Newport Music Hall, Columbus, Ohio – November 11, 2013
I really don’t want to make J. Roddy Walston & the Business out to be more than they are, when what they are – a rollicking, hard-working, soulful, piano-infused rock quartet – will so nicely suffice. Frontman Walston sings a bit like Bon Scott, phrases his lyrics a bit like Robert Plant, and has the stage presence of a mutant cross between Jerry Lee Lewis, The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson and Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, one moment leading a gospel tinged southern rock exploration and the next pounding the keys and head banging with total, infectious abandon. He is a live wire, or maybe a 2-liter bottle of soda shaken by a paint mixer to the point of imminent explosion…just as soon as you twist the cap, that is.
They are an absolute blast, obviously. Anybody within their orbit is fairly powerless to have less than a good time, so I happily followed suit. The band, perhaps caught up in the moment and loath to let the show’s considerable momentum wane for a second, even strung together their two best known songs – the stomping “Heavy Bells” and raucous “Don’t Break the Needle”, both minor local indie rock radio hits – back to back in the middle of the set, paying no mind to the established dictum that a band always must save its “best” for last. It struck me that, at practically every moment they were on stage, Walston and his band seemed to think their “best” was whatever was “now playing”. Their confidence, like their music, proved infectious.
And subtly, naturally, a realization came to me as I watched them from the stage left front railing of the balcony at Columbus, Ohio’s venerable Newport Music Hall, a venue where I have seen at least 100 shows in the last 13 years, and it made me love them, and the evening, all the more. J. Roddy Walston & the Business are the personal success story I envisioned when I first started drumming in rock/metal bands back in high school. Small town kids (Cleveland, TN) with passion and a common love of music move to the city and make it big, if you can call over a decade of toiling in relative obscurity and baby stepping your way to damn near selling out a 1700-seater in the heart of the Midwest “making it big”. I can definitely call it that, and I do.
The Business doesn’t have roadies. They set up their own gear and tune their own guitars, the way my bands did and every local band does. Walston plays a conceptually delightful Yamaha keyboard whose entire back base is a large amplifier, with “J. Roddy” scrawled in huge letters down the side facing the crowd in electrical tape. They talk without irony about making a “beautiful moment” with the audience, then pierce the veil of cynicism inherent in a predominantly indie rock crowd and actually make it happen. They all sing and play like their lives depend on it, because in a very real way they do.
That’s honestly all I ever wanted when I first picked up a pair of drumsticks. And even now, so famously (and to my detriment sometimes) envious, I can (and do) still dream. Music at its best is both transporting and transformative. Last night I saw J. Roddy Walston & the Business literally living out their dreams, a full-bodied, blood & guts rock and roll band in love with the crowd, in love with the moment and in love with the act of playing music together. Here they were, big, by the standards that actually matter. I was proud of them, and happy to be a part of it.