Live in JC: Higgins and Heather Duby at the Jersey City Museum
All photos: Steve Gold
The Jersey City Museum is quite the posh setting for a rock show in Jersey City — a town in which stages are commodities in the most literal sense. But then, Higgins is not just any local rock band. They are quite probably the finest pop craftsmen with Hudson County roots that we have seen in the last decade or so.
At the special museum “First Fridays” show on Feb. 5, Higgins drew almost equally from their two records, the more recent Zs and 2005’s classic Dear Higgins (described on stage by lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin Fish as “a very Jersey record”) but generally leaned toward the more downtempo numbers. No matter, the crowd was enthralled, and it suited the stately venue. Having begun as just the duo of Fish and drummer Brian Kantor, when playing live, Higgins has experimented with bigger lineups, but now they appear to have settled into a three-to-four piece. The museum gig found the legendary Billy Filo on bass and Jordan Crowell on percussion. The ensemble has become finely tuned, at times bringing to mind Television fused with the Beach Boys.
Opening with “Difference”, the band laid down its hazy Badfinger groove in perfect style. Higgins is all about songs, and the genius pop craftsmanship on display in the likes of “Write It Down,” from their latest record, is not something that is easy to come by. Higgins showed versatility with the Kantor-penned instrumental, “Prelude To A Charly,” which spotlighted Fish making the most of his wah-wah pedal, with Kantor adding some Bonhamesque fills to compliment his usual rock-solid Ringo Starr inspired playing. The setlist was rounded out by a song by Rocketship Park, a Higgins side project, and one mighty fine Turtles cover. The evening wound down with the T-Rexy groove of “Come Again” leading into into perhaps Higgins’ biggest “hit” to date, the achingly woozy “Drop Off,” before closing with the very first track on Zs, “There He Is.”
The evening was opened by former Sub Pop artist Heather Duby, who played a lovely set highlighting her moody vocals and mostly consisting of new material she is working on for an upcoming record. Duby also plays this Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. And Higgins, who don’t play in Jersey City nearly often enough, appear to be changing that — they have another scheduled show this Saturday, Feb. 20, in the more cozy confines of the Lamp Post. Be there or be square.