You’ve never met a sister and brother who like each other as much as The Belle Brigade’s Barbara and Ethan Gruska. The high-energy folk rock duo’s near-telepathic connection is as palpable in concert as it is in their new music video for “Where Not to Look for Freedom,” in which they play Siamese twins with an arsenal of doublewide shirts.
Barbara, the charmingly androgynous big sister, oozes charm and humor as well as she plays her acoustic guitar, while Ethan is more of the silent partner, letting his guitar do the talking.
The music is, in a word, unpretentious. The songs are seemingly true stories about relationships romantic and otherwise, and the sound is a full folk rock that you can imagine they wrote in a basement acoustic jam session. The family resemblance carries over to the vocals, which are hardly ever without a tight Simon and Garfunkel style harmony.
I caught The Belle Brigade in Hollywood just a week after they rocked South by Southwest, and it was obvious that they’ve been touring through most of 2012. Their harmonies were pitch-perfect, their rhythm precise, their casual showmanship the perfect compliment to the thoughtful poetry of the songs.
All I had previously known about the band was that they have a song on the Twilight soundtrack (“I Didn’t Mean It”), and in the flesh, I was struck by their honesty, range and depth, lyrically and instrumentally. These songs are not only catchy: they actually mean something. “Rusted Wheel” and “Sweet Louise” both stood out. Though they are both love songs, the first is a country-tinged road trip tune while the latter is a tender, straightforward proclamation. “Losers” is their first single, a rebel’s anthem which begins with a quiet harmony—“There will always be someone better than you, even if you’re the best”—and ends with a raucous promise to stop trying to win, because, what’s the point?
The night’s special treat was seeing Barbara, who studied jazz percussion in college, step back behind the drums on a couple songs, and continuing to sing lead vocals without missing a beat.
If this is the definition of being a “Loser,” then sign me up!
To learn more, visit The Belle Brigade.