A few months ago I reviewed an intimate Justin Sullivan solo acoustic show that thoroughly blew me away. Well, last weekend I had the opportunity to see him perform with his full band as they tore their way through a primarily electric set, which was entirely different, but no less compelling than the folk performance in January.
New Model Army are a fairly unknown entity in the United States. Their catalog of ten studio albums are amazingly consistent, more so than almost anyone I can think of. They never seemed to reach popularity here probably because they are much too smart for the mainstream. Their music is blistering with passion, intelligence, and anger, three things that popular culture eschews.
Opening with "Here Comes the War," from 1993s brilliant The Love of Hopeless Causes, the tone of the evening was set. "Today as you listen to this song another 394,000 children were born into this world/They break like waves of hunger and desire upon these eroded shores/Carrying the curses of history and a history yet unwritten/The oil burns in thick black columns/The buzz saws echo through the forest floor." That was just the beginning of things to come.
They played several songs from their latest release, last year's High, such as "No Mirror, No Shadow," and "Rivers." All of the new songs sounded great live and they fit in seamlessly with the older material. Sullivan introduced "Island," from the epic 2005 record Carnival, as being about Easter Island. This was particularly interesting because the song captures such a sense of loneliness and paranoia. It is no wonder since the lyrics are reflective of an extinct culture. With lines like "Now in the silver grey dome of the sky/The birds fly home for winter/And we all come down to stare across the waves/We've got to get off the island," the absolute feeling of abandonment is captured.
There was also an emphasis on their best known album, Thunder and Consolation, from 1989. They performed powerful renditions of "Green and Grey," "225," and even closed the show with the rarely played "I love the World," a vitriolic piece of sardonic beauty. Justin and the band were thoroughly inspired throughout the set as they poured their hearts into the performance. Two songs in the encore that I was most surprised and delighted to hear were "Bad Old World" and "Master Race." Both of those tracks are not unearthed much these days and the couple alone made my night. However, this is not to say that the rest of the show was not exceptional. The full setlist:
Here Comes the War
No Mirror, No Shadow
Into the Wind
Get Me Out
One of the Chosen
Green & Grey
Bad Old World
I Love the World