The wiry drummer taps the four-count with his drumsticks; one beat after the fourth tap, the rock hits the crowd like water from a firehose. Owls & Crows is headlining at the Black Cat for the first time, and, if the crowd’s screamed response is any indication, it’s about damn time.
Unlike a good number of D.C-based bands, Owls & Crows does not have a ‘look.’ "The bandmates -- Danny Bentley on drums, Nalinee Darmrong and Dave Allsopp on guitars, Mike Dugan on bass, and Scott Taylor on lead vocals and guitar -- are as physically dissimilar as any five people picked out of the smoky crowd. What the band does have, in spades, is a sound. Taylor describes it as “loud, garage-y rock & roll.”
Taylor sings the first song, an untitled new composition, without any backup vocals. His voice is equal parts gravel and rebel yell, and rides the guitars’ rhythmic strumming with surprising ease. Standing on opposite sides of the Christmas light-decorated stage, Darmrong and Allsopp sway sparingly, their energy and faces focused on their instruments. Dugan sports a Kangol and a cigarette and, as is required of all bass guitarists worth their salt, exudes cool. Bentley’s arms flail about as he punishes the drumset with the song’s driving beat. Taylor’s jerky dancing -- think a very caffeinated early Mick Jagger -- matches the music’s high energy. The crowd responds enthusiastically to the nameless song it’s never heard before.
By the middle of the set, Taylor has picked up a guitar and the fourth song, “July,” presents a syncopated beat that challenges all four guitar players to stay together as it changes tempo. Owls & Crows pulls off the feat. The result is a complex song whose mood changes are reflected not just in the notes, but in the actual timing of the song.
“The Witch Comes” comes next. As a featured song on the band’s Myspace page, it is already a crowd favorite. Dugan’s bass combines with Bentley’s drums to create a pulsing bassline that drives the song beneath the rhythm guitars that pick up the downbeat a few moments later. By now the band is having as much fun as the concert goers, and it shows. “This ain’t as easy as it looks,” Taylor jokes after the song. Dugan and Allsopp light cigarettes. A man in the audience who perhaps has had one too many of the domestic draft pints attached to nearly everyone’s right hand yells, “Turn that drummer LOOSE!” Taylor and Dugan laugh. Yes, their drummer is a bad, bad man and, as if in response, Owls & Crows turns that drummer loose with their next song, “New Burn.” The beat is furious and the lyrics send an ironic warning: “When all the kids know your name/Betta watch out!”
During the final song, “Static Blood,” two young women standing near the stage begin to dance a sort of hopping dance that only young pretty girls can do in public. More than a few folks in the crowd join Taylor’s singing, “Why--can’t--I--be a-lone?” With his shaggy beard and cigarette-slunk guitar posture, Allsopp is "Abbey Road" meets Slash. More girls join in the dance-hopping and four people crowd onto a bench to get a better view of the stage. By now, fists are pumping in the air; the Black Cat is in full garage band hard rock mode. Owls & Crows is playing its last song in the first of what is sure to be many headlining shows.