Sean Rowe launched his first official studio album for Anti- Records Saturday night with a raucous show at Valentine’s that proved just why he’s been getting so much national press attention.
Of course, the Wynantskill singer, songwriter and naturalist has nothing to prove to Capital Region audiences at this point. Music fans in the area have long known about his rich baritone, his muscular guitar playing, his ability to both haunt you with a quiet, contemplative melody and rock your socks off. His years of grueling, four-hour gigs at clubs in the area have paid off, first with his Anti- signing in 2010, international touring, and interviews and coverage in outlets such as National Public Radio in the leadup to the release of “The Salesman and the Shark.”
But in case anyone needed a refresher on Rowe’s talents, he delivered full force this night with help from fellow local favorites Railbird, giving it his all for a scant 12-song set that got a large crowd stomping their feet and singing along. With a set that drew heavily from “The Salesman and the Shark,” but also saved plenty of room for older songs, covers and even unreleased material, Rowe left only one thing to complain about — it was too short.
Armed with a taped-up acoustic guitar and decked out in his trusty fedora and suspenders, Rowe sauntered onstage shortly after 10 p.m. to thunderous applause, launching into the grooving new song “Flying,” the second track from the album. With Railbird singer and Saratoga Springs native Sarah Pedinotti providing backing vocals, and Chris Kyle and Chris Carey bashing away on electric guitar and drum kit, respectively, the song soared to energetic heights only hinted at on the studio version.
Things only got better on the twisting “Joe’s Cult,” a bouncing, off-kilter melody well-suited to Rowe’s deep vocal register, and “Old Shoes,” another showcase for Rowe and Pedinotti’s winding harmonies. Then, for variety, Rowe went back to “Magic,” originally released on Collar City records in 2009 and reissued by Anti- in 2011. Both “The Walker” and “Old Black Dodge” sounded rejuvenated delivered by the Railbird crew, but also showcased just how much Rowe has grown as a writer and performer when put up against the new songs.
Rowe’s odes to family and friends proved to be some of the most affecting moments of the show — the lilting “Thunderbird” featured mournful slide playing from Kyle, while “Signs,” written for Rowe’s father, brought things down to a whispering duet between Rowe and Kyle. Later on, during the encore, Rowe performed the yet-to-be-recorded “Leave Something Behind,” a gentle ode to his 9-month-old son that definitely needs to be recorded sometime soon.
His cover choices for the evening were revealing, and on point — an acoustic guitar and drums only version of Tom Waits’ “Jesus Gonna Be Here” sounded like it was made for Rowe to sing, and a full band rip on Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” managed to find new angles in the familiar song. “Downwind” closed the main set on a rollicking note — the song seems destined to be a set closer for Rowe for a long time.
The five-piece Railbird — including second guitarist Xander Naylor and bassist Derek Leslie — opened with a set of their own that blurred the lines between indie pop and experimental jazz. Pedinotti’s vocals soared above the slightly queasy atmospheric noise on songs such as set opener “Hollywood” and the insistently chugging “No One.” The best moment of their set also involved Rowe, who reprised his studio vocals on “Jump Ship” for the live version.