Why it is that when Jimmy Page breaks into the noisy chaos of the “Heartbreaker” solo or when Robert Plant sensually slides into a note and tops it off with a moan the result is something riveting that punches the listener’s face, but when other artists try to emulate the rawness of these legends, it just ends up sounding sloppy?
I have no idea.
Tuesday night at the Living Room, Nic Armstrong—also from Britain but quite a bit younger than Page and Plant—clumsily trod the line between dirty, gut-wrenching blues and careless, noisy blues with mixed results.
Currently based in Austin, Armstrong told the audience he put together his New York show on a whim. He performed solo, with a one-man-band setup that consisted of his heavily distorted guitar, a kick drum with a tambourine on top of it (which sounds exactly like a kick drum with a tambourine on it, in case you were wondering), a harmonica, and his incredibly high-pitched voice—which, yes, is reminiscent of Robert Plant’s.
He opened with “Sycophant,” and immediately grabbed the 20 or so people in the audience with the huge sound of his guitar, spookily contrasting with the winding melody he sang in a squeaky-clean, almost feminine voice. When the kick drum—well, kicked in—martially pounding out quarter notes, it was impossible not to think of the White Stripes; similarly, when Armstrong broke out of the heavy chords to pluck out a fuzzy guitar solo, I almost thought I was seeing Jack White.
But after a couple of songs the set began to feel repetitive and Armstrong’s playing quickly became sloppy. “Blood Red Oranges” started with a clean, guitar riff, floating down the neck in thirds, which offered a nice break from the sometimes indiscernibly distorted harmonies of other songs. But it quickly fell flat with the drumming tripping slightly out of time and the guitar returning to its usual ruckus within the first half of the song.
“On a Promise,” on the other hand, a straight up rock and roll with a delirious harmonica introduction, really gelled, and the result was a fun throwback song that showcased Armstrong’s talent.
Maybe Armstrong just didn’t have enough time to practice before this gig. “I rustled up this show at the last minute,” he said towards the end of the show. “I hope to be here next time with a full band and some shenanigans.”
I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and check those shenanigans out.