By RAOUL BIRON, Staff Writer
On Friday, the Stone Church in Newmarket welcomed Canadian folk rock band Jubilee Riots (formerly Enter the Haggis). The Toronto based group, which released its first album under its new name in October, has become increasingly difficult to define.
As Enter the Haggis, the band released 10 albums and underwent numerous lineup changes. Penny Black, the new album, hits a high point. Mixing many of the sounds from previous releases and iterations of the band, Jubilee Riots seems to have found a comfort zone in more of an indie pop. The band retained and often use the ability to tap into their backgrounds as string-based americana, dirtier grunge, or bagpipe driven celtic folk and can change the sound of their set at will.
Jubilee Riots’ sound diversity was represented in the crowd at the Stone Church. The audience ranged from younger bluegrass or indie-folk fans, people hoping for good drinking tunes and a listener itching for a more layered and melodically complicated celtic rock. They weren’t disappointed by a band that found its home somewhere in the middle, skillfully bouncing between genres and covering all bases, but always returning to a full sounding alternative groove. One set could start with a jig about a sinking ship, move to a Raconteurs-like groove, and end with a sound resembling Marcus Mumford in a hipster pop band. This band is totally confusing but satisfies so many niches at once.
The small, mostly seated venue in Newmarket meshed well with the fan-oriented band, whose last three albums were crowd sourced and more independently produced. Recorded in Portland, Maine, Penny Black was funded by nearly a thousand pledges and seems largely designed to be played as a complete live set.
To write an album dedicated to their fan base, Jubilee Riots asked listeners to send them their stories. Drawing on dozens of letters, the band completed a set filled with songs whose themes range from wanting to travel more to personal loss. One submission told the story of a Holocaust survivor who after escaping a death march, was separated from his family for over 50 years (see the song Astray).
The symmetry between such personal lyrics present in both ballads and indie dance music was helped by their genre-bending and changing instrumentation. At different points in the set, Jubilee Riots adjusted their tone by adding or subtracting different combinations of fiddle, celtic flutes, a clean sounding electric piano, a distorted Gibson ES-339, trumpet, and bagpipes. It sounds odd, but something about rapid bagpipe scales and an indie-disco bass line works really well. Smartly paced and balanced, their set on Friday night was well received, naturally getting better as more beer started flowing.
Red Tail Hawk, a Newburyport, Massachusetts blues and rock band opened for Jubilee Riots on Friday. It was guitarist and UNH and Berklee College of Music alum, Dan Searl’s first show with the band. “Playing before a nationally touring band is always going to be awesome,” Searl said.
Later this month, Jubilee Riots will embark on a tour in Ireland, as always, inviting fans to come along. There’s really no telling what the band will sound like when it returns to North America, but so far, that’s been a good thing.