Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Badlees at the Highline Ballroom

Nyke Van Wyk (left) and Bret Alexander
Shortly after forming as Bad Lee White in central Pennsylvania in 1990, the local fans referred to the band as the Badlees, and the name stuck. The band started to get national radio play with its 1995 album, River Songs, but a record company collapse froze the band's follow-up album and prohibited the band from capitalizing further on this moderate success. Several breakups and reunions later, the Badlees are still among the living. Vocalist/harmonica player Pete Palladino, rhythm guitarist/mandolin player/vocalist Bret Alexander, bassist Paul Smith and drummer Ron Simasek have performed together for decades, with lead guitarist Dustin Drevitch and violinist Nyke Van Wyk joining in 2009. The band’s 10th album, a 21-song collection released this past autumn, is a double CD package entitled Epiphones and Empty Rooms.

Opening for Willie Nile tonight at the Highline Ballroom, the Badlees performed as a quintet, minus Palladino; Alexander did an impressive job singing all the leads. Perhaps it is unfair to review the band not knowing what it sounds like with its lead vocalist in place, but the band was extraordinary even without him. Suppose Bruce Springsteen toned down his dynamics living-room style, had a fiddle instead of a saxophone in his band and decided to play with more of a country sound; his music would sound like the Badlees. The Badlees played muscular Americana-rooted songs with a touch of blues and country, but was essentially none of the above. At one point, the violinist sounded like he was about to start a chamber piece and then the tight band turned it into a polished rock tune. The band played songs from the heart, but with choruses catchy enough to make them immediately accessible and singable. Perhaps central Pennsylvania is a lot closer to central New Jersey than maps can tell, and we in central Manhattan benefitted tonight thanks to the Badlees.

Visit the Badlees at