Watching the wide-eyed, sideburned Don Chambers croon through his gritty new songs at the Tavern on Saturday, I recalled the early days of one of his previous bands, an angular alt-rock trio called Vaudeville. Chambers used to stand to the side with his Fender bass in hand and kinda moan and groan his lyrics into the mic, eyes shut. His driving basslines propelled the songs, not unlike some of the more straight-ahead stuff by Morphine, Fugazi, R.E.M., and The Fall.
With his current group, GOAT, Chambers has established a different style on the mic. He’s a more confident and emotive frontman with serious life experiences on his mind, switching from vintage six-string electric to banjo and back, sharing harmonies with his bandmates. The band played through a number of carefully arranged songs from their brand-new album Zebulon, and dabbled through a few crowd faves from their previous self-titled disc. Bassist Fritz Gibson and drummer Brandon McDearis locked in tightly with guitarist Matt Stoessel, swinging hard on the waltzier tunes, such as “Highwater” and “Hallelujah,” and pounding away at anthem “Falling Off the Edge.” Things sounded more like The Band and Tom Waits than anything from the ’90s alternative rock world.
The two dozen in the audience applauded some of the rowdier tunes, but seemed dazzled by GOAT percussionist Jim Wilson, who struck an odd array of battery (two hubcaps attached to a six-foot aluminum ladder with a floor tom and djimbe on the side). He looked like he was fixing the stage lights, and he sounded like he was dismantling a truck. The racket made sense within the rumble and thump of the GOAT sound; it both supported and complemented Chambers’ raspy vocal work and intense stage presence.
—T. Ballard Lesemann