When a band is as bursting at the seams with diverse and experienced talent as Vox And The Hound, a common and not necessarily unfortunate trope may be to proceed with caution, employing a lowest-common-denominator approach to songwriting that plays to no member’s particular strength at the risk of unleashing a soundclash of incompatible virtuosity. The band’s recorded debut, the early 2011 Hermosa EP, functionally existed on this plane, as the alt-folk tunes contained within portrayed front man Leo DeJesus as a deft songwriter but didn’t present too much else for listeners to emotionally or intellectually latch onto.
But in the 12 months since it’s release, the band has strung together the kind of year that permanently burns itself into music lovers’ minds, becoming an incendiary presence in the New Orleans musical landscape while creating a wealth of new material that seems to evidence a recently amassed, unconventional collaborative spirit. The result, at the moment, is a virtually undefinable brand of rock n’ roll, the true identity of which probably lies somewhere in a vast field between such grandiose descriptions as “arena folk” and “Fleetwood Mac on psychedelics”.
Fresh yet subtle flirtations with funk, prog, glam and swamp rock – when performed on the illustrious blue-lit stage of the House of Blues for the first time – brought a hyper-amplified sense of nouveau relatively foreign to the paradigmatic armchair folksiness that Vox and the Hound has typified in the past. Though the band has never been light on the guitar work of Rory Callais and Leo DeJesus, remaining members now seem to operate with an electrifying level of dynamism and personality. Drummer Eric Rogers, who may just be the most versatile percussionist in the region, consistently showcases his ability to balance low-key beatkeeping with arena-ready exhibitionism without the necessity of a solo or any other “look at me” moment while Andrew Jarman pounds forcible, highly complex bass lines around keyboardist Daniel Ray’s shades of a mid-seventies Tony Banks, playing every note with a cogency almost impossible to articulate.
Vox’s five players have managed to increasingly display their disparate influences and ethoi after initially showing no signs of being such an intricate pastiche, creating subtle moments of thrilling synergy that suggest there is something vastly more interesting than the sum of Vox’s parts bubbling under the surface of every song. It’s reminiscent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco, who never wasted energy touting how different they were from their contemporaries with heavy-handed extravagance but rather modestly hinted at the tremendous complexity of their songwriting approach. And without a fully-finished recording of new material to work from as a template, the resulting singular enticement of a Vox performance is witnessing the band feel out its own songs right in front of you. When DeJesus howls the high notes, Rogers can be seen sporting an assuring grin; if Ray injects a new bit of funk into a synth line, DeJesus offers an A-OK head nod in his direction; every time Rogers adeptly lays down a complex drum fill, you can see the sense of wonderment on the face of every member; and the vibrancy of each unpredictable Rory Callais guitar freakout can add a noticeable sense of confidence to an entire song.
Over the past two years, this little sunspot on our local rock scene has seemed to gracefully – if predictably – traverse many of indie’s most archetypal sub-genres (folk, pop, twee, americana), but Vox now seems primed to creatively buck both local and national trends without appearing to reach or strain in the slightest. On the contrary, it is the comfort with which the band reconciles the enormous diversity of its members’ backgrounds – a diversity that rivals any collective currently making music in the city – that adds to the curiosity of their deceptively dense and layered compositions, exquisitely skinned and preternaturally moody songs that, on Saturday night, seemed custom build for the grand stage that could barely contain them.