Hoots & Hellmouth Rock City Winery

Hoots & Hellmouth are four Philadelphia guys getting down to business.  And that business is playing some serious music.  They don’t go on stage to crack jokes or talk about their days; they are there to rock.
Playing to a full room at City Winery, these guys made the most of every minute of their 90 minute set.  There was very little banter with the audience nor was there much interaction between them on stage; they even went so far as to bleed a couple of songs right into one another.  And yet nothing about the performance felt rushed.  
As performers, they have a very relaxed and humble energy.  This quality extended itself to singer Sean Hoots’ diction, which made it slightly difficult at times to understand the lyrics of the upbeat bluesy songs.  This was easily overlooked since, as with most standard blues songs, the lyrics are cyclical and it is the rhythms and the melodies that really drive the song.  And for a band like Hoots & Hellmouth, with perfectly tight rhythms and contagious melody lines, the lyrics become only a small part of a much larger, well-oiled machine.
The blues, as a genre, is so broad it is slightly overwhelming.  With their guitar, banjo, mandolin, keys, electric guitar and drumset, Hoots & Hellmouth are coloring all around outside the lines of what blues music is thought to be.  The songs have that infectious, toe-tapping 12-bar structure, groovy syncopated rhythms and the intrigue of bent blues notes.  Even Sean Hoots (on guitar) and Robert Berliner (on banjo, mandolin and keys) couldn’t help but stomp their feet and dance in place as they played.
The clean structure of their recordings was shaken up a little in live performance, though it lost none of its clarity.  There was an instrumental break in “Watch Your Mouth” allowing for a call and response conversation between Berliner on banjo and Todd Erk on the electric guitar; later, turning in towards Mike Reilly on percussion, the band pieced together “The Family Band” from dissonant chords and sporadic percussion, as if they were searching for the song they knew was in there somewhere.  When the encore came around, things got really down and dirty.  The band’s energy changed, reflecting a free-wheeling jam session as opposed to a gig at a wine-driven restaurant in Tribeca, and it was a welcome shift.
It’s no small thing for a band to be equally fitted for a vast, upscale cabaret-style venue as for a backyard.  Clearly Hoots & Hellmouth not only span across several musical styles but also across several audiences and as many performance spaces.  When you’re in the business of music the way these guys are, you know no bounds.


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