Eck’s Men will magnetize a virtual audience in the livestream universe tonight.
The New York City power pop-abilly quintet of Drew Eckmann (vocals), Rick Norman (guitar, backing vocals), Roger Astudillo (bass, backing vocals), Tom Wise (sax) and Dennis Vallone (drums, backing vocals) will perform a supercharged 80-minute livestream set at The Bowery Electric.
“There will be 20 songs, seven of which are on Who Knew?!?!?, 12 newer songs and one cover. There are probably songs that we’ve never played and two or three that we’ve played only once. The rest we’ve played a few times,” Eckmann said.
“Though it’s not the first New York City club we’ve played, Bowery Electric has a great vibe because it’s run by musicians. The audiences are ‘music smart,’ so we have to be on our A-game when we play there. It was at Bowery Electric that Jesse Malin and Joseph Arthur told me separately that I should start writing songs. The club has supported us from the start.”
“Since a bunch of songs are on the newer side, everyone will be trying to put the songs in a place where they’re just second nature. Tom will be playing the sax. He adds a drive to the fast songs and an underlying echo to the melody in the slower songs,” Eckmann said.
“Kelley was introduced to me by Jesse Malin about five years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. Kelley’s going to join me on a duet I’ve written called ‘Just Don’t Know It Yet.’”
Thursday’s livestream show also will allow Eck’s Men to reintroduce their timeless 12-track, rockabilly-infused debut album, Who Knew?!?!?. Released in August via 2WIN DISC Records, the album shimmies, sways and bops through powerfully succinct tales about love lost and found against a soulful, energetic backdrop.
“A lot of the songs, even though they were completed at the time, they’re still kind of new to us. Now when we do a livestream, we can say we’re gonna play some new songs and old favorites. We have a loyal core audience of people who come to see us, so it’s encouraging and refreshing that we have people we can count on,” Eckmann said.
Eckmann and his bandmates spent nine months writing and recording a dozen tracks for Who Knew?!?!? with producer and bassist Tommy Stinson (formerly of The Replacements, Bash & Pop, Perfect, Guns N’ Roses and Soul Asylum) at Bipolar Bear Studios in Hudson, New York.
“Tommy is part of the band, and he breaks our chops while we break his. He makes himself part of the process, and he understands that’s the way you get the best work from the people you’re dealing with,” Norman said.
Along with Stinson, Eck’s Men also collaborated with Wise and Danny Ray (sax) as well as Rob Clores (keys) on the album. The addition of fervent sax solos and bouncy piano accompaniments enabled the band to pack a punchy, vintage rock wallop throughout Who Knew?!?!?.
“I sent Rob the tracks and said, ‘Hey, see what you can do with them.’ He said, ‘Well, you don’t have a piano in the band, so I don’t think I should play on every song. Here are the four that I picked out.’ It couldn’t be more perfect, and I just love the way he plays. We didn’t even make any adjustments; what he played was what went on the record,” Eckmann said.
One of those brilliant piano-centric tracks includes “Nobody’s Prize,” a rhythmic, fiery ode to commitment phobia. Pounding drums, vibrant sax, swift bass, spirited organ, thoughtful electric guitar and calm tambourine foreshadow a passionate relationship’s quick demise.
Eckmann reflects, “I knew the first time I met you/I could never forget you/You wore the most beautiful dress/And I swore I couldn’t settle for less.”
“That was about a girlfriend of mine. We were in love, and then one day she said, ‘I think I’m going to have to step back from this.’ But she had everything going for her; she was wealthy, and she was as smart as a whip. She’s a writer, and she’s as funny and as pretty as could be. But she said, ‘I’m nobody’s prize,’” Eckmann said.
Eckmann also revisits another past relationship on “Anna B.” as thumping drums, crashing cymbals, vivid electric guitars, soft acoustic strums and throbbing bass unearth buried romantic memories.
He wistfully sings, “Well I met somebody’s daughter south of the border/Said she wants to be a friend of mine/I chose to drink Porter instead of the water/She sat down with a bottle of wine/Oh Anna B., Anna B., Anna B., Anna B., Anna B./Look what you’ve done to me.”
Who Knew?!?!? also features a bonus version of “Anna B.+” as its closing track, which doesn’t include the original version’s spoken word section by Eckmann. It beautifully revives the story of a mysterious woman who quickly got away.
“We had always played it the way the second one was where we’re singing all the way through. When we were recording, Tommy said, ‘Hey, stop for a second.’ He thought the talking would work, and I think we got it on the first take,” Eckmann said.
“Tommy said, ‘Why don’t you just talk like this?’ So we did it, and I liked it. I played it for other people, and they didn’t know both versions. They liked it, but I also liked the regular version, too.”
Another standout track includes “Heart Condition,” which blends escalating electric strums, pulsating drums, banging cymbals, bouncy bass and lively organ into palpitating love anthem.
Eckmann reveals, “I had a pain inside my chest/The doctor told me rest was best/Surprised at my heart’s reaction/Hoping it wasn’t a fatal attraction/Because you had gone away/And there was nothing left to say/I couldn’t stand the aching/I knew my heart was breaking.”
“Heart Condition” also pays righteous homage to The Gaslight Anthem’s striking 2010 album and title track, “American Slang.” Eckmann sings, “Brian Fallon got it wrong/In that Gaslight Anthem song/Your name’s tattooed on my heart/And not inside my arms/Yeah, but on further inspection/The needle caused an infection/It’s a heart attack/I want you back/A cardiac redirection.”
“When ‘American Slang’ came out, a bunch of my friends were fans. The Gaslight Anthem did a show at the Ed Sullivan Theater, and everyone I knew thought the line in ‘American Slang’ was ‘I’ve got your name tattooed across my heart.’ To me, it was like the most romantic line ever. And then I heard it was ‘I’ve got your name tattooed inside of my arm,’” Eckmann said.
“I was at The Stone Pony another night, and Brian was there. I ran into him and said, ‘I actually have a verse of a song that I wrote about you.’ He said, ‘Get outta here,’ and I said here it is, ‘Brian Fallon got it wrong/In that Gaslight Anthem song/Your name’s tattooed on my heart/And not inside my arms.’ He said, ‘Whoa, I might steal that.’”
Eck’s Men Origin Story
The Eck’s Men origin story dates back to 2017. At the time, a series of chance encounters led to the band’s formation and evolution into a power pop-abilly quartet.
Eckmann hosted a house concert one night at his Ringwood, New Jersey home and performed “You Can’t Do That” with Glen Burtnik’s Beatles tribute band. Longtime friend and former colleague Astudillo sat in the audience that night and instantly noticed Eckmann’s magnetic stage presence.
“Roger started calling me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to sing some songs?’ And I said, ‘No, not really.’ Another time he called and said, ‘I’m on my way to your house with the guitar. We’re gonna play.’ He played some songs, and I sang some songs. He got some friends of his to come over, and we played around with Beatles, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley songs,” said Eckmann, who’s a retired associate editor for Newsweek.
After several rehearsals, Eckmann booked the band’s first gig at The Delancey in New York City’s East Village. They focused on playing covers and later invited Norman to perform at another show in New Jersey with singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur.
While Norman didn’t join Eck’s Men right away, he became a last-minute addition to the band hours before a Bowery Electric show with songwriter-guitarist Jesse Malin. That performance laid the initial groundwork for the band’s formation and eventual invitation for Vallone to join.
Throughout their first year, Eck’s Men continued to perform deep cover-filled sets until one fateful night at New York City’s Coney Island Baby (now known as Lola). “We had a particularly bad show crowd-wise and venue-wise. I didn’t want to do it anymore, and I said from now on we’re only going to do original stuff,” said Eckmann, who’s influenced by The Beatles and Jerry Lee Lewis.
While Eckmann doesn’t have any formal musical training, he quickly started writing song lyrics and humming melodies to Astudillo and Norman. In return, they added chords, solos and riffs while Vallone contributed dynamic drum parts to create the band’s power pop-abilly songs.
“Once we switched to originals, we had workshopped all these songs in a certain style. It was easier to switch over and say, ‘OK, I get what he’s saying.’ Now we have 28 songs under our belt, and we know where to go and what’s to be expected in terms of what we want to hear in the end product,” Norman said.
That creative chemistry quickly led to a partnership with Stinson to write and record Who Knew?!?!? and regular airplay on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius XM. Today, the band is ready to record their follow-up release with producer Roger Moutenot, who’s worked with Sleater-Kinney, Paula Cole and Yo La Tengo.
“We’re hoping to get to Nashville to record in maybe late May or June. I think we may go in the direction of an EP or maybe two EPs instead of a 12-song album. The music will have less of the ‘live’ sound that runs through Who Knew?!?!?. A few DJs who have heard some of the songs have given us positive feedback,” Eckmann said.
7:30 p.m. | Thursday, Feb. 25
Tickets: $20, $50