With a name that inspires spaghetti western imagery and a dramatic score, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first saw Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery step up into a small, dark room.
The Indianapolis band had grabbed an opening slot coming through San Francisco last year during DonCat’s El Rio residency. It was one of those nights you want to jump out from the venue into the patio and yell, “Everyone, come quick, music is happening!” With the stage tucked far enough away, one tends to forget about the lure of dirt-cheap tall cans next door. Overpowering bar attendance aside, Joshua Powell, whom you can find behind the mic fitted with a guitar, did accomplish a tiring feat in the back room. Upon every finished song the utterance of “Oh good, there’s another person here,” found a small contingent appearing like clockwork. Powell was quickly set upon a realization: “I guess we better just keep finding more songs.”
It seems like an appropriate time for the West Coast to catch on to what the Midwest has already known for a while. Following a more straightforward 2013 folk release soaked in literary reference, last year’s Alyosha swam into new waters. Infused with an impressive amount from Kickstarter fans and a revolving door of players from the record and on the road Powell’s creation flows from indie rock to pysch folk. From a ominous drum beat build (“The Farmer and the Viper”) to a softer guitar-lead sing along (“Gunfighter Ballad for the 21st Century”) the rock four-piece complements the vocal leader that has regularly conjured up Sufjan Stevens comparisons though adds the occasional yearning growl.
Further recommendations for those driven more by the awaited guitar solo are “Gunfighter” and “Telekiesis.” “Birth Control” throws forth his penchant for storytelling. And “Indiana,” admittedly the one that hooked me at last year’s performance, showcases everything the band excels at over the course of seven-plus minutes. Plus, who doesn’t like sleigh bells?
Known for some daunting cross country trips over the last few years, the band nears Northern California right around the halfway mark on their two and a half month journey in continued support of the new record. Scoop a preview with their Audiotree session featuring a set of songs from Alyosha:
The two-night stint in the Bay places the band on either side of the bridge with Tuesday at Brick & Mortar supporting dreamy folk rockers Grow & and Twine and the following night at the Stork Club in all its five-different-sizes-of-PBR glory.