Last night marked Fruit Bats first return to New York City in five years. To say it was worth the wait would be the understatement of the day.
Fruits Bats have come a long way from the one-man-show of Eric. D. Johnson to the four-plus members they’re working with on this tour. Despite the rotating cast members over the years and the lengthy breaks between Brooklyn visits, the band has only become more cohesive, gently pushing the boundaries they’ve worked within just as they’ve done with each new album.
Savvy with curation as they are with musicianship and production, Fruit Bats opened the show with a few fan favorites, including “Featherbed,” which was an unexpected though not ineffective opener, before launching into some of their new material about three or four songs in. Unlike new music introduced by some bands, tunes like “Absolute Loser,” “Good Will Come to You,” and “My Sweet Midwest” garnered as much cheer and enthusiasm from the audience as the legacy songs so many turned up to hear. This speaks to the Bats’ ability to compose music that holds a common thread while still being different enough to feel fresh and inspiring.
Once more demonstrating their understanding of curation and performance, Johnson acknowledged the new music, thanked the crowd for being such a receptive audience, and then went on to play almost an entire set of old favorites like “Flamingo,” “My Unusual Friend,” “Primitive Man,” “The Ruminant Band,” “Tony the Tripper,” “Dolly,” and a host of others, including “When U Love Somebody.” (In fact, they damn near played the entire The Ruminant Band album, which no one seemed to oppose.)
Something that stood out to me as a long-time fan of the band was the comfort that Johnson and all of the member seemed to enjoy while they played. Given this was the first show of the tour and the first real Fruit Bats show in half a decade, their nerves seemed nonexistent. Johnson cracked his typical witty and goofy jokes between tunes, and the entire band showed a comfort level with the free vocal rhythm Johnson indulged, something that really allowed the show to flourish and develop it’s own life and energy.
The Bats are a band that has never overstayed their welcome as a successful group with a loyal audience, and that is part of the reason they remain so compelling–and probably part of the reason that audience has grown so much. Every time they come to New York, they nail it, and this was no exception and may in fact have been one of their best shows yet. Whatever that means for the future, you can be sure of one thing: The Chicago natives have found a loyal and affectionate second home here in Brooklyn. We’ll be glad to welcome them back any time.