On Saturday, January 18th, a band from Columbus, Ohio quietly assembled on one side of the record store. Whether they were digging through the vast record selection, browsing the Nirvana pictorial installment upstairs, or checking out some of the other unique “exhibits” in the warehouse, the NYC Rough Trade-ers didn’t seem to notice what was happening. But slowly, as guitars were being picked up and wooden boxes were being stood on, a small crowd amassed. Kids, their parents, Brooklynites, and music-lovers from across the board crowded into a small nook of Rough Trade NYC, preparing to hear a free acoustic set from a band many of them had never heard of (and maybe didn’t even know were performing that day).
Saintseneca at Rough Trade NYC
The Rough Trade warehouse was filled with an eerie silence, enough so that listeners and onlookers could hear Saintseneca frontman Zac Little say “Hi. We’re Saintseneca.” And with the facial hair of an old timey, late 1800s boxer and the build of a young, possibly malnourished teen, he strummed his mandolin into the first track, “God Bones”, from the self-titled 2009 EP. As Little admits “I couldn’t tell you why I lie like I do,” the rest of the band jumps to his aid in harmony, “Sometimes I’m not sure who I am,” all the while keeping beat with boots against wooden boxes underfoot. At this point, I’m sure, anyone who hadn’t heard of Saintseneca before was glad they had and anyone who had already heard of them…well, they were still glad they had.
Unlike many live acoustic acts, Saintseneca is able to create a full sound while remaining true to its acoustic nature in the strictest, rawest sense of the term. The band’s true power, as evidenced during their live rendition of the 2011 single “Acid Rain,” comes from Zac Little’s confidently nervous croon, filtered through a curled mustache and matched in strength by heavy synchronized kicks from the whole band. All this, complemented by the multi-instrumentality of each member as they exchange guitars, a mandolin, and even what I believe was a Turkish balgama throughout the set.
Keeping the talking to a minimum – a very, very bare minimum – Saintseneca continued through their catalog, playing a good amount from their 2011 debut album Last, which can only be described as stomp heavy folk art. But they also took some time to shine upon a newer sound they’ve been developing for their upcoming 2014 follow-up, Dark Arc. Off of the Uppercutter single, the band jumped into “Visions,” a faster paced, pop-punk styled folk song exploring a young man’s spirituality (or delusion, who knows?). Vastly different yet vaguely reminiscent of the previous songs, “Visions” had the crowd bumping their heads and grooving their feet.
Slowing it down a few notches, Little took a moment to himself to play the silently chilling “Beasts,” allowing his fellow band members a chance to step off of their wooden boxes and join the crowd. Little’s voice whimpers and wavers but in the most deliberate manner, forgiving it as it cracks within its range. The minimalist blend of light acoustic strumming and Little’s rustic vocal delivery draped a chill over the crowd, myself included, leaving us ready and wanting for warmth on the next two tracks “Last” and “Bloodbath.” Only taking a moment to thank everyone for coming, Little and the band wasted no time and jumped into their final tune, “James,” which had Saintseneca fans, new and old, humming along.
Saintseneca played a full show later that night at Baby’s All Right, along with tourmates LVL UP. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend (on that underage struggle until next week) but seeing them live and unplugged at Rough Trade NYC reminded me again why Saintseneca is a true acoustic band, and one of my favorite live acts to see. No mics, no amps – just Zac Little’s folky croon mixed with strumming of strings and stomping of feet.
Article by Arpan Somani