The loudest ovation for Stornoway came after its quietest song. At the start of the encore, Brian Briggs asked the Bowery Ballroom audience if it was OK to play acoustic. “It’s going to be about this loud,” he said quietly from the front of the stage before he and his band—accompanied on strings by Rahul Satija and a member of the opener, Franz Nicolay & Major General—launched into “The End of the Movie.” After the music faded and the explosion of applause died down, Briggs wondered if they’d played loud enough. He’s genuinely considerate in that way a lead singer is when he can’t quite believe this many people are paying attention.
The unstated conclusion of “Could you hear OK?” is “Because last time we were in New York, we played to 50 people at Union Hall.” And while Stornoway has graduated from performing at venues in Brooklyn basements, the quartet certainly hasn’t forgotten its recent past. This is still a band that buys a saw at a hardware store to convince its drummer to play it with a bow. “Rob has been learning to play the saw,” said Briggs before launching into a song in which the drummer struggled valiantly to tame his unlikely instrument. Who knew a toothed implement of destruction could be so charming?
To close the night, Briggs asked if we wanted another unplugged song. This wasn’t idle chatter; our wish was his command. So we responded in the affirmative, and the quiet half of the crowd shushed the louder half as Stornoway began the jiggish “We Are the Battery Human.” “We’ve got the whole world at our fingers/ We’ve got the whole world in our hands.” We could hear Stornoway just fine.