Whether it will translate onscreen with the same intensity remains to be seen – we’ll have to wait till the show’s airdate during the "Austin City Limits" 40th-anniversary season – but the lasting image from Tuesday’s taping by Southern rock band J. Roddy Walston & the Business at ACL Live was that of Walston pounding his piano keys, his long hair flailing back and forth in head-banging fury as his band reached the fiery final bars of "Brave Man’s Death."
The song, a highlight of the band’s 2010 self-titled album, was a mid-set peak in a blazing hourlong performance. The Richmond, Va., foursome held nothing back throughout: Guitarist Billy Gordon delivered powerful leads and solos and added falsetto harmonies with bassist Logan Davis, who anchored a ferocious rhythm section with superkinetic drummer Steve Colmus.
At the center of the storm was Walston, whose distinctive stage antic is that he can’t decide whether he wants to be a lead singer or a pianist. He constantly shuttles between sitting at the piano and standing at the microphone. What at first seems unsettling eventually is endearing, as it becomes clear Walston is simply letting the emotion of the music guide him.
Focusing on songs from last year’s "Essential Tremors" but adding a few earlier tunes (including the traditional-based "Sally Bangs" from their 2007 debut "Hail Mega Boys"), Walston and his bandmates were masters of style and sound. As songwriters, they’re not particularly inventive, staying within a fairly defined framework of hard-driving rock ’n’ roll, but they sell the material with unbridled passion and soulful fervor.
And when they do get hold of a really strong tune, everything clicks. "Same Days," a standout on "Essential Tremors," bounces along to an instantly memorable pop melody spiked by chunky riffs from Gordon; it’s less in-your-face than much of the band’s music, but it stands out as a three-minute master stroke.
Walston gave the song his all, leaving the stage halfway through and singing directly to the standing-room audience from the floor. The camera crew had to do some dodging to accommodate him, but it gave them a good opportunity to see precisely how the band connects up-close with its audience, even in a large room.
J. Roddy Walston & the Business will be back next month for shows at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 3 and 10, as well as a sold-out after-show on Oct. 11 indoors at Stubb’s.