabbed the crowd’s attention. On “Scenery” you could really see it all come together on stage, this was no rag tag band thrown together for a show; this was a group of tight knit and talented as hell friends playing in unison as Sean crooned up front. With every perfectly place drum beat, the song grows and grows into an almost rock opera, showing each member of the band as a key piece in a sonic blast.
From there, Big Brutus mixed in a few songs from their debut album (Tiny Box), while playing most of The Odd Willow. “Bury Bone” showed off Sean’s skills on the electric guitar. Rachel Wright from Villain Family came on stage to sing “Louise” live with Sean, like she did on the recorded album. The pair sounded like they’ve been working together for years with their voices perfectly in sync. Closing out the night, they ended with the album closer “Tradition”, including the samples of a 1979 Jimmy Carter speech you hear on the recorded version, leaving the audience breathless. But that only lasted a few as Sean thanked the crowd, the clapping grew louder, demanding one more. Of course, Sean was happy to oblige, bringing pop songstress Chelsea Shag out of the audience for their duet on (Tiny Box) – “Live Together (Die Alone)”.
If I’m being honest, this show was one of the first shows I’ve seen this year that gave me that “concert high” that makes live music so addicting. Big Brutus really put on a fantastic display of stunning melancholy, with spectacular musicianship, providing those in attendance a full experience that couldn’t be denied. Everything I previously thought about Big Brutus’s new album The Odd Willow was not only confirmed in this live full band setting, but my expectations were exceeded.
Now Sean is about to tour the country on his bike, playing some shows along the way, while raising money for the International Rescue Committee for the next few months. I for one can’t wait to see what’s next and how this experience affects Big Brutus in the future. There’s no doubt he has a lot more to say.
More photos of Big Brutus by Mike Gerry: