By: Ashley Berry
As Los Angeles-based band, Harriet, prepared to open their third residency performance at the Echo on Monday, March 18th, frontman Alex Casnoff chatted up the crowd casually as though he were talking to a small group of old friends. In fact, he may very well have been doing just that, as residency night crowds at the Echo are known to be heavy on a very tightly knit community of local musicians, and Casnoff is no newbie in the LA music scene. After stints with bands Dawes and PAPA, Casnoff decided to venture out on his own to form Harriet, named after his grandmother, in the fall of 2011.
Harriet’s line up includes Casnoff on lead vocals, keyboard, and guitar, Patrick Kelly on bass, Matt Blitzer on guitar, and both Sam Skloff and Henry Kwapis on drums. Their music is an eclectic blend of classic rock, funky ska, and folk/country elements, lending itself to a wide range of comparisons including artists like The Stills, Wilco, and The Specials.
The first song of the night, “Bring Me When You Go”, opens with echoing synth and heavily booming bass that vibrates throughout the venue, giving the feeling of cruising at top speed through a tunnel at night, lights flying by, and wind rushing. Casnoff’s vocals have the softly raspy quality of Andrew McMahon (Jack’s Mannequin) and the soulful, achiness and unusual intonations of Adam Duritz (Counting Crows). Without pause, the band shifts immediately into “Bad Touch”, which has the qualities of a mellow, jazzy ballad that includes a synth guitar segment with a sound that is reminiscent of steelpan drum music.
When Casnoff introduces “Burbank”, he mentions almost bashfully that the song is about strippers. He notes, however, that “it’s about special strippers—strippers that we like.” Casnoff sings melodically and jams out on stage along with the rest of the band. Kelly completely cuts loose as he dances back and forth across his section of the stage, mouth open, head rocking into the sound. Kwapis also rocks out over his drum kit, his hair falling forward all around his face, whipping back and forth as he plays. Blitzer’s movements are subtler; he sways lightly as he shakes his guitar to create atmospheric layers of sound, while Skloff is tucked away on another drum kit and can be seen only occasionally as he plays.
The fifth song of the set is titled “Heavy Petting”, which Casnoff mischievously points out is “high school terminology for sexual activity”. The song features a drum interlude that builds in intensity until the guitars slowly weave their way back in and the crowd cheers and claps as the energy swells. Appropriately titled, “Graceland” has more of a down home, country rock feel with twangy guitar notes and Casnoff sings his lyrics in a matter of fact manner, as though he is simply telling a story.
The members of Harriet end the night with “Momento Mori”, a song that takes the audience on the final, exhilarating ride of the night with light and fast drums, reverberating synth guitar, and percussive keyboard. It is a wild fit of music that works its way into a frenzy, before a post blow out wash of calm. After the song comes to a close, Casnoff thanks the crowd for coming out and assures us that they are working on a record, so that they can have something for us to purchase. Monday, March 25th was the final night of their residency, so for those of you who are itching for more Harriet, you will just have to wait.