Midway through The Undisputed Heavyweights’ cacophonous, careening, and compelling performance Friday night, front man Casey Shea found himself sprawled across a table top.
The wild-eyed singer was freshly fatigued from a six-week, cross-country tour with his other band, Sundown. Less than 72 hours after touching down in New York City, and with nary a moment to rehearse — let alone remedy a wicked cough and bone-deep exhaustion — Shea was perched precariously between a table full of giggling co-ed’s martini glasses, microphone in his right hand, red wine in his left.
“I gotta dig my way out of this ditch I’ve gotten myself into,” he cracked before dragging himself to his feet and staggering to the mic stand.
New York City’s finest acoustic-based, Vaudeville-come-Catskill, rock ‘n r ‘n b review was assembled at the venerable — and sold out — East Village venue, Joe’s Pub, to kick off a summer-long residency.
When the band — guitarists Wes Verhoeve and Jeff Jacobson, bassist John Price, and drummer Patrick Carmichael augmented by a trio of horns — took to stage and began vamping on its hilarious lounge parody, “Money,” (“You tell me you love me / But I know what you really want / Money!”) with nary a sign of its front man, , some audience members began to buzz.
Was Shea too ill to perform? Was there some dispute amongst the Undisputed? Was Shea’s two-timing creating some creative tension?
As if on cue, Shea slipped through the black curtain and into the spotlight. With just a swagger and a wave, he dispelled all rumblings. Soon, the wild-maned front man was posing, preening, and promising deliverance.
“Can I get an ‘Amen’?” he asked rhetorically.
The crowd replied with bone rattling gusto, “AMEN!”
The band lurched and swayed through staples, “Bitches Be Trippin’,” “Cold Blooded,” and “Lartigue.” Mild-mannered Jacobson took the helm for his distinctly Doobie Brothers-esque “Back To You” (from his recent self-titled release). All the while, Shea strutted across the stage like a caged tiger, periodically ducking from the spotlight to tug on his bottled water and regain his composure.
While Shea’s soaring tenor and Tasmanian Devil shtick is the band’s proverbial Howitzer, The Heavies come loaded to bear with secret weapons. Jacobson’s solos are staggeringly nimble. Verhoeve’s chugging rhythm grounds both Shea and Jacobsons’ histrionics. Price’s five-string bass lines pop and prod the songs along. And while all three play the Laurel to Shea’s Hardy, the band is the sum of its parts.
Like all great assemblies, the show’s highlight came in the band’s most plaintive moment. “Roll Your Window Down” — like a bridge or a sermon — punctuated the feel-good irreverence of the Heavies’ set with sweet, mournful melancholy.
Tomorrow is not today
And this is getting hard
And you’ve got nowhere to go
‘Til it’s too late
You’re lost in bright light
Soon, The Heavyweights had done the impossible: moved a room full of jaded New Yorkers to sing along.
In the end, then, Shea dug himself out just fine. Standing there drenched in sweat before the adoring crowd, shirttails untucked and tie asunder, his mashed-up Sinatra/Bono/Brown mug gave way to a grateful smile.
Anyway, Shea doesn’t dig ditches. The talented singer/songwriter and riveting performer scales mountains of apathy, then stands on the cliff’s edge between granite and space, and leans forward. Watching him twitch, trip, and twirl there on stage is an exciting thing. Knowing that he’ll always land on his feet is more exhilarating still.
Editor’s note: The above review was published to MTV News’ new live concert blog, You R Here.