The Spanish Harlem act has gone through numerous cast changes, with its founding pair not surviving to see their first, self-titled EP in 2003, but the changes wrought the year after their 2004 LP (yes, that was its name) were still extreme, as everyone but singer/guitarist Marcus Congleton left and formed Red Romance. With no new material since 2006’s New English EP, Ambulance had faded somewhat into the background, but on Friday, April 4th in Hoboken, NJ, Congleton was back, with a new crew and new stuff – but was still sweet with originals, as well.
The set was split about half-and-half, new and old. Ambulance LTD opened with the pressing LP expanse of “Heavy Lifting”, a really nice way to begin the set. The more alt-country “New English” followed up (the only non-LP, non-new song of the night), but after that, the center of the set was mostly dominated by new material. Generally, the new songs (with no set list, their titles are unknown at this point – many are probably still “Untitled”) were more funkified than previous Ambulance LTD (though some of that was also present on New English). There was a relaxed groove to many of them, a New English country-funk to some, but they still retained the sweet expanse the band is known for, with one piece almost a ‘funky anthem’.
Ambulance LTD playing an untitled new song live at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ:
It having been so long since Ambulance LTD last toured, and LP having been so good, it still came about that it was the old ones that were best received. Pieces like the enchanting “Ophelia” saw veritable light, low-key sing-alongs from the crowd, and the intros to numbers like “Anecdote” got immediate, anticipatory cheers. The beginning instrumental of “Stay Where You Are” tricks a little, but once the regular portion kicked in, loud rounds of applause came forward – and is there really any song sweeter than that single?
Ambulance LTD playing “Ophelia” live at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ:
Congleton, shorn of his long locks but still a looker, was fairly restrained in his banter – all that time off can mess with your ‘stage presence’. Other than saying, “This one is new” at various times and thanking the crowd, Maxwell’s (QRO venue review), and the openers, his only real statement was explaining why they were going to skip the ‘leave the stage and then come back’ and go straight into the encore (“We don’t want to navigate our way through the crowd” – no other way to leave the stage at Maxwell’s – QRO venue review). They ‘returned’ with LP’s other single, “Primitive (The Way I Treat You)”, a knowing piece of alt-pop/rock, and finished with an inspired version of the sweet and relaxed “Young Urban”.
Ambulance LTD playing “Primitive (The Way I Treat You)” live at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ:
With so much new stuff, some great LP tracks were skipped, like the record’s opening instrumental, “Yoga Means Union” (though that was supposedly the favorite of the rest of the band that left…) – but LP was a great LP, so that really can’t be helped. The fact that it had been a while made the older tracks shine brighter, and though that took some of the spotlight away from the new pieces, it also meant that the show was more than ‘just’ a ‘new stuff’ show. A lot of acts have recently been playing the New York area in the run-up to a new 2008 release, showing off their new material, such as Sunset Rubdown (QRO live review), The Stills (QRO live review), Ra Ra Riot (QRO live review), and Mission of Burma (QRO live review) (or stellastarr* last August – QRO live review) – but this was one of the sweetest.