July 29, 2009

The Highway | The Middle East Upstairs | Cambridge, MA | July 16, 2009

As I wander in after The Highway has already started I'm a bit pissed at myself and my deadlines, but the wafts of warm sound bubbling off the stage immediately flip my mood. The band is a trio, but not in the “power” sense – rather it's almost like they kept their numbers down to leave room for your presence among them. They're that inviting.

Hints of a drunken Dylan slither from bassist/vocalist Daniel Tortoledo's mouth, an endearing drawl that matches well with the band's rootsy rock. Guitarist Isaac Cohen's open-chord strumming fortifies this style, but he never remains locked in tradition. His Mars Volta-like sprinkling of spiraling licks and reverb keeps you on your toes and reminds that, yes, the world of Harrison and The Band is comforting, but complacency always needs shaken up. The straight-forward “Set Me Free” acknowledged this in its own way, dropping into three for a crunchy, feedback-swollen guitar solo, then back into four for the booming ending and release.

Though “Frozen Sun” wrestled with bittersweet homesickness, the partnership between Tortoledo on bass and Ted MacInnes on drums could not have been closer. MacInnes is thoughtful in accenting the low end, propelling The Highway forward and allowing Cohen plenty of room to spin some psychedelia. More upbeat tunes head in a prog direction, marching into glorious fantasy battles without the bummer of enemies or bloodshed.

The Highway's songwriting benefits from collaboration from all three members, though frontman Tortoledo's engaging vocals are clutch. Some artists beg their audience to clap along and only receive a few bars of help – Tortoledo's voice gently smiles its way into your muscles and compels.

-Nate Leskovic


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