Photos by Lou Montesano
What do you get when you cross the two musical hot wires of punk rock and the boogie-blues of John Lee Hooker? You get either a hot and sweaty mess of a garage band – as in, do not try this at home! – or, if there’s talent and luck, you could get something great, something along the lines of the big-sounding, hard-rocking the Record Company, an electrifying outfit from L.A. that tore the roof off the Bowery Ballroom on a recent late October night.
The Record Company is a bass-driven, roots-rich blues-punk (“blunk?”) jamming power trio in the mold of the Black Keys and North Mississippi All-Stars, blending the musical mojo of bluesmen like Hooker, Jimmy Reed and R.L. Burnside with the fun, manic energy of punk to create a mix all their own. Providing the voltage is the physical, intense Chris Vos, singing lead, playing harp, shredding on multiple guitars, gyrating and working the crowd like a man truly possessed by the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll (oh, and looking like he’s having a blast). Providing the constant current that drives the Record Company’s tunes is the thunderous electric bass of Alex Still, plucking cool riff after cool riff on his Fender P and Jazz guitars. Providing the pulse that keep Vos bouncing around the room is drummer Marc Cazorla, who also shares backing vocals with Still.
The set showcased their recent release, Give It Back To You, an album full of catchy, hard-rocking tunes that sounded familiar on first hearing – which should not surprise because, as Vos told the crowd, The Record Company wear their influences proudly “on our sleeve.” The great bluesmen are just the start; echoes can also be heard of the hard blues-rock of the Rolling Stones, the boogie-rock of Canned Heat, the harp-based blues-rock of Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield – there was even a shout-out to the Beastie Boys.
“On The Move” opened things up driven by Stiff’s powerful bass lines and Vos’s big baritone vocals, the formula that worked well throughout the evening. Standouts that followed included the heavy, “Hard Day Coming Down,” and the less heavy, “Rita Mae Young.” Halfway through “Feels So Good,” an extended solo from Stiff was well-received by a crowd that clearly appreciated a guy who has the goods – after all, when was the last time a rock audience applauded a bass solo?
On “Turn Me Loose,” Vos played what appeared to be a vintage baritone guitar, squeezing huge, rich tone out of both the middle and high ranges. Then, on “Don’t Let Me Get Lonely,” he picked up an acoustic guitar for a tune he told the crowd was inspired by Hooker; by song’s end, the band had the ballroom “moving what God gave you” in full boogie-woogie mode. “Crooked City” was a Stones’ Sticky Fingers-era inflected blues, Vos using a Jagger-esque falsetto for the lines any bankers in the house could appreciate: “If you need some money, I’ll steal millions.”
“Off The Ground” was next, an almost irresistible number powered by Stiff’s catchy bass riff and the hard-edged Hooker beat. It’s an excellent tune, birthed by way of North Mississippi, and even minus the pyrotechnics of Luther and Cody Dickinson, the Record Company has a hit on their hands.
With an encore tune, “In The Mood For You,” the high-energy show wound down and the Bowery Ballroom crowd was able to stop dancing for a moment, catch their collective breath and consider what they’d just seen and heard in this show Vos said marked the fifth year the band has been working together. In that time, they’ve been building momentum, first on college radio – i.e., high cool, low awareness – opening for other acts, and, critically, winning favorable word of mouth in the music circuit. With the current tour, they find themselves taking on the challenge of headlining for the first time, their eyes clearly set on the big prize of breaking through. It would not be a surprise to see the Record Company make it fairly big: their blues-based hard-rocking tunes are catchy to the point of irresistible, Vos is a clear-voiced wild man up front, and, as a unit performing live, they operate like a champion boxer: they do not quit until the audience gives it up and is knocked out.
On this night, the Bowery Ballroom crowd was a first round KO.