Joe Steinhardt's current band, Modern Hut, has a secret, as does his first band, For Science and the secret is this: Steinhardt has a vision of how life is lived and remains true to it with a rigorous intellectual honestly that doesn't lift the light: I paraphrase, "maybe I wasn't made to like being alive" he sang on one number Saturday night. Modern Hut performed a high wire act that refused to kowtow to audience or even itself.
But first, Melissa and Paul, a pretty darn good blues rock duo. A reverse White Stripes with the guy on drums, claims my friend Bert Contestible I hear more of the swampiness of the CrampsBert notes that when you first see the band, you really don't know what to expect and it is a surprise when this pretty young girl, the Melissa in question, lets loose with a wail and a scream. The first song "Fire" is Ramonesy rocker, the fourth song "Distractions" a hard rocker than ends up as a bluesy jams. Bluesy jams is Melissa and Paul (who also call themselves Vice Versa) reason for being. The set is a touch sloppy but that's about my only complaint. Paul is a powerhouse drummer who seems intent on letting no hole go uncovered. The audience love em for excellent reason: they are a hard rocking energetic whirligig of riffing.
Marissa Pasternoster of Screaming Females, who sings on the at the mixing stage of Modern Hut's excellent debut album (what I've heard is awesome) Generic Gift's "St. Louis" , is in the crowd, and a sure crowd pleasing move would be to have brought her up for a song. Joe doesn't. Instead he plugs in his acoustic guitar and plays a half hours of dark, beautiful crafted horror stories. With For Science, the tinge of disaster flecked romances could be dismissed as sophomoric hi-jinx, in Modern Hut they simply can't and more importantly, Joe doesn't want them to. If you are writing about a romance you have your choices. You can write about the beginning, the middle or the end. Joe write's about the end. Constantly. For him, romance is all "drive by truckers and virgin suicides". Well not all, there is a darkly humorous strain throughout, on a song he doesn't play tonight he writes: "She said I had no direction, she caught me at the intersection". A happy song about a sad thing.
Joe has PLENTY of happy songs about sad things, but tonight he isn't playing them . he turns back to For Science for two songs, "Headaches" and "just Pray". Both are heartbreakers. Otherwise, he can't, he doesn't want to, get away from suicide and moving along. Joe has trouble with melody, not writing them which it feels like he can do at will, but singing them. I've heard some of Generic Gift and the problem with his voice is fixed perfectly on record; on stage he is what he is. It is part of an uncompromising stance ino his performance. I don't buy Joe was too shy not to speak to the crowd if he felt like it. He didn't choose to, he didn't want to break the mood. even if made the songs easier for an audience who hadn't heard any of them before.,If sweetened, it would have gone down easier but without it the songs accumaltive effect. The set repayed close listening with a sense of wonder and horror, a way of seeing "Time" (another song). In a sense it moves between a hippie dystopia and a Camus' sense of nothingness. . But couldn't he have given those who don't know his work a placebo,, throw in a cover of "Purple Rain" or something
This is the third time of seen Modern Hut live.
The first was tiny set at Mercury Lounge, with a drummer and an electric guitar, that roared for a bunch of friends. But in retrospect, didn't present his songs accurately.
The second was at a New Brunswick basement gig last summer, where a good humored Joe joked around with his friends and performed an easygoing , fun set.
The next time I catch him will be at Muse And Music in September.
With this performance, Modern Hut are what it is. Powerful, moving, unhappy but ultimately cathartic songs, the hope not in the lyric but in the sharing of the pain. He performs "Moving On", "Time", "Negative Thinking" -a remorseful, powerful, self-involved set that makes Modern Hut's case very well. Did it lack shading, yeah it lacked shading, but his songs are so strong it doesn't need shading. Could he use somebody else to cover his material? Maybe. I am OK with it the way it is. If you dig deep you will hear: "I know it causes pain but all I have to say is maybe it will all work out someday…" Hope enough, righ
Is he great? Yes, Joe Steinhardt is an astounding songwriter. Modern Hut? The album will kill but between going to college and running Don Giovanni Records, time is a true generic gift. He should form a real band and go on tour.
Till then the Muse And Music set in September will be a must see.
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