Photos and text by Paul Hiam

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Saying that Fort Lean is a band to keep an eye on in the coming year would probably be an understatement and, based on the buzz they’ve been generating (as a favorite at CMJ and in profiles by NYtimes, Spin and others), it feels like a syllogism at this point. I caught their set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday where they debuted two new tracks, opening for Deleted Scenes and Bear Hands. And it was boldly jaw-dropping in a very why-haven’t-I-heard-this-before way.

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A five piece electro-rock/pop anthem machine with roots in Williamsburg and Bushwick, Fort Lean puts out a strikingly mature sound for a new band with just a four-track EP to their name.Though the scale of the venue represented new terrain for them, they performed less like a band crossing into uncharted territory than like a home-team late in the season. This tight performance presence mixed with the maturity of their compositions and the blow-your-hair-back intensity of front-man Keenan Mitchell’s vocals was like Clint Eastwood’s appearance in a local saloon at the beginning of a High Plains Drifter-type Western: Very hard not to pay attention to.

At first glance the gritty juke-box feel of their refreshingly straight forward tunes nearly overshadows the complexity of their musicianship, but it quickly becomes clear that all five band members contribute more or less equally to the sound and are comfortable wearing multiple hats. Guitarist Zach Fried and keyboardist Will Runge both provide significant vocals and Runge spends about half the show with a guitar in hand. This multi-faceted showmanship reads as a further ace up these guys’ rather crowded sleeves: there were moments when I found myself watching Fried’s impressive fretwork (and footwork for that matter) only to realize that it was Mitchell taking the solo.

Of course, if all that didn’t leave a lasting impression Mr. Mitchell provided a K.O. punch by peeling back his lip to show us a bloody gash while he described how being jumped in an elevator for his rolling tobacco formed the inspiration for one of their new tunes.

The takeaway: this already strong band is full of surprises, improving steadily, ready for more and here to stay. Fort Lean’s upcoming release on Neon Gold is out in February. Until then you’ll have to catch them live to hear what they’ve been up to lately, which, based on their performance, has been a hell of a lot and well worth our attention.

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