Concert preview: Houndmouth brings a colorful cast of characters to life on Little Neon Limelight

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On Little Neon Limelight, vintage roots-rock quartet Houndmouth breathes life into a motley cast of characters, including an iron-shackled convict (“15 Years”) and a trust-fund dandy “a quarter the way insane” (“Black Gold”). But even tasked with a roster that reads like the cast listing for a Coen Brothers production, the songs, at their core, remain inherently personal.

“Even if you’re writing in third person you really are putting yourself in [the music],” said keyboardist Katie Toupin, reached on a late April tour stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. “When you write a song it's really mostly about you, whether you want it to be or not.”

Take the slow-burning “Gasoline,” which the singer described as a “personal tragedy song of sorts.”

“I’m a fool … wrapped up in you,” Toupin sings, buoyed by gentle, acoustic instrumentation that smolders instead of flaring up, like the final glowing embers of a long-dead fire.

Though the people in the songs come from all walks of life, most are bound by some deep-seated tragedy, sharing scar tissue in common, if little else.

“A lot of the characters are struggling, and a lot of that is true,” said Toupin, who joins guitarist Matt Myers, bassist Zak Appleby and drummer Shane Cody (all four provide vocals) for a tour stop at Newport Music Hall on Saturday, May 9. “I mean, this is kind of a deeper topic, but I feel like tragedy is what brings people together … and we’re drawn to that. So there's stuff that's super heavy, like ‘Gasoline’ and ‘For No One,’ but then there's also ‘My Cousin Greg,’ which is completely silly.”

The Indiana crew’s ability to breathe life into a diverse cast is further enhanced by the varied voices of its members, which range from Toupin’s glass-smooth pipes to Myers’ comparatively reedy, scuffed-up vocals, which conjure images of Bob Dylan in his folk troubadour days. Throughout, the bandmates trade leads and sing in unison, building perfectly imperfect four-part harmonies Toubin described as “saloon-y.”

“People talk about our harmonies all the time, but I think they're a little different because they're not always perfect … so there can be room for error and it's still OK,” said Toubin, who started playing guitar at 17 as a means to avoid enrolling in college. “We're not necessarily trying to blend our voices. I think it's more that everyone has their own voice in the band, and we want it to stand out to some degree. We don't want to hide behind each other.”

Newport Music Hall

7 p.m. Saturday, May 9

1722 N. High St., Campus