Review by Marc Komito

Photos by Michael Kravetsky

February 22, 2021

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There’s always an element of risk involved in seeing a band for the first time. Uncertainty often carries a little bit of nervous energy and perhaps even a dash of fear in anticipation of the unknown. But that’s where the fun lives, isn’t it, in that space right outside your comfort zone? To consider the opposing viewpoint, a band only gets one chance to make a first impression, and with much more at stake – especially with very limited performances these days – could you blame them for stacking the deck in their favor? Such was the case for Hollis Brown and any fans seeing them perform for the first time this past Friday night at The Vogel in Red Bank, NJ, where risk and fear were removed from the equation and the band opened the show with a track by track cover of The Velvet Underground’s 1970 opus, Loaded. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Hollis covered their own album, a 2014 Record Store Day release of Gets Loaded, a stunningly accurate tribute to the aforementioned classic, albeit in reverse order.

As singer-guitarist Mike Montali would later point out, Hollis Brown first bonded over this album in an Ozone Park garage in Queens, NY a decade earlier and decided as a band right then and there that “we want to be like that.” Having now heard their full tribute to Lou Reed et al. alongside an equally dense set of original music, I can decidedly aver, mission accomplished.

Hollis Brown Got Loaded with painstaking attention to detail as they hit every nuance of this definitive masterpiece, the only creative twist being that the familiar classic was played from back to front. And with that single artistic bend, Hollis Brown dealt a pair of pocket aces and set the tone for a perfect night of live music, turning Loaded on its head as they opened Friday night’s show with “Oh Sweet Nuthin''."

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"Oh Sweet Nuthin'"

While Montali showcased spectacular lead vocals throughout, particularly impressive was the range he showed during “I Found A Reason”, so convincing in his role as the song’s first person character that the audience was left to feel as if it were the object of Lou Reed’s poetic desire. Jonathan Bonilla, a force on lead guitar all night, emphatically announced his presence by also taking lead vocals on “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” before “Cool It Down” gave Adam Bock a chance to shine on the keys. It’s a slightly different feeling to be at a live show and know what’s coming next, and the sweet anticipation of The Velvet Underground’s album opening triumvirate of “Rock & Roll,” “Sweet Jane,” and “Who Loves The Sun” in Hollis Brown’s flipped album closing slot only served to heighten the impact of their performance.

"Rock & Roll"

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Having just stolen the room with a faithfully striking performance of one of rock and roll's ultimate albums, forgive me for thinking that Hollis Brown Gets Loaded would be the story. Point in fact, quite the opposite turned out to be the case as Hollis Brown unleashed a ten song set of originals that just came from someplace deeper, turning a second pair of aces on the river – with pocket aces that makes four-of-a-kind for those keeping score at home. While Loaded’s influence is unmistakable in their songwriting, Hollis Brown is first and foremost an original band that plays honest rock and roll with the simultaneous conviction and raw vulnerability that quite simply does not surface when playing someone else’s songs. For me, this led to a sharp increase in intensity for a second set more separated by content than by any break or demarcation of time.


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Wait For Me Virginia”, Hollis’ opening original selection from their 2015 release of 3 Shots, just seemed to hit harder in all the right ways and saw Mike Montali swap his rhythms from an acoustic guitar to a D’Angelico electric while Jonathan Bonilla faithfully shredded lead on his Fender Strat. Impressive five-way harmonies were especially noticeable during “She Don’t Love Me Now,” a song from 2019’s Ozone Park which was encouraged by Jesse Malin when the two bands toured together, according to Montali. “Ride On The Train”, the title track to a 2013 release, had the feel of a Southern rocker that really served to highlight the rhythm section of Chris Urriola (bass) and Andrew Zehnal (drums).

As the pandemic has served a forced helping of creativity upon the music industry in the absence of live shows this past year, frontman Montali alluded to a number of new songs as the crowd was then treated to a duo of original debuts, “Changing Of The Guard” and “Over & Over” that are intended for placement on a new album whose production is slated to begin at the end of next month. “The Way She Does It” had velvety vibes reminiscent of the first set before “Do Me Right” hit hard and fast with its big bass drum intro. “John Wayne,” played with set closing ferocity, had me straining against the no-dancing policy of the COVID-compliant venue. On the heels of the drum solo that ended the short encore break, “Rain Dance” was began with the staggered return of bass, keys, and guitars, respectively, as the song built to a frenetic show ending peak.

"Rain Dance"

Faithfully reproducing The Velvet Underground may have won me over, but it was an original set of modern classic rock that will keep me coming back. Hollis Brown returns to the area April 10 at The Mayo Performing Arts Center with another tribute, this time a nod to the Rolling Stones’ classic album Aftermath. I’m looking forward to the second set ;)

The Vogel, under the same ownership as The Count Basie Center for the Arts, opened its doors in late 2020 under full COVID-19 protocols. A state-of-the-art room with perfect sound and great lighting, the floor that would typically be a general admission space for about 500 people was instead dotted with twenty-five cocktail tables seating four apiece in a five-by-five pattern. Patrons were requested to remain masked and seated unless actively consuming food or beverage, although we were politely encouraged to “actively eat and drink a lot because that’s how we stay in business.” An upper balcony enclosed the room with high-top tables for two. The Vogel earns my highest marks for both safety and production and I look forward to many more memories in this room in the months and years ahead.


Set One: (Hollis Brown Gets Loaded; all tracks are covers of The Velvet Underground’s Loaded): Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, Train Round the Bend, I Found A Reason, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Head Held High, New Age, Cool It Down, Rock & Roll, Sweet Jane, Who Loves the Sun

Set Two: (Originals) Wait For Me Virginia, She Don’t Love Me Now, Ride On the Train, Doghouse Blues, Changing Of The Guard, Over & Over, The Way She Does It, Do Me Right, John Wayne.

Encore: Rain Dance

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Marc Komito is a high school math teacher and summer camp counselor with a passion for live music. The married father of 2 has since evolved from writing setlists and show notes on the back of Dupree’s Diamond Deadhead News and now loves to recount his live music escapades for others. Marc is a lifelong NJ resident who can be found at live offerings all over the New York Metropolitan area, though the Jersey Shore, and Asbury Park in particular, are his preferred stomping grounds.


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Michael Ryan Kravetsky is the owner and photographer of Watermrk Studios.


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