Live Review: The Back Pockets

WonderRoot // Atlanta, GA //October 28, 2010

The Back Pockets tread a line between absolute chaos and living, interactive art. Employing an innumerable amount of people both on stage and off, the band creates percussive, experimental folk music. At WonderRoot, while approximately ten people layered an eclectic mix of percussion, violin, piano, guitar, melodica, and other instruments onstage, an equal number of costumed people meandered through the packed house wrapping each other in yarn and banging on assorted items. The key to a Back Pockets show is interaction.

Fronted by lead vocalist and keyboard/banjo player Emily Kempf, the band had everyone engaged for the entirety of their set. When the band opened with “American Dream” and continued through the rest of their set, the majority of the crowd moved in unison and sung every word to the songs.  The energy in the room was such that a brief mosh pit split the crowd mid set. Those who wanted to participate did, and those who didn’t went on interacting in their own way. While the show only contained six songs and totaled somewhere around 30 minutes, the band filled every second with something interesting.

“Lovelike” was the pinnacle of the show. The gospel-tinged, Appalachian folk song swelled until reaching a catharsis. Led by Kempf, the song started slow, but, after hitting the climax in 4 minutes, broke into a full percussive jam. Taking the hundreds of sticks they had been handed by the band, members of the audience beat in time on the rafters, poles, and floor. WonderRoot’s ceilings are low and tight, but even if they weren’t, the audience would still have found a way to make noise on them. The song lasted over ten minutes, but the crowd dictated the timing. Tonight, the line was truly blurred between audience and artist.

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