photos by Kevin Gillingham
If I’m being honest, prior to this week I had never heard of Bishop Gunn. I took a listen online and on a whim, my Wednesday night opened up and I decided to check them out at one of New York’s live music staples on the Lower East Side, Rockwood Music Hall. Rockwood is known for its three separate stages, and for giving up and coming artists or bands an intimate setting to play in the Big Apple. Though comparably small to other venues, it allows the audience to genuinely experience the band—you’re all of a few hundred feet away (at most) to the stage, so there isn’t much separating you from the performers.
The band is anchored by Ben Lewis on bass and Burne Sharp on drums. At times, the grooves they lock into and their style of play may lead you to think of John Bonham and John Paul Jones as obvious comparisons. Similarly, some of the fuzzed out wah solos from guitarist Drew Smithers and the incredible wail of Travis McCready may also lead you to think of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and they wouldn’t look out of place on a 70s cover of Rolling Stone. Ironically, they also did an amazing rendition of Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.”
But pigeonholing them as a Zeppelin knock off a la Greta Van Fleet (who in all honesty I do enjoy; they have the chops and are barely in their 20s–let the kids rock!) would be incredibly inattentive and wrong. Fortunately, a venue like Rockwood let the audience get up close and personal to their eclectic mix of Southern rock, soul, and blues. It is apparent from the debut album they released this year, Natchez (the city in Mississippi where most of the band members are from), that they’re proud of their southern heritage and can just as easily dive into a tender or funky soul number (listen to “All the Ways” or “Makin’ It” for reference) as they can a blues’d out rocker.
Throughout the set, Sharp was always mindful to keep the groove tight—never rushing it, which made some of the slower songs sound even heavier. Lewis had a clear 60s influence on the bass—from the British power trios of the 60s to the Motown and Muscle Shoals boogie of the same time. Smithers was the highlight for me: he played almost exclusively with his fingers, and switched effortlessly from slide to traditional playing. The way he attacks the guitar with his right picking hand made me think of Derek Trucks, though both are just giving their own interpretations of Delta blues and beyond. The crowd seemed most captivated by McCready, whose voice sits somewhere between Gregg Allman and especially Chris Cornell, which is no easy task—it was the first thing I noticed when listening to them, and it still floors me that someone is even in that vocal caliber.
With a debut album only a few months old (see their mini documentary here, which details their move out of Natchez and recording in Muscle Shoals, among other things), it’ll be interesting to see what lies ahead for them. They only have a few dates left in 2018, but be sure to keep track of them here.