Streetlight is a band that’s impossible to categorise. I’ve heard ska-punk, world, prog jazz, hardcore folk, and a dozen other descriptors chucked their way, none sticking in any sense of the word (best I’ve seen is “mariachi band from hell”).
But if there’s one word descriptor agreeable to the rowdy-devoted-vibrant community that’s grown around this marvellous band, it’s formative. I divide my experience as a music listener into two epocs: the pre-Streetlight and the post-Streetlight. Falling into the band is a life-altering experience like falling into a black hole might stretch you out a bit. Lead singer Tomas Kalnoky released covers of their songs as acoustic ballads; I find them so deeply moving that I’ve played nylon-string acoustic guitar for the last five years, trying my damnedest to sound like him - someday I’ll be good - my first mosh pits were at Streetlight shows - and nobody moshes better than those crazy motherfuckers. The fundamentals of my very taste in music were decided one fateful day when a much younger I stumbled across them by chance.
Dallas. Cleveland. Burlington. The three thousand in attendance (the show sold out) must have, altogether, traveled a hundred thousand miles to see this show. This isn’t unusual. When I saw Kalnoky solo in London, a steady crowd of individuals bearing Streetlight tattoos regaled their stories of flying to the US to catch them on tour. Here in NYC, I heard stories of concerts in Portland, LA, Orlando — all fantastic, all moving, all beautiful. It’s said that the Mountain Goats have a passionate following; funny, then, the crossover fanbase.
“Streetlight Manifesto - the mariachi band from hell”
After the house lights dropped, the band commenced with an anthemic throwback to the original BOTAR EP, which turns 17 this year: “This is a Call to Arms/Here’s to Life” a song with a crowd-vocal intro leapt into by the entire three-thousand-strong audience in a wonderous expression of the camaraderie felt by followers of the band. The forty-piece orchestra was not there for show; they wasted no time leaping into audaciously-layered rhythms and exotically-flavored harmony, wonderously syncopated and perfectly complementing the ska-punk nucleus performing at the front of the stage. The crowd was exuberant; they wasted precisely no time before expressing their loves with throaty shouts of adoration for the band.
The setlist meandered from folk ballads evoking rustic frustration at a government in its waning days (underscored by the anticapitalism of the fanbase) to skanking bangers presented in orchestral glory (“A Moment of Silence,” disintegrating into the flatout-punk “A Moment of Violence”). There were quick and animated songs with flourishing fanfares (see “We Will Fall Together”) and fleeting, tender slow bits (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” and slow by Streetlight standards). The end of the (non-encore) setlist was an amalgamation of pure energy: “What a Wicked Gang are We”, “If and When We Rise Again”, and the pathos-rich “Receiving End of it All”. Tomas told us not to sit down for the last one, but it’s not like anyone was anyways at that point.
A jaw-dropping addition to the band was a piano soloist, Guy Mintus - and now forever known in Streetlight mythos as “Mr Piano Guy,” as per Kalnoky’s comment - . Mintus, a virtuoso concert pianist, would perform brilliant reworkings of each song preceding the orchestra, and dazzled all present with the his sheer musicianship involved. A few screams pleaded with Streetlight to make Mr Piano Guy an ordinary member of the band - and for the record, he’d fit right in.
Time and time again, Streetlight Manifesto brings unparalleled energy to the stage, electrifying the audience and galvanizing them to the band. There’s a reason they have such a loyal following: to this day, Streetlight manages to demonstrate that they are in a league of their own.
One last thing: rumor on the street is that a UK tour is in the works. See you there, chumps.
STREETLIGHT MANIFESTO AND THE BANDITS OF THE ACOUSTIC REVOLUTION ORCHESTRA
Support Artist: None. Venue: Beacon Theatre, NYC. Date: 13th January 2018. Ticket Price: $40.