There are just some artists that I will drop everything to see live. Sean Tillmann of Har Mar Superstar and Sabrina Ellis of Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog are two of those kind of artists. When word came out that the pair would be tour together under a new joint project, Heart Bones, it’s safe to safe I was highly anticipating the show. The eagerness overflowed when they announce a tour stop at Thalia Hall would include cover songs from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in addition to their new material. With Tillmann already being a cover-song magician having done a Sam Cooke tour over the summer, I knew this night was going to be a magical one.
Opening up the night were the duo Closeness. I was familiar with their sound thanks to their album Personality Therapy on Graveface Records (a label you should all be aware of). Initially I thought the vibe would be too different from what would be happening later on in the night, but its dark and moody atmosphere managed to create a realm all its own. Todd Fink and Orenda Fink stationed themselves in the middle of the stage, facing each other around their set up. They cranked out some incredibly haunting tracks driven by shoegazey guitars and rising vocals. A strong dose of Gothic presentation perfectly muddled with the almost dancey melodies sneaking from time to time, making for a uniquely alluring experience, rattling Thalia Hall in just the right way.
By the time it was Heart Bones, turn on stage, the crowd had filled up considerably. There was still room for a little dancing, something was nigh impossible to avoid as Sabrina Ellis emerged on stage with the rest of the Har Mar band. Dressed in a pink skirt and top hearkening to Jennifer Grey’s dress in Dirty Dancing, Ellis burst out to Mary Clayton’s “Yes”. The energy was high and the band, all dressed in their best preppy attire, were on fire. It wasn’t until the next song, Patrick Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind”, where Sean Tillmann appeared also donning a familiar outfit, that of Johnny Castle but with a grey jacket breaking up the all black ensemble. The crowd erupted for the piar on stage and would never let up for the rest of the night.
As much as the evening was a tribute to the songs of Dirty Dancing, it was primarily a showcase of Ellis, Tillmann, and the band’s skills. This entire show could have easily been the Har Mar Super Star show, rife with all the antics and attention centered on Tillmann’s magnificent voice, but it felt so organically a Heart Bones show with no one over hogging the spotlight. They worked together in a fantastic synchronicity throughout. The Ronette’s “Be My Baby” surged with everyone on and off stage dancing to their heart content. Ellis’ cover of “You Don’t Own Me” was notably impressive as she belted out the powerful lyrics. The horn section’s emphatic “stay” responses during the chorus of “Stay” were a fantastic and hilarious addition to the infectious rhythms that Tillman and Ellis were absolutely nailing.
The crowd was giving themselves into vibes all night long. Whether they were calling out references to the movie (“where are the watermelons?” asked someone from the balcony boxes) or singing along to some of the more classic songs (“Hey Baby!” in particular), Thalia Hall’s audience was the perfect addition to the night. Even when Heart Bones played their own songs like “Little Dancer” or “This Time is Different”, the crowd was grooving along just as hard as before. There is something about Tillmann and Ellis’ enthusiasm that just careens off stage and makes you want to join along.
As the band walked off stage, there were a few notable omissions from the night. No “Do You Love Me”, Otis Redding, or Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Clearly they couldn’t perform all 20 tracks of the soundtrack, but they had to play “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, right? The band returned for the encore followed by Tillmann an oversized red coat, already stepping into the lyrics of that monumental song. It was the kind of finale you want from such a fun show, dripping with tongue in cheek saccharine goodness and an inflatable doll being used to reenact the iconic dancing scene at the end of the film. It was a great send of to one of the more purely enjoyable shows of the year.
All Photos by Julian Ramirez.