Emanuel & the Fear
The Bowery Poetry Club
January 9th 2009
Another cold night in January had me waiting in Sláinte on Bowery in Manhattan. The idea was to drink a pint until 10 PM, when the doors next door at the Bowery Poetry Club would open. Unfortunately the ass-hole of a bar also served as a reminder why exactly I dislike drinking in Manhattan. Eagerly leaving Sláinte, I encountered an entrance line strung along what seemed to be the length of the Bowery block.
Inside, the music space swarmed with devotees waiting for Emanuel & the Fear to take stage. The Age of Rockets opened with awkward audience conversation and what made for an interesting display of Ben Gibbard influenced pop. The crowd became thicker and thicker; the room teemed with Pabst Blue Ribbon armed teenagers and care free couples. The room’s energy was nostalgic. It has been a long time since I’ve been so intimately surrounded by bright eyed excitement. Too often these days, any sign of appreciation by the audience is taken to be social ineptness on their part. While sharing not even the remotest amount of context, the experience reminded me of being in my hometown, watching some unknown band at the Culture Center, or any number of bands down at the trailer park. The atmosphere was electric, from the girl offering herbal downers to silhouetted smiles dancing through the powdery color of neon light.
Emanuel & the Fear populated the stage like an army of musicians. The 11 band members took their places and readied their violins, guitars, and horns for the opening song off the night’s featured EP, The Rain Becomes the Clouds. In contrast to the clean and polished EP track, their live rendition snared the audience with its palpable emotion. Emanuel’s voice, while tremendous on record, cut through the room with commanding appeal. A common thought throughout the show was that the band works best live. They are built for performance. Comfortable Prison and encore closer Jimme’s Song exemplified this best. Both begin soft and fragile with punctuated vocal pauses. They then become, to different degrees, voluminous and driven. The self-titled EP has many great elements, but Emanuel & the Fear require a space that allows the instruments to differentiate themselves. The studio seems to have compressed the tones and notes. The less densely stratified textures of their live performance elevate the band from their already excellent yet humble talent. Their mix of electro-pop and orchestral quality composition are a sight to see. As for Emanuel & the Fear’s intense take on Radiohead’s The National Anthem, you’ll just have to see that for yourself.