RNDM Has No Beef With NYC: 3 Gigs, 6 Days

by Jessica Letkemann on November 13, 2012

The TFT eyewitness account of Jeff Ament & his RNDM cohorts rocking NYC 3X this November.

RNDM live New York: Joseph Arthur, Richard Stuverud, Jeff Ament RNDM live at New York’s Bowery Ballroom Nov. 8, 2012: Joseph Arthur, Richard Stuverud, Jeff Ament 

It was pretty clear to me from one listen to lead single “Modern Times” back in September that Jeff Ament’s mind meld with NYC-by-way-of-Ohio singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur, gestating since ’99 and previewed last year at PJ20, had come to full fruition with RNDM. The album, “Acts,” proved to be full of engaging rock and roll, with a good groove and no fear of an odd time signature. But it turned out that — over the course of three New York City gigs in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — the RNDM live experience was the best part of the collaboration. Musical chemistry, doused in orange spray-paint, dosed with inspirations from the Clash and Bowie to U2 and of the trio’s own history, covered with exclamation points and Roy Lichtenstein-esque art-direction, three guys in silly/menacing ski-masks and matching orange track pants, happily locked in to a beat that makes you move… this was the crux of RNDM in concert.

RNDM's Jeff Ament, New York 11/2/2012
Jeff Ament in RNDM shirt and on RNDM bass, live at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. Nov. 2, 2012.

The momentary dissonance of seeing a member of Pearl Jam in a small club aside, the first New York RNDM show — on Nov. 2 — was already going to be odd because it was only two days after the hurricane hit the city. A cold Thursday night with few subways running and the few cabs racing through the Brooklyn streets with “off duty” lights on because of the gas shortage taking hold, just getting to the Music Hall of Williamsburg was an adventure. Because it was tough for everyone with tickets to attend, the smaller crowd meant an even more intimate show.

The night began with David Garza, a wry but emotional Austin, Texas singer/songwriter who holds the distinction of having been the first opening act at the Wetlands gig in NYC on June 11, 1999 when Joseph Arthur warmed up for Jeff Ament’s (and RNDM drummer Richard Stuverud’s) Three Fish.

RNDM's Joseph Arthur, Nov. 8, 2012 at New York's Bowery Ballroom
RNDM’s Joe Arthur, Nov. 8, 2012 at NY’s Bowery Ballroom

All clad in the band’s signature orange, Jeff, Joseph and Richard took the stage with little ado and went straight into “Modern Times,” as more of a crowd began materializing somewhat out of nowhere.

Jeff and Richard have been playing together since before Pearl Jam existed (Jeff was briefly in War Babies with Rich in 1990, for the record), so it wasn’t strange to see how well they worked together right off the bat. But by the time RNDM had moved through a few more tunes — “Hollow Girl” being somehow particularly sticky — it was fun to watch what a natural frontman Joseph Arthur is for the pair. His lyrics are thoughtful and well-crafted and his voice and considerable guitar skills ride the Ament/Stuverud rhythm section with a light touch. Everything keeps moving, Ament singing backup and switching between neon orange and silver basses, Arthur mixing in his tunes (“The King of Cleveland”) and Jeff’s (“When The Fire Comes”). Seventeen songs — with some able cover action (Roky Erikson’s “I Think of Demons,” and the inspired mashup of The Clash’s “Magnificent Seven” and the Nina Simone/”Hair” soundtrack song “Ain’t Got No”) — and done. The second gig the three of them have ever played together and it all seemed effortless.

RNDM on “Fallon”

Talking about RNDM, Jeff has happily pointed to how lean the idea of the tour is — just a few people in a van or bus and hitting the road. And it shows in the aggressive schedule — Brooklyn Friday, D.C. Saturday, Philly Sunday, and back to New York on Monday (11/5) to be the musical guest on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

Jeff Ament / RNDM / New York Jeff Ament and his 12-string Hamer bass playing with RNDM at NY’s Bowery Ballroom, Nov. 8, 2012.

You didn’t actually need to be in studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Center to see how much fun Jeff and Joe and Richard had tearing through “Modern Times” in matching orange and black suits (and ski-masks!) and “Ain’t Got No”/”Magnificent Seven,” but I watching it live and in person the effect was magnified a little bit, speeding by too fast with Jeff closing out the first song ripping off his mask and holding up a “Vote Tester” sign as confetti fell, Fallon holding the RNDM vinyl open to the cameras. What wasn’t on TV so obviously was the little moment of Jeff standing there grooving to the Roots.

Say what you want about the many reasons that living in New York sucks, but it’s one of the few places something like getting three opportunities to check out RNDM happen. After detour to Boston on Wednesday, they returned to NYC for a Bowery Ballroom gig on Thursday night. With the lights back on in lower Manhattan and the subways almost back to normal, many more fans appeared much earlier at Bowery. Low key and open as ever, Jeff walked in the front door of the venue and through the crowd to get to the backstage area.

Garza and his guitar came out and did his thing, to a much more appreciative reception than Brooklyn. And then plenty of folks crowded the floor for RNDM, which as you can see from the pictures, now featured Joe and Jeff and Rich decked out in orange playing furiously in front of a gigantic RNDM logo banner.

The Bowery show flew by more rapidly, fueled a little bit by the larger crowd and the fact that the three of them were hitting a stride of having been on the road a little bit longer.

Opening this time with “What You Can’t Control,” Richard managed to be mostly an orange blur while Jeff cycled through basses (including a sweet acoustic uke bass I’m sure has some other proper name) and more backup vocals than I’ve ever seen him do with other projects. Joe, lives in the Big Apple, put both of RNDM’s NYC songs (“Williamsburg” and “Walking In New York”) back to back ahead of Jeff’s “When The Fire Comes” after the up-jump of “Look Out” (with Jeff on a giant 12-string bass) and “Throw You To The Pack.”

The four-song encore closed with the Psychedelic Furs’ “Into You Like A Train,” and now-standard finale “Ain’t Got No / Magnificent Seven” and the musical fun was over for the night. I’m a sucker for live music, I can admit that easily, but club shows — with subpar openers, too much standing around and craning your neck to see — are often not all that. With RNDM — and not just because it involved Jeff Ament — was in its element. Even with three shows in a row turning it basically into RNDM week for me, I left Bowery a little envious of all the folks about to catch RNDM live across the country. You are in for a treat.

RNDM in NEw York, 2012
Top Left: RNDM’s Joseph Arthur at Music Hall of Williamsburg 11/2/2012. Right: Rich Stuverud and Jeff Ament rock RNDM at Bowery Ballroom 11/8/2012. Bottom Left: The Bowery Ballroom RNDM setlist.
Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.

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