Live Reviews - The Contenders at Joe's Pub

Mark Shiwolich The Contenders 4

The Players: Jay Nash, guitar, vocals; Josh Day, drums, backup vocals.

Material: Jay Nash and Josh Day met over a decade ago in Los Angeles. Discovering they had similar musical tastes, their collaboration seemed inevitable. They have joined forces with their brand new EP Meet the Contenders. The songs are Americana at the heart of it, but contain elements of straight-ahead rock. True to the storytelling model that Americana often draws from, “Lincoln 1958” is set to a haunting arpeggiated guitar line that immediately pulls you in although to a somewhat vague storyline depicting a dark, possessive and controlling male character. The words sit nicely on the music but more specifics as to why the relationship is shrouded in darkness or why this woman is drawn to this man would be even more compelling. The title track (deriving from the band’s name) is an up-tempo countryesque creation in cut time with a soulful message that captures the spirit of rugged individualism and perseverance in the face of opposition.

Musicianship: Nash and Day have been described as musicians' musicians and rightfully so. They are true to their musical influences and are driven by the song. Nash is lead vocalist with a style reminiscent of Tom Petty and a vocal timbre close to Bruce Springsteen. Adding Day to the mix fills out the duo sonically, suggesting a larger band on stage. They harmonize well, rounding out the vocal landscape.

Performance: Showcasing their sense of humor, the duo often made quips about how they were under-rehearsed, which was charming one time but after several mentions it seemed incongruous with how well they actually performed. No one would have suspected it if it hadn’t been pointed out, since their collective experience as performers stood them in good stead. Overall this act demonstrated a strong mutual connection and subsequently engaged the packed room of listeners. Fans got more than their money’s worth; a couple of songs less would have still left them satisfied, especially since the majority of the music had a similar vibe. They did, however, play two full-out rock songs, which brought more dimension to the set.

Summary: Jay Nash and Josh Day, both skilled and experienced performers, have succeeded in pulling off a fuller band sound with only two musicians. Though seemingly comfortable on stage they could rein in some of their between-song chat, perhaps designating one of the two as the “go to” front man. Cutting two or three songs from the set would make for a tighter show since the sound doesn’t differ drastically from song to song.

– Ellen Woloshin