“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it,” said Ferris Bueller, one of the ultimate youth heroes of this generation. Watching Houndmouth’s set at Cargo in Reno Saturday night, one could imagine the band flipping the bird to Bueller’s advice as the players sped off in that little red Ferrari.
The band has rocketed to national attention off the strength of its sophomore album, “Little Neon Limelight,” and the charming single “Sedona.” The 11-song offering is spirited and ragged, guitarist Matt Myers, keyboardist Katie Toupin, drummer Shane Cody and bassist Zak Appleby rallying around their mics and instruments to deliver whiskey-soaked ballads and bangers about criminals, misfits, and lovers. All four members contributed their harmonies and stories to the album, and as a whole, the band comes off like a weathered gang of troubadours who have lived countless lives together.
Saturday night they certainly played the hell out of their latest album, with most of the setlist comprising of “Limelight” cuts. They opened with a growling “Black Gold” and thrashed out versions of “Say It” and “15 Years” that achieved the same jangly energy of the album, and they nicely complemented the spicer tunes with sweeter ones like “Honey Slider” and from 2013’s “From The Hills Below The City”, “Houston Train.” The set had a very satisfying pace that never overheated or fizzled out and had people raising glasses for their friends and lighters for their lovers.
That ability to hit on a number of emotional tones is one thing Houdmouth does well and a lot of its songs have the buzzed sentimentality of parties the musicians can barely wrap their fuzzy memories around. “My Cousin Greg” was a shot of drunken fun as all four band members traded verses about the ray gun-toting hero and powered along with the rambunctious groove.
However, where Houndmouth was probably the most impactful was in its songs draped in despair. Toupin’s gorgeous “Gasoline” saw the keyboardist serenade the crowd with an electric guitar as the rest of the band backed her up with their piney harmonies. It was a striking ballad to loneliness, with the line, “Gasoline don’t burn as fast as me poor boy/ maybe I’ll meet my maker on a bedroom floor,” hanging like fog in the room. A similar impact was felt for Myers on “Coming ‘Round Again,” his reedy voice and boyish face belying the hardened verses of cocaine and .45s. What kind of life leads people to be able to sing such lines so convincingly?
Whatever it is, the band is living it and seems to not want to stop. The members have known each other since their high-school days and they are still building their dreams before their very eyes. It is their trip and really all that matters is the group— the core four making the music and living the dream together. Myers soloed at one point with his shirt over his head that gave Toupin a chuckle, a move she has surely seen hundreds of times but still manages to make her laugh, and Appleby kept pushing audience members to buy beers for their soundman, as they had replaced his beer with Coke much to their howling delight.
They seemed to draw more energy from each other as friends and musicians and their ability to make each other laugh than the crowd, which was just another room full of strangers, one of the hundreds they have played across the country. Though the connection between the band and the audience felt lukewarm and disconnected for parts, the energy between Appleby, Myers, Toupin and Cody was always electric.
The members of Houndmouth bolted from the stage after a solid but much too quick 70-minute set that left a little to be desired. But the band is on a rising trajectory and the members are having fun doing what they want to do and excited to be doing it together. In “My Cousin Greg” they all sing in joyful unison, “If you wanna live the good life/ well, you better stay away from the limelight.” With the hot lights of fame growing ever brighter as “Little Neon Limelight” attracts more fans, maybe the line should be “If you wanna live the good life/ well, you better just live it,” because that is what the band is doing and it ain’t looking back in the rearview mirror as it speeds to the next adventure.