The crowd had filled the slightly subterranean performance space at Arlene’s Grocery while the first two bands of the night played on Friday, and everyone was ready when the recorded music faded out and That’s Right! began their headlining set a little after 9 P.M. The first sounds from the band were the jazzy guitar licks of “Sally Shotgun,” a swinging, humorous deconstruction of love songs that evolved, as many of the band’s prog and jam rock-inspired numbers do, into a composed chaos of soaring sustains and intricate solos before closing out with a final chorus.
The crowd sipped their Sierra Nevadas and well drinks as the band introduced themselves and the purpose of the night’s show: to celebrate the release of “Legs,” That’s Right!’s first studio-recorded EP. They then launched into those five songs in the order in which they appear on the CD, beginning with the swirling guitars and fuzzy bass of “God of the Gaps,” which straddles the line between the gentle psychedelia of Tame Impala and heavier rock and roll roots music from the late ‘70s and ‘80s.
Guitarists Griffin Novie and Tyler Kamen’s bodies were always in motion while they performed, especially their feet, which danced across the impressive array of pedals before them. Drummer Dylan Bressler and bassist Artie Greenberg kept the all-important rhythm and added flourishes of their own, especially vocally; That’s Right! has four members and four singers, a feature that comes in handy when the band drops into its signature layered call-and-response vocals.
“Layered” is the best single word for the music of That’s Right! The four-man band often sounds like they have six or seven musicians on stage, as their individual instruments shift and criss-cross through the soundscapes they carve between their often stripped-down choruses. The simple joy of a looping solo or extended jam transitioning effortlessly into unity never gets old.
* * *
“Legs” is the first physical product of the band’s two years of playing together as a unit. Its cover functions as an extension of the band’s poly-inspirational philosophy, and is reminiscent of album covers by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Beach House. No fewer than five disembodied legs stick out from a pile of objects which includes a Florida license plate, an old shoe, candy canes, a bisected lemon, sea shells, a rubber ducky, and a pair of guitar picks. That description might make the pile might sound cluttered but there is nothing extraneous there, and the objects fit themselves into a harmony.
The same could be said of the music contained within the slim jewel case. After “God of the Gaps” comes “Tiger Lily,” which showcases the band’s shoegaze influence as well as their layered vocals and clever lyrics (the titular character is “the kind of person who says ‘It’s chilly’ when it’s cold”). From there we get the funky and spacey groove of “Snuff Box,” which is centered around the EP’s most prog-y breakdown, complete with non sequitur vocals weaving through the background. Next comes “Arrest My Head,” the purest rock song on the album, a hybrid of Foo Fighters’ energy and Rush’s lyrical gymnastics.
The EP’s closer is also the highlight, the rolling, jammy, somnambulistic “Nothing.” For seven minutes, That’s Right! brings the energy down a little without losing the loping tightness that defined the previous four songs. Here the vocals take center stage, as Griffin takes the listener through a meditation on sleep and writing. The song’s hook sticks like glue and the breakdowns are nicely varied, including occasional finger snaps and snatches of celestial organ. By the time the song reaches its crescendoing guitar solo and group vocals, That’s Right! has crystalized their complex sound into a singular musical moment that leaves the listener satisfied yet wanting more as it fades out.
* * *
Halfway through their set at Arlene’s Grocery, roadies emerged from behind That’s Right! and threw a couple dozen balloons illuminated by internal LEDs into the crowd, who proceeded to bat them into the air for the rest of the show. These bouncing balls of light worked as extensions of the band’s energy, brightness, and seemingly-unplanned coalescence; they also made the audience feel like a part of the show, as their own motion became a part of the performance. It was a release party, a two-sided celebration, not a victory lap. After two years of playing together, That’s Right! has established an audience, a set of favorite venues around Manhattan, and now an EP that captures their sound. I, for one, am waiting eagerly for the full album.