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In concert: Retribution Gospel Choir

Retribution Gospel ChoirRetribution Gospel Choir laid down plenty of sweaty grooves at Rock and Roll Hotel Thursday.

By Patrick Foster

If anyone ever had a good reason to create a side project to work out their loud rock-and-roll demons, it’s Alan Sparhawk. His full time concern, Low, are seminal indie rock minimalists, favoring simmering restraint over roar. Retribution Gospel Choir, a trio that he fronted at the Rock and Roll Hotel Thursday night, is all about release: a brawny mix of circa ’73 hard rock readymades and gritty, howling dirges. They (literally) lathered themselves into a frenzy over 75 minutes in front of a modest but enthusiastic gathering, slicin’ sweaty slabs that demonstrated Sparkhawk’s gifts as guitarist, composer and especially, singer.

(All side projects should be so good, after the jump.)

Leading bassist Steve Garrington (currently holding down the same job in Low) and powerhouse drummer Eric Pollard, Sparkhawk's RGC songs often take vintage Neil Young frameworks and weld muscular, grunge-informed riffs onto them. But songs like “Hide It Away” and “Workin’ Hard” crystallized into something original on the strength of Sparhawk’s vocals: rich, nuanced and penetrating. Pollard backed him up on occasion, but it was the interludes that pitted the high-volume tense-and-release of Sparhawk’s guitar against a spiraling, tortured vocal that were the most engaging.

“Electric Guitar” and “White Wolf” (from the band’s numerically correct new album, “2”) both featured those stark moments, as did the bleak “Destroyer,” a track from the band's swampy 2008 self-titled disc. Main set closer “Take Your Time” went further, stretching into a serpentine groove tempered with heavy metal overtones.

Overlooking a stiff reggae/dub excursion that served as an encore, RGC were uniformly strong, sounding less like a side project than a outfit that should serve as an outlet for Sparkhawk’s wide-ranging talent for some time to come.

By David Malitz  |  February 5, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Retribution Gospel Choir  
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Next: In concert: Magnetic Fields

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