Brothers McCann Bring It To Johnny D’s Uptown
When a few people tell me that there’s an interesting band I should check out, I tend to listen. Such was the case with Brothers McCann. So I’ve been trying to catch these guys since last year. In the last few months, it got a little ridiculous – I kept running into Patrick McCann and Eran Shaysh, mostly at the Lizard Lounge. But our schedules just did not line up. So I was pretty pleased when I heard they were going to play Johnny D’s Uptown in Somerville. It’s a great club – one of my favorites – and I knew it was the perfect opportunity to capture the Brothers McCann experience. And I was not disappointed.
Brothers McCann is a five-piece band with stellar songwriting abilities, lots of soulful groove and enough musical complexity to please the discerning listener. Pat (vocals, keys) and Mike McCann (vocals, guitar) are supported by Erik White (vocals, guitar), Eran Shaysh (vocals, drums) and Dan Bissex (vocals, bass). The band has been performing both locally and on the road for the past two and a half years and has built up a local following, many of whom were in attendance at Johnny D’s. They describe themselves in this way:
With soulful, folk-pop roots, Brothers McCann tunes range from introspective falsetto narratives to intensely full and invigorating jams with acoustic tonalities. One of the most salient characteristics of Brothers McCann is the propensity for weaving staggering 3-part harmony into full-blown rock and roll.
In addition to attending the show, I got a chance to speak to Brothers McCann and ask them some questions about their music, influences and the show itself. They had a great turnout at Johnny D’s. During the latter half of the second set, they had the audience so worked up people were singing and dancing in time with the songs. But it wasn’t just the audience having a good time – these folks knew the songs. They’d seen Brothers McCann before and heard the songs enough to be dancing in synchronization and singing along at the same time. I asked the band how it felt to play to such a good audience at a great club like Johnny D’s.
This was our first time playing at Johnny D’s. We have seen many GREAT artists over the years there and to be included in that list is quite an honor. The crowd is our family. New and old. That has always been the way of it. We have such a loyal group of supporters and a majority of the people there on that Thursday night were familiar faces. It is quite a special feeling to know that of all the musical choices in the Boston area they continue to come back to be with us.
And it’s not hard to see why they have a loyal following. The energy they put into each performance is infectious. Pat McCann leads that energy from the front of the stage, whether he’s singing and looking straight into the eyes of someone in the audience, or banging away on the keyboard or playing a gentle passage with complete passion – eyes closed and in the zone.
Brothers McCann took the stage after a rousing performance by Northhampton Band Primate Fiasco. With a tuba on bass and classic American songs sprinkled through the set list, Primate Fiasco performed a memorable show. They had the audience dancing and ended their set all playing their instruments in the middle of the dance floor to a delighted crowed.
I was curious about how they got on the bill, so I asked Eran Shaysh of Brothers McCann. He told me thay they saw Primate Fiasco perform recently and, “…as it is with musicians, you are sipping your beer and digging the music and the next thing you know business cards are exchanged and you are helping each other out. We asked Johnny’s to have them on the bill with us and we are hoping that this isn’t the last time we share a bill.” I agree – this band was a ton of fun. They remind me of Ken Field’s Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (a band I plan on covering this year, by the way) although there are clear differences.
Brothers McCann takes this “helping each other out” talk seriously. They got Primate Fiasco on the bill and they also got them on the stage. They invited the entire band out for a song with them – that’s a courtesy that’s often extended in smaller clubs like this, but not ubiquitous. It’s a very classy touch on the part of Brothers McCann, but you got the sense it was more about having fun and playing some music. For a five piece band to invite another five piece band on stage to play a song is to invite chaos, but these are all seasoned musicians and they pulled it off convincingly. The Primate Fiasco guys were looking for a little direction before the song started, so Mike McCann said, “it’s a simple song, all you need to know is that it’s in A.” And they were off.
Brothers McCann drew up a set list, but they are not beholden to it. As they explained, “There are a lot of nights where we just decide on the fly. There is an element of uncertainty that breeds energy and keeps us connected and on our toes.” They did play a new song that they were excited about, though. It’s named Find. I asked them what makes that song so interesting to play.
…the song revolves around the word find throughout the chorus. It echos a simple sentiment to just surround yourself with the people, places and things that make you happy. “Find your people and find your way to smile” … the message is a simple but profound piece of advice we all should follow. Plus, it is FUN!
I thought I heard some strong influences during the set. I’d heard some of Brothers McCann’s recorded work prior to the show, but those recordings don’t do justice to the energy of their live shows. I really felt like I heard some Phish in the influence list, so I asked them about it.
Phish is without a doubt one of our favorite bands. To be influenced, as a musician, is inevitable. The sounds created within this band are a result of SO many different bands and genres. Our play list ranges from Billy Preston to Eazy-E to Sinéad O’Connor and everything in between. We listen to it all. A lot of times the listener hears particular influences because they LOVE their respected bands. Our music lends itself to many comparisons as the genres varies from song to song.
As is often the case with the bands I review, it’s hard to place Brothers McCann in a specific genre. They have elements of soul, folk, indie and pop in them to be sure. But they lay down a pretty mean groove. All the members of the band sing – Pat McCann usually provides the lead voice with Mike McCann occasionally filling that role. The rest of the band fills in to create multi-part harmonies on many of their songs. The arrangement of the songs is very effective as well. There is often no dominant voice in the songs. In particular, Erik White’s guitar playing provides just the right level of melodic structure without overpowering the rest of the mix. He’s a player that you may think sounds sparse at first, until you realize that he’s providing just the right level of melodic juice to play off the harmonies and the overall arrangement of the song. Of course, each member can and does provide a strong musical voice through their instrument when it’s called for, but this is not a band where everyone plays full-bore, hit-you-over-the-head chops. It’s more delicate and intricate and so to hear a tight groove emerge from the numerous melodic lines as well as the sometimes spareness of a particular instrument’s voice is pretty impressive.
That does not mean that these guys don’t rock out either. By the end of the second set, Pat McCann was banging away on the keyboard when it was needed, taking solos with precise abandon. But the kicker is that he has no problem pulling it back to flow into another verse and falls right back into balance with the other instruments.
Catch Brothers McCann locally at Harpers Ferry on June 4th. They are also playing several festivals, including the Strange Creek Music Festival in Greenfield, MA and then their own Brothers McCann Family Reunion Festival in Plainfield, Vermont. The Family Reunion is an interesting gig and I had to ask them about it.
Reunion was created with the hope that our family would get together for a weekend, make some noise and celebrate. Since we all have been going to music festivals for a long time, we thought we would put our spin on an integral part of the summer experience. Sometimes they are so big, the sense of family gets watered down. Our approach musically is the same but the preparation is radically different as we are doing it on a 25 acre plot of Vermont hillside. Everything from the stage/lights/facilities are all coordinated by us. A complete “inside job”. As far as the other musical acts, we are extremely grateful that they have decided to join us. It gives us a chance to be fans as we LOVE the sounds they all create.
And you will too if you go. If you can’t, catch Brothers McCann in the Boston area this summer. I doubt you will be disappointed.