New York Music Daily (November 2012, Delarue)
Spottiswoode and His Enemies Celebrate 15 Years of Art-Rock Brilliance
“In the wake of the hurricane, Spottiswode and His Enemies didn’t know whether they’d be able to do the fifteen-year anniversary show they’d been working on right up until four days before the concert actually took place last night. But it was a last-minute triumph to rival any staged in New York this year. Adding a touch of class, a little holiday spirit and spot-on ambience, the nimble organist at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street played a little Bach, a carol and finally a solo introduction to the band’s first song from her perch up in the balcony. It was a trope straight out of Pink Floyd, one of the groups that this inspired, sharp bunch of art-rockers resembles. In over three hours of music spanning two long sets, the band left no doubt that they’re even more formidable a beast than when they had their first New York residency at Coney Island High back in the 90s.
Bandleader Jonathan Spottiswoode uses artsy, lyrically-driven 70s British folk-rock as a stepping-off point for his often witheringly lyrical songs. For most of the show, he played acoustic guitar over lush, soaring arrangements from a six-piece band that included Riley McMahon on electric guitar, mandolin and glockenspiel, John Young on bass, Anthony Lauria on piano, organ and acccordion, Candace DeBartolo on tenor sax, plus a tersely excellent trumpeter and equally terse drummer who felt the room, held back and let his beats resonate in the boomy space.
Spottiswoode’s best songs are intense, and his cask-aged baritone conveys that, nonchalantly but vividly. This being a celebration of a band’s fifteen-year survival, they wasted no time looking at it dourly with Salvation, a gospel-tinged, Nick Cave-ish reflection on getting old: even a long, horn-driven crescendo didn’t lighten the mood. But Spottiswoode’s songs are self-aware. It only took him til song two to take a poke at the too-cool-for-school crowd: “Life is dreary if you’re world-weary,” he intoned over a brisk folk-rock shuffle. He led the band into noir tango-rock after thatwith the Lou Reed-inflected Nice Girl, and then Enfant Terrible, a savagely sarcastic, vaudevillian waltz directed at a spoiled woman who “dresses her children like sluts” and won’t sleep with her much younger boyfriend because he slapped her around once. Those are the kind of details that populate Spottiswoode’s best songs and make them so entertaining.
The band was sensational. Was the high point of the night DeBartolo’s rain-drenched, gorgeously minimalist opening solo on the salsa-grooving You Will Rise Again? Or was it the paint-peeling guitar duel on a flamenco-tinged epic later in the first set, Spottiswoode and McMahon blasting through as feral a jam as Steve Wynn and Jason Victor could ever come up with? Good as the band was, they couldn’t have done as well without such solid material. The rest of the set ran the gamut from the blithely sardonic, cabaret-tinged Ukrainian Girl – a Quentin Crisp acolyte who turns out to be “a laboratory rat in her underwear” – to a long, theatrically shapeshifting take of the Bush War parable Wild Goosechase Expedition – to the understatedly poignant, Lennonesque Chariot, a considerably quieter but equally powerful antiwar song.
The second set was a lot looser, sometimes more carefree, sometimes more lush, notably on a careening, raspingly gloomy take of It’s All in the Past and a bit later with a long, nebulously atmospheric tableau, its narrator staring pensively at the Hoboken skyline from across the river, a song that predated the hurricane by several years but fit the lingering after-storm ambience like a glove. They finally closed the night with about fifteen minutes of one of those long, lusciously dark, psychedelic latin grooves that Spottiswoode does so well, You Won’t Forget Your Dream, allowing plenty of time for solos from pretty much the whole band. For a long time, this group was ubiquitous in this town; understandably, shows have grown fewer and further between. This happened to be one for the ages. Here’s hoping they do a thirtieth anniversary show someday where the hurricane comes afterward.”
The New Yorker (April, 2012)
“Spottiswoode & His Enemies. The theatrical and eclectic composer and musician Spottiswoode gathers his collaborators for a late-night show of gospel-inflected sounds destined to run, appropriately, into Easter Sunday. Among the featured singers will be the standout rhythm-and-blues artist Martha Redbone.”
New Yorker (October, 2011)
“Spottiswoode & His Enemies begin a monthlong Sunday residency [at the Living Room]…and it’ll take about a month to explore the many facets of Spottiswoode’s music.”
John Schaefer, WNYC (October, 2011)
“The English born singer-songwriter Spottiswoode has been one of New York’s more colorful band leaders for more than a decade”
World Cafe Live, David Dye
“Seeing what the band is LIVE just totally opened my eyes… you’re an incredible performer and there’s something about the whole performance [an] almost theater aspect of the band that is really important.”
Ithaca Times, Bill Chalsson (October, 2011)
“Spottiswoode and His Enemies were all that I hoped they’d be on Saturday night at the Chapter House. It was fascinating to watch Spottiswoode quietly methodically set up his equipment, gingerly set down his guitar case off stage, jovially greet one of the singers in Dowd’s band, and then in the first moments of the first song in the set transform himself into a bitter, wild-eyed bellower threatening convincing revenge on a lover who refuses to submit to his dominance. Good stuff.
This is a crack band that does everything from cinematic rock and roll that would give the Afghan Whigs a run for their money to vaudeville tomfoolery that is stranger than the Kinks. The volume, level of menace, and complexity varies constantly through the set, held together by Spottiswoode’s volatile persona, which seems labile enough to account for (and even make likely) the repeated, abrupt shifts in mood.”
Paste Magazine, Steve LaBate
Review of Enemies at Star Bar in Atlanta, 2008
After a brief between-set visit to the Star Bar’s Grace Vault (a bank vault turned epic Elvis shrine, complete with kneelers, candles, velvet likenesses, endless memorabilia and even a centerpiece toilet bowl paying tribute to the king’s final earthly throne), I watched the seven-piece Spottiswoode & His Enemies set up their gear. In 2003, when I first started working at Paste, editor Jason Killingsworth turned me on to Spottiswoode’s Building A Road album. At the time, his music was available on our now-defunct retail site pastemusic.com, and I ended up putting his track “I’m In Love With An Angry Girl” on my personal best-of mix that year. But since then I’d lost track of Spottiswoode. My mistake. The longhaired, mutton-chopped British songwriter—who inhabits a possessed stage presence somewhere between Joe Cocker and Jim Morrison—knocked the crowd over with his gravelly voice, passionate delivery, dry wit and dark sense of humor. And Spottiswoode’s band—regardless of what he calls them—are certainly no enemies, as they provided a lush, soulful and occasionally creepy bed over which he belted his clever lyrics.
Toward the end of a set that inspired visions of Kevin Ayers and Randy Newman, the Enemies really showed their skills, with trumpet player Kevin Cordt and saxophonist Candace de Bartolo echoing the interplay of Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderly on the landmark jazz album Kind of Blue. It was nothing short of transportive, the Star Bar for a moment becoming some back-alley beatnik haunt—suddenly Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty materialize at the bar, chainsmoking and slugging cheap red wine, shifting side to side, their eyes closed as they listen in rapturous bliss to those meandering horn lines as they spiral ever-so-carefully up and up and up into the lost American night under which all the sad-eyed people are lying awake in their beds with the wash of light from the TV painting their tired souls a tear-stained blue and their minds wander to how-do-you-do’s as they pass blank faces on the streets of New York and Denver and San Fransisco and even down in the hot sticky South where all the pretty little colored girls with their soft brown skin dance under the summer stars in New Orleans and Memphis and Atlanta… Atlanta? Wait a minute. I’m in Atlanta. Buzzed on cheap beer at the Star Bar. It’s 2008. And I am not Jack Kerouac.”
New York Post, Mary Huhn
“Captivating…A magical experience!”
“A troubadour with a primitive yawp and a jones for performance art, Spottiswoode delivers libidinal punk rants and weirdo narratives like a horny, drug-addled Nick Cave. His Enemies, meanwhile, bang on found instuments and blow horns and suggest an oompah band on crack..”
WXPN Radio, Dan Reed
“Jonathan Spottiswoode and his (very nice, actually) Enemies do something that few bands can do: evoke real emotions, sometimes several different ones in a single song. Spottiswoode himself is both funny and scary at the same time, and there is undeniably a major talent lurking behind the songs and the live show. Lotsa unexpected twists and turns, and lotsa soul. On my short list of bands not to miss.”
Boston Herald, Robin Vaughan
“The Englishman has no trouble getting the audience’s full attention with his stunningly well-phrased lyrics and seasoned, expressive voice. He sings like Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, with the confessional romanticism of Leonard Cohen and Billy Bragg-like wit and clever narrative details.
The songs are about painful relationships, getting older and still struggling as a musician (‘they say you’re looking well, but there’s a stain on your lapel’), women he’s attracted to – ‘Farmers’ daughters, engineers’ wives, girls who throw parties, girls who throw knives, spinsters who’ve made the most of their lives.’ The whole lot, basically.
Time Out NYC
“Expect drama from Spottiswoode, a local boulevardier who writes jazzy little numbers in the manner of a less dyspeptic Tindersticks, or NickCave without the heavy religious or homicidal impulses…Spottiswoode possesses a lovely crooning baritone…a cool, croaky voice that sounds as if he’s leaning in close and singing especially to you..”
National Review, Denis Boyles
“Best example of British lad making good in the New World: Well, the “lad” part may not stick for long, but Jonathan Spottiswoode, the sometime film-maker, oft-time rocker, and frontman for the astonishing, brilliant Spottiswoode and His Enemies, shows what happens when you import six feet of British wit, then decorate it with American cool.”
Charlotte Creative Loafing, J. Schacht
“Prior to their last appearnce at the Muse, venue co-owner sent out of one of his rare e-mails urging folks not to miss the talented New York-based band. A few days after Spottiswoode and Co. had blown away a weekend crowd with their Holy Roller cabaret/rock show/tent revival, Kuhlman sent out a brief follow-up to those who hadn’t heeded his advice, which read something like this: “You #**#ed up!” Life offers few second chances…”
“When The Big Fella was handing out musical talent, tonight’s headliners (a wonderfully masterful and exhilarating offering from New York), Spottiswoode & His Enemies looked his holy omnipotence in his non-intervening eyes and cried out, “Hit me with your rhythm stick!” Henceforth he struck them down upon this earth, whereupon they also sought a deal with a musically-inclined lord of a different kind and a pained subterranean mind. The lava coursing and pulsing through his veins burned out their eyes, and in their tears a heavenly and satanic intermingled music was made. This seven-piece featuring the (much in need of a hair cut) English frontman Jonathan Spottiswoode, is a delicious range of contradictions including: zydeco-backed Cohen-esque swamp rock; blooming and brassy ’70’s-feeling Elvis Costello pop; Cash- and Cave-style anthems with layers and layers of Hammond-style keyboard, pedal steel and mariachi horns over rolling drums; laid-back jazz; swelling demonic Parisian cabaret and even the unique and charismatic country rock of Neil Diamond.”
DigitalCity.com Missy Heckscher
“There is a fine line between eccentricity and madness, a point where artistry becomes lunacy. Spottiswoode and His Enemies are at that point. Surely, they’re on the edge of something: whether that’s impending stardom or prescription drugs has yet to be determined. In any case, the band has a sound that you can’t help but like, if only for its sheer entertainment value. The lyrics are filled with enigmatic vulgarity that escapes bad taste solely through Spottiswoode’s own hypnotic voice. The man rarely rises above a whisper, lingering always just above a melodic, scratchy breath. He could be spewing poetic verse or inaffable madness — it’d sound the same either way. He brags of schizophrenia, touts his insanity, and sings of depression. He is, in its rawest form, an artist, working his music like clay, molding and twisting words and sounds into something new. Different. There are pauses where you’d never expect them, voices used as sharp, shrieking instruments, and (did he mean to do that?) intermittent interactions with audience members. Not to say the music is haphazard; It isn’t. Rather, it is both graceful and strange, beautiful and coarse, maniacal and brilliant. He has been compared to Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and David Bowie. His response: “Tom Waits would never do anything in bad taste; Leonard Cohen couldn’t be upbeat if he tried; Nick Cave is a prisoner of his own tortured hipness; David Bowie hasn’t uttered an honest word in his life.” In New York City, where Spottiswoode collects his biggest fan base, frequent music guests bring added ingredients of harmonica, cello and saxophone and vocals to the rhythmic brew of the Enemies. Bottom line: if it’s something different you want, you got it.”
ThemeStream Online Review PJ Gach
“Oh, how do you describe the sound of SPOTTISWOODE AND HIS ENEMIES? There’s a delicious vein of irony that spikes through the music. It’s a combination of Rock and Blues with jazzy undertones, where even when the lyrics are sad, the air is festive. Festive Depression? Yes, that’s about it. Think of 20’s cabaret music ala Brecht combined with Lou Reed’s evocative visions, Baudelaire’s sensibilities, a sneaky sense of humor, joy, and damn good musicianship.”
New York Waste, Robert Lund
“I’ve known Spottiswoode and His Enemies for about five years, and they keep getting better. Lead singer Jonathan Spottiswoode creates a wide variety of songs, with a style along the lines of Jim Morrison and Nick Cave, while the lyrics have the dark ironic sensitivity of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. The basic rock music is supported by very talented musicians – at their last gig at the Living Room, trumpeter Kevin (who often cross-dresses!) added a violin; saxophonist Candace brought her clarinet (and these two provide backup harmonies); accordinist Tony also had an electric keyboard and used the upright piano at the club; lead guitarist Riley provided occasional xylophone accompaniment; and bassist John and drummer Tim rounded out the sound. Always an amazing and inspiring experience!”
San Fancisco Beyond Chronicle
“Truly a one of a kind band, a band that also embodies Henry Kaiser’s wonderful axiom, of performing with “people that you like, love and trust”. I can’t think of another band that combines the essence of the blues with fantastic music, humor and wit, as well as Spottiswoode and his Enemies.”
“His Enemies could well have been cast as the supporting players in a black comedy starring Tom Waits and set in any hole-in-the-wall corner bar. A two piece horn section who looked like a Manhattan couple from an early Woody Allen film & a sharp rhythm section of weirdos who resembled Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band in both sound and appearance.”
“These guys have moulded their own sound…polished, different, quirky but very cool, intriguing, off the beaten track, and very purposeful. They aren’t trying to be anyone else, they don’t want to sound like anyone else. None of this is intentional as such, it’s just them. They are who they are, they love what they are doing, they have fun and they sound great. I had never heard of these guys before. I should have and so should everyone else.