This weekend thankful Richmonders flocked to The Broadberry for a holiday weekend residency with Richmond-via-Baltimore rockers J Roddy Walston and the Business. After many years of hosting a big Thanksgiving throwdown at The National, the four piece shook things up across three bombastic nights backed by local mainstays The Trillions, Spooky Cool and Sleepwalkers.
Local power-pop quartet The Trillions kicked off Friday night with an electrifying set of their fast, upbeat hits. Donning a coordinated ensemble of all white or all black with a new, instrument-triggered red lighting rig, the band looked like they could be the house band on Starkiller Base. Bouncing from song to song with breakneck speed, the band never skipped a beat, blasting through new songs like the Led Zepplin-inspired track “Wiz Kid,” from their forthcoming record as well as old ones like mellow, melancholic heartbreaker, “For The Better.”
As the band wrapped up their set, bassist Robbie King, guitarist Chris Smith and singer/guitarist Charlie Glenn (the weekend’s MVP) lead into their track “Parallelograms,” with a cheeky jab, playing the intro to J Roddy’s single, “The Wanting.”
“They took an intro from us, so we’re taking one from them,” Glenn belted to the sold out Broadberry crowd. “Thanks to Rod for having a bunch of awesome-ass Richmond bands play. This weekend is gonna rule!”
Shortly after, J Roddy and the Business stormed the stage, immediately launching into their anthemic sing-along “Sweatshock” from their third record, Essential Tremors. Their set saw a mix of tunes from across their four records. Of course they played the hits, but standouts included a warm reception to “I Don’t Want to Hear It,” from the band’s second, eponymous record, with the sold out room hollering the lyrics back at Walston.
Standing atop his piano stool, he commanded the room with professional, laid back swagger, leading the audience to another massive singalong of “Take It as It Comes,” before ending with a throwback tune from the first record, “Rock and Roll the Second”
In keeping with Thanksgiving show tradition, Walston had quite the encore planned out. He walked back on stage, alone at his piano, cluing the audience in to a more personal anecdote – “I’ve been working on some Christmas songs – you like Christmas songs as much as I like Christmas songs?”
As he went into the track, it became clear he was making it up as he went along and quickly abandoned the false effort. “I love Christmas songs – do you know this one? It’s called ‘Don’t Break the Needle.’” After tearing through their big hit, the band had Glenn join them on stage with his doubleneck Gibson.
“How long has it been since you guys rock and rolled?” Roddy belted, before the 5 piece launched into a roaring rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Rock and Roll,” followed by “Dancing Days” and the intro to “Stairway to Heaven,” which they blended into “The Stroke.”
Glenn and guitarist Billy Gordon’s syncopated overdriven guitar licks, combined with drummer Steve Colmus’ driving Bonham beats and Walston’s Robert Plant-emulating roars, may have been intended as an ironic, tongue-in-cheek nod to their unabashedly classic rock and roll songwriting, but they were delivered with a care and respect for the songs of yore so convincing that the joke lost itself in authenticity.
The shredfest was just the start of a weekend of riffs and licks to come.
Night two saw a markedly different opener for the classic rock crowd – Spooky Cool. Their avant-garde, progressive take on art pop compositions has blown the minds of musicians and fans in Richmond for a long time, and have left quite an impact on the J Roddy crew as well.
“They’re amazing, I don’t know how they do it. How do they remember all those parts?” puzzled Colmus during their set.
The band was tight as ever as they moved between lush arrangements and complex rhythms, landing on powerful, melodic choruses like the end of newer track “Bad Night at Bamboo.” Despite the intensity of their songs, the packed crowd was captivated by their performance.
Having spent the whole first set in the crowd enamored by Spooky Cool, J Roddy and his crew stepped out onto the stage seemingly unsure how to follow.
“I love Spooky Cool! They’re one of the raddest bands I can think of right now,” Walston boasted to the sold out room before jumping into “Don’t Break the Needle.”
Walston and co. flipped the set from the previous night on its head, mixing in hits like “Know Me Better” from their new record Destroyers of the Soft Life with crowd favorites like “Caroline” and “Used to Did.” Their set felt just as fresh and vital as the night prior as the band showed the depth of their catalogue.
The highlight of the night came during the encore when the band blasted through a mini Nirvana cover set including “In Bloom,” “On a Plain” and “All Apologies.”
Pulling off a set of Nirvana covers outside of a talent show or dive bar is a tough sell for most bands, but Roddy and co. crushed it. Gordon nailed the guitar tone while Walston’s gruff howls made the crowd go wild. At this point it was hard to imagine how they would raise the bar during their closing night, but rest assured they ended on top.
Sunday night saw tourmates Sleepwalkers and the Business reunite in what’ has become a tradition for the close friends. Two years ago they joined each other on stage at The National for the Thanksgiving special, breaking out a Huey Lewis and the News cover set encore, with additional horns provided by No BS! Brass Band. By night three the crowd was filled with the most die hard fans ready to rock again.
Sleepwalkers started their set with pop gem “Run Right Back.” Singer Michael York was in his element, cracking jokes and ripping guitar solos left and right. The five piece, including recent addition Jacob Avery (who also drums for The Trillions), leaned in to the three guitar onslaught. Between the brash hammer-ons, dirty pick slides and soaring vocal harmonies, Sleepwalkers blends the best elements of classic rock and contemporary pop construction. They are as comfortable writing about love and hard drugs as existential crises and the meaning of life, and along the way they craft some of the catchiest and flashiest rock and roll songwriting and performing this town has to offer.
“They are the greatest rock and roll band that we’ve ever met,” beamed bassist Austin York about J Roddy a few songs into the set.
“We probably wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for J Roddy and the boys,” brother Michael York added.
They ended their set with the help of Trillions frontman Charlie Glenn as they ripped The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” in full throwback glory.
J Roddy capitalized on the energy of the room Sleepwalkers left in their wake, starting the set with “Full Grown Man” and “Ways and Means.” Walston rocked his signature hair flips as elegantly as his nuanced vocal deliveries in his third show stopping performance of the weekend. Jumping from the piano bench up to the standing mic as the crowd roared, Walston took the performance to the next level as he celebrated the close of his weekend run.
After a whirlwind of a set, Walston and the boys stripped it back for an acoustic intro of the newer song “Burn Black,” allowing the audience a brief reprieve before kicking it back up to volume 11 for a string of Tom Petty covers. Joined by the entirety of Sleepwalkers, playing a variety of instruments and percussion, as well as Glenn on acoustic guitar, the ten-piece clambered about the stage, with guitarist Gordon joking “I feel like we’re The Polyphonic Spree – how do you start a song when there are 20 people on stage?” Joking aside, the band tore through “Don’t Do Me Like That” in an unrehearsed but genuine celebration of one of their favorite rock idols.
Often huddled three to a mic in boisterous harmony, the ensemble were having the time of their lives doing what they do best, loving every minute of it. The unencumbered joy and elation across their faces lit up the room as the Essential Tremors track “Midnight Cry” brought the weekend’s musicians together for a monumental finale.
“We get to play with all of our friends, so it already feels victorious even though we haven’t gone across the finish line yet,” bassist Logan Davis remarked at the start of Friday night.
Victorious they were across three wild nights; living proof that rock and roll isn’t dead.
Photography by Gabrielle Silvers & Ashley Travis
J Roddy Walston & The Business
J Roddy Walston & The Business joined by members of Sleepwalkers for Tom Petty set