Each month, Communion NYC hosts a lineup of up-and-coming musicians in the basement of Union Hall in Brooklyn, NY. The Communion blueprint began in 2006 in West London, with a number of cities now hosting monthly Communion showcases.
I attended October’s Communion NYC event, though a situation with a couple of unrefrigerated scallops caused me to miss the first band, Elijah & The Moon. I showed up right when Pony Boy, the stage name of Marchelle Bradanini and her backing band, took the stage. Pony Boy lit up the room with her sassy attitude and ethereal, smooth vocals. Though she opened the set behind a hollow-body electric guitar, she truly shone during tracks like “Not in This Town” when she stepped out from behind the guitar and allowed herself to be more loose, more free with her performance and movements.
Unfortunately, the venue let Pony Boy down. I’ve eaten pizzas larger than the stage, which doesn’t bode well for its fitting the five-member band, one of which played the pedal steel guitar during the set. The disproportionately small stage caused Pony Boy to sound jumbled and discordant, the backing instrumentation often completely blowing out Bradanini’s vocals. Such execution flaws can’t be blamed on the band; they displayed their skill in numerous moments of true brilliance. Bradanini’s harmonica break in “The Murder Ballad of Carrie Lee,” the guitar player’s solo in the second to last song—the music proved full of potential, the catchy, funky country-inspired sound equal parts intriguing and satisfying.
The next act, Albatross, benefited much more from the stage’s size. Adam Stockdale and his travel guitar engulfed the stage, filling the room with his raspy, folky voice and pop guitar harmonies. Throughout his set, Albatross faced a number of technical problems, from inadvertently muted strings to dealing with a sore throat to having to retune his guitar after the second song. If anything, such obstacles endeared him to the crowd even more, his frank interjections giving way to soulful, effortless tracks. Albatross led off with “Puppet on a String,” an ultra-catchy, fun track that showed off his vocals and drew in the crowd. “Do You Think of Me” was another hit, intensely slow, but still catchy enough to be able to sing along with after just the first chorus. By his last song, “No Matter What,” Albatross had the audience in the palm of his hand, the entire room dead silent while he played.
Next to hit the stage was Trixie Whitley, known for her jazzy, indie voice and charming stage presence. Whitley’s set was an ever-evolving spectacle; she moved effortlessly between the guitar and keyboards and midway through brought another guitarist on stage who helped to round out the sound. On the second to last song, Whitley stomped her feet to the beat while strumming, creating an even fuller and jazzier sound.
Whitley’s an extremely skilled musician with a hauntingly beautiful voice, but her performance style often did her talents a disservice. When acting as lead guitarist during songs, like on “Fourth Corner,” Whitley is not as animated or charismatic. She is clearly more comfortable behind the keyboard, and the timbre of the keys fit better with her voice than the jarring harshness of the distortion and reverb she uses on her guitar. “Breathe You In My Dreams” was the highlight of her set for me, a perfect storm of all of Whitley’s best musical talents. She‘s behind the keyboards, and the song has a jazzier style than most of the other songs, which works better with her voice. On the more indie pop tracks, Whitley pulls back on her vocals, opting for breathy and ethereal instead of soulful and rich. On “Breathe You In My Dreams,” she really goes for it, her voice soaring and injecting the entire song with her passion and emotion.
There were more acts after Whitley, but the scallops threatened to make a come back so I spared everyone and excused myself. Even with missing the lineups bookends, Communion NYC put on an amazing show, putting the spotlight on a number of deserving artists.