Live Review: Damn Tall Buildings

Rockwood Music Hall  New York, NY

Contact: [email protected]

Web: damntallbuildings.com

Players. Max Capistran, guitar, banjo, vocals; Sasha Dubyk, upright bass, vocals; Avery Ballotta, fiddle

Material: Although bluegrass is at the heart of their music, other influences include jazz, swing, and ragtime. Portraying what might be considered the mundane occurrences of everyday life, the trio gives importance to these moments so often overlooked, conveying sincerity in mood and messaging. 

In “Dark Window Panes,” a pure bluegrass number, an energetic up-tempo beat contrasts a more melancholy sentiment: Dark window panes/everything looks the same/Deep as an oil stain in your pocket/Layin’ in the morning sun illuminates everyone/ But I couldn’t see much of any at all. Though there is lament in the lyric, the music has a joyful vibe. Dubyk, who is also a painter with a passion for buying shoes, sums it up in “Painter”: I got some new shoes baby and I’m feelin’ fine/And it looks like we got blue skies comin’ up and down the line.

Musicianship: Performing bluegrass without the requisite chops is a potential trainwreck. But this trio is so technically proficient that they can let go and play with abandon, fostering a strong connection with the listener. Guitarist Capistran, the band’s glue, lays the foundation. Dubryk, the lone female voice in the outfit, brings depth and texture to the overall sound, while fiddler Ballotta adds the dazzle.

Performance: Capistran, acting frontman, excelled at weaving casual banter with song setup. At other times he simply opened a window into their lives and creative process. It’s no wonder that before the band played venues, they were busking on street corners where they honed the ability to become a tight unit while attracting listeners. In that setting, so much is dependent on grabbing the attention of passersby that you must work harder than when you have a rapt audience in a club. 

This performance, billed as the release show for their new album, Sleeping Dogs, consisted of mostly original material, but a couple of heavy-hitting covers would be a treat to hear, especially coming from a band of this caliber. However, they did close the show with a cover of “I’ll Not Be A Stranger,” a perfect way to end.

Summary: Aspiring performers could take a lesson from this band. They demonstrate a profound understanding of the performer/audience relationship as well as the give and take with each other, fully enjoying their time on stage. The band recently locked in a residency at Pete’s Candy store in Brooklyn this coming February. 

Photo by Mark Shiwolich