Live: Plush @ Empire Underground, 02/11/2022

Pearl Street was definitely the place to be Friday night.  The Seapods were playing the first of their two-night stand at the Hollow.  The Neal Morse Band, including legendary drummer Mike Portnoy were holding court upstairs at Empire Live.  But the must-see show of the night was to be found downstairs, in the intimate, gritty Empire Underground.  Plush, an all-female four piece rock band fronted by Latham’s own Moriah Formica, were playing their very first show in the Northeast.  They spent most of 2021 touring with the likes of Evanescence, Sevendust, and Halestorm, but chose Albany for their debut album release party.  Expectations were high, and the room was sold out.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Frontwoman Formica, though only 21, has been a bit of a celebrity for a long time on the local music scene.  She’d already played numerous gigs around town, released an EP, and worked with Michael Sweet before really coming into the public consciousness with her run on The Voice in 2017.  Immediately noted for the power of her voice, and riding the momentum of that fame, the question became “what’s next?”  In an introspective 2019 social media post, she described how people were encouraging her to go more mainstream, more pop.  That “rock is dead”.  In spite of this, she decided to go all in, proclaiming “rock is WHAT I am”.  Fast forward two years later, and you have Plush.

In addition to Formica, Plush is comprised of drummer Brooke Colucci, lead guitarist Bella Perron, and bassist Ashley Suppa.  All are young, all have a great rock and roll “look”, but most importantly all can PLAY.  They took the stage shortly after 9PM, and launched into “Athena”, the leadoff track of their debut album.  The first thing that grabs you is (unsurprisingly) Formica’s voice.  Powerful, soaring…it quickly announces itself as the real deal.  A legit set of rock and roll pipes, no studio trickery needed.  But this is no one-woman show.  About a minute in, and one couldn’t help but be mesmerized by all four members.  Colucci’s drums grab you first – satisfyingly strong but also unassumingly technical.  Perron’s guitar creates a heavy wall of sound throughout, with an emphasis on the “heavy”.  And Suppa’s bass effortlessly keeps the bottom end propelling forward.  This is not Formica’s backing band.  They are a legitimate four-piece band in the truest sense of the word.  

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Hardly pausing, they kept raising the energy level higher on the next two songs, culminating in early-set highlight “Found a Way”.  Perron’s guitar really got a chance to shine on this one.  A fairly simple, propulsive riff, but her sense of timing and flair adds substantially to it, as does Colucci’s fills.  After a short bit of banter in which Formica’s enthusiasm for being in front of a hometown crowd clearly shone through, they slowed things down (a bit) for “Sober”.  Suppa’s bass provided plenty of atmosphere in the slower parts, making the transitions to the louder refrain all the more dramatic.  “Sorry” (next in their set) was an absolute showcase for Formica.  It’s hard to imagine anyone but her able to deliver the defiant, confrontational lyrics in a more effective manner.  It’s also easy to imagine a song like this getting a lot of commercial airplay.

They continued to march through their album’s material, eventually playing all but one of the tracks on it.  It’s clear that they are better live than on record.  This is no slight on the album, it is a well produced and good sounding recording.  It’s more a testament to their abilities as players.  Many bands today either sound like pale imitations of themselves live, or they sound exactly like their recording, which is usually just boring.  Plush really comes alive onstage.  There is a visual aspect to this.  They look like rock stars, and they’re obviously embracing that.  But if (for example) you wonder if the fan blowing Colucci’s hair while she plays is a half step too far, her chops on that kit will wipe that grin right off your face.  And that’s the key.  The clothes, the makeup, the fan…if you’re going to embrace the image this hard, you better bring the goods.  And Plush does.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

They sequenced their setlist well, ending with three particularly strong tracks.   “Will Not Win” is a straight ahead, kick-in-the-teeth kind of track, Suppa’s bass punching you from below, while Formica’s vocals deliver a tasty amount of swing.  Perron seemed to have particular fun on this song, and it showed.  For me, this was the strongest track of the night.  “I Don’t Care” followed, another radio-ready track with singalong parts almost designed for arena shows.  Finally, they closed with their first single “Hate”, which remains one of their best written songs. Similar to the rest of the show, if you liked that song on the radio, you were blown away by the live version of it.

After a very short break, they came back to give the appreciative (and chanting) crowd an encore of “Barracuda”.  Given all the comparisons between Formica and Ann Wilson, this choice probably surprised very few people.  But that didn’t make it any less enjoyable, or any less impressive.  The simple fact is that there are very few singers who can try to cover that song and not embarrass themselves.  And – lest we forget – that song also requires a pretty tight band to not screw it up as well.  I defy you to find a better live version of it out there than what was played last night.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

In the end, Plush delivered the goods last night, and that is no small feat.  Stakes were pretty high – sold out venue, “official” album release, playing in front of Formica’s hometown crowd, etc.  In many ways there was much to lose and little to gain.  Unless they killed it.  Which they did.  

How far do they go from here?  Last night demonstrated they have the chops.  They sound good – really good.  They have the image.  They have the exposure, as their ensuing tour(s) with Slash (and others) illustrate.  I have no doubt you could put them in front of any arena right now, and they’d more than hold their own.  Could they go really big, to the point that locals will one day be whispering about having seen them in the basement of Empire Live?  Absolutely.  I think, in the end, it will come down to the songwriting.  Their best songs are promising enough already, but hint at greater heights yet to come.  And these women are just warming up.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Opening acts Vendetta Rose and Alborn both delivered solid sets in advance of Plush’s performance.  Illinois-based Alborn came out with an alternative metal sound that was undeniably heavy, but also surprisingly melodic.  They are a kinetic group to watch…good visual fun, and frontman Justin Taylor has a natural command of the stage.  I’d expect to hear more from them soon.  Preceding them was Vendetta Rose, a four-piece out of Asbury Park, NJ.  Visually evocative of Led Zeppelin while sonically channeling a bit of Soundgarden, they successfully warmed up the crowd with a mix of originals and covers.  A likable group that engaged the audience immediately – not always an easy thing to do.

Setlist

  • Athena
  • Champion
  • Found a Way
  • Sober
  • Sorry
  • Bring Me Down
  • Walk Away
  • Don’t Say That
  • Better Off Alone
  • Will Not Win
  • I Don’t Care
  • Hate

<encore>

  • Barracuda (Heart cover)
1 Comment
  1. William says

    Speaking of musicians who can play, the Neal Morse Band was not sold out, but as MIke Portnoy put it, it was a Ronnie James Dio crowd, small but powerful!

Comments are closed.