"Drink your shots, pick up your beer and come watch us perform," Django Stewart commanded the crowd at Mercury Lounge last week. "We're Nightmare and the Cat," punctuated his brother and fellow frontman Sam Stewart, kicking off the show to launch their debut EP. Eight songs later, sweating and dazed, the packed house saw the band off the stage with rapturous applause. The music that came between varied from lofty, thoughtful rock to soulful, layered folk. Dramatic, story-driven, catchy and with swoon-inspiring potency that envelops the band itself (as well as their performance and the new album), Nightmare and the Cat exude nothing shy of magic.
The two frontmen, despite their youthful appearances, both were members of since dispersed, but seasoned musical acts before forming the band a little over a year ago in Los Angeles. Sam spent seven years with London band Blondelle, while Django helmed The Midnight Squires.
Together, with multi-instrumentalist and singer Claire Acey, drummer Spike Phillips and bassist Julie Mitchell, the five-piece has performed both coasts, a SXSW showcase with artist Gary Baseman and the United Kingdom. Circumnavigating the Edward Sharp and Local Natives aesthetic, the band's harmonies, taut instrumentals and atmosphere build, first and foremost, an environment where their stories exist.
The self-titled EP, lush and melodic, feels more than anything like a thrilling teaser for things to come. A melodic through line weaves among the tracks "Sarah Beth," "The Missing Year" and "Little Poet." Orchestration and backing vocals play off Django's dynamic voice—often in dialogue, sometimes in alignment.
Just when you feel the band settling in with a sound, the closing song, "Anybody's Bride," punctures it with punkish ferociousness. The whimsicality might feel extravagant, but never disposable, glazing the music with a limitless sense of wonder. There is sentimentality and delicacy to even the more raucous portions of the tracks, knitting everything together as sound storytelling should.
Famed photographer Mick Rock, a supporter of the band and attendee at the Mercury Lounge show, once snapped an iconic photograph of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, arms draped across one another. There was startling breadth and depth to those three musicians' work. As If schooled in the language of rock, Nightmare and the Cat draw on these influences, blend their lessons and strengths and craft something all their own.
Top image by Sterling Taylor, performance images by Eli Russell Linnetz.