Jocelyn Arndt is moved by the spirit of the music as she performs last night in Norwood.
Nobody told them explosions aren’t meant to rock the Fallout Shelter. Or at least Massachusetts-based brother-and-sister act Jocelyn and Chris Arndt paid that no heed last night during their Extended Play Sessions broadcast and filming. And after recovering from the initial shock-and-awe pairing of such nuclear-powered singer and guitarist, I kept coming back to another thought: Never have I seen a more powerfully emotive young singer than Jocelyn. … So moved and moving was she, I had to keep checking to see if there were tears in her eyes (there were). That she is just 23 years old is unfathomable. … She might as well host a mortgage burning party now. She owns that stage.
She and her younger brother Chris have that in common, and another thing: To both siblings, the Allen Toussaint credo “From a Whisper to a Scream” applies. Jocelyn’s almost inconceivable vocal range is matched by the wide spectrum of styles, tones and tempos Chris masters on guitar.
Jocelyn and Chris, 22, have been gaining on the music industry at warp speed of late. They just made their South by Southwest debut, and also their national TV premiere with an appearance on the “NBC Today Show.” They have already charted on Billboard (with “Red Stops Traffic”) and have the No. 1 song on the Relix National Jambands Top 30 Chart with the title track from their new album, “The Fun In The Fight.” They also just placed another new song, “Shame,” in the video game Rock Band 4.
Before I even heard a single song of theirs, I was fan upon reading that Jocelyn twice turned down aggressive pitches to appear on “The Voice,” saying that she wanted to pursue music success on her own terms. The fact she wanted to do it without that show’s artifice, and without leaving her brother behind, at least temporarily, speaks volumes to her character and commitment. As does the fact she and Chris launched their careers even as they attended and graduated from Harvard. Having since chosen to live in Western Mass. to split the distance between Boston friends and their studio and producer in Albany, N.Y., only adds to the story.
Last night, they wasted no time throwing down the gauntlet to the Fallout Shelter’s outstanding sound crew, opening with “Witness,” a furious rocker from the new album that hits everything from that whisper to that scream, with joyous squeals, emotional moans and yelps thrown in.
Jocelyn immediately consumed — and was consumed by — the music. Since stepping out from behind the keyboards to assume the fronting role for what is now a five-piece band, she has proven she was meant for that. Her stage presence is astounding. Her swings of emotion and movements, bursting down to her knees and back, seem less an act than a matter of being absolutely possessed by the music. And like Chris, Jocelyn’s long, flowing hair, and the way it twists and twirls with the music, becomes part of the stage spectacle.
Already at ease with the Fallout Shelter, its crew and its audience after debuting there last year (Chris called it their favorite room to play), they took the opportunity to give many new songs their first live runs in front of the cameras. “These are so new, not even the band knows them,” Jocelyn said with a laugh as they moved into an acoustic duo portion of the show, adding that crowd needn’t worry because the band would soon return “so we can melt your faces.” Noting the rare bonus of playing a show that allowed their parents to make the trip from their native Upstate New York, Jocelyn took the chance to offer an apology: “Thanks for putting up with some very loud music and very poorly tuned instruments when we were growing up!”
While that home-honed music — hard-edged blues/rock and pop — is their calling card, there have been innumerable comparisons made to other musicians in trying to describe the style of Jocelyn and Chris Arndt. There’s something unfair about saddling nascent young musicians with comparisons, but one thing is evident in both their smart, literate lyrics and their widely appealing songs: They have charted a course that rises from countercultural rock of the ’60s to the millennial angst of their peer group. For their encore, they beautifully bridged that range with their only cover of the evening: Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” Thanks to their prodigious talents and dedication to their craft — and also to the tolerant ears of their parents — Jocelyn and Chris Arndt give you hundreds.