Single Review: “Pancho and Lefty” by Exit 380

imageCovers are a staple of many bands. One might be thrown in for the fun of it (I know some hard rock groups who have covered Katy Perry and Lady Gaga before), while other bands might find a song that fits with them and then leave their mark it, making it entirely theirs and a staple at every show.

It’s something that nearly every band does or has done, however, it took Exit 380 about fifteen years to decide to record a cover. I don’t think I’ve even heard them play one in the seven or so years I’ve been seeing them (at least not until very recently). Instead, they always choose to show off their vast array of original songs.

But today, the first single off Photomaps (an album that has been two years in the making) was released. It wasn’t “La Rosa Carlina”, which has been hyped for a year or more now. Nor was it any of the other seven original tracks. The single is the final track on the record: a cover of Townes Van Zandts’ “Pancho and Lefty”.

Over the course of their fifteen-year run, Exit 380 has established themselves as one of the best storytelling bands in the area, thanks to frontman Dustin Blocker, and even guitarist Aaron Borden (who has been known to write some songs here and there), each of whom certainly have a way with words. In turn, that makes “Pancho and Lefty” a very fitting song for them to try their hand at.

The promise with Photomaps has been that the band will further embrace the country side they discovered on their 2011 album, as well as adding a Spanish flare to the mix. A Spanish flare that is readily heard on their rendition of Van Zandts’ classic.

They’ve retooled the song completely, and the piano intro (guest musician Andrew Tinker, who also produced the record) establishes the ethereal quality that lasts for the duration of the track. The bass, drums, the lap steel guitar and the guitar, and even the harmonica intertwine so harmoniously. I dare say this song, even simply focusing on the music bed, is one of the most pleasing and calming things I’ve heard. To top it all off, Blocker’s voice is as smooth as whiskey, and I swear it only grows better with age.

If Townes Van Zandt were alive today, I have a feeling he’d be happy with this take on his song.

If a new track weren’t enough, the lineup for their August 8th vinyl release show at the House of Blues was also announced, and both Jessie Frye and Andrew Tinker will be supporting Exit 380. I already wasn’t going to miss that one, but those two singer/songwriters provide even more of a reason not to skip it. So, you might want to go ahead and circle August 8th on your calendar, ‘cause it’s going to be an exceptional night.

Exit 380 is:
Dustin Blocker - Vocals, keys, harmonicas
Aaron Borden  - Guitars, lap Steel
Jeremy Hutchison  - Guitars
Jon Hutchison  - Bass
Bobby Tucker - Drums

Purchase the single on:
Bandcamp

Visit Exit 380’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:

July 12th at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth / August 8th at House of Blues (Cambridge Room) in Dallas.


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Album Review: “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” by The Rye Boys

image“…These days, the Rye Boys have become organized, honing their hellish skills into an inhuman force of good times and alcohol. The term “band” would not be an accurate portrayal of these fellows, as they have also been known to rake yards, and give mighty fine handshakes…”

That’s an excerpt from the current bio for The Rye Boys, and I think it sums up the band quite well.

They’ve been around for a few years now (forming in 2009), but just within the last couple of months released their debut album, “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll”, which, by its title alone, should also be very telling of the folk/rock/country outfit.

The album takes you all over the place and covers a variety of emotions, though it begins with a low-key tune revolving around love. “If I lie awake she could sing me to sleep. When she’s not around I see no need to dream…” goes the first line of “Lucy Song”, with trace amounts of heartache bleeding through in the vocals not just on that portion, but the entire song. It’s a great song, and personally, I’m quite fond of the whistling thrown in, which is incredibly brief, though makes for a nice effect, before they create more of a rip-roaring raucous at the end.

The pace escalates quickly with “Yellabelly”, which is a fascinating hybrid of not just country and folk music, but also some punk. It’s all condensed into almost exactly one minute, showing just how vivacious The Rye Boys can be, and they pull off the gin-soaked sing-along type songs very well.

There’s a slight degree of lo-fi quality to both “Follow Me, Pt. 1” and, to a lesser extent, “Follow Me, Pt. 2”, that makes for a nice sound. It’s mainly found in the unison singing — which is featured most heavily on the first part — but it’s a nice effect, showcasing the vocals in their rawest form. In some ways, they sound better on those two than any other track on the record.

The album throws another twist at you with “Candidate”, which finds The Rye Boys exploring their rock side. It’s a side you’ll get sucked right into, thanks in part to the thicker, heavier percussion, while the guitars easily take center stage with some catchy riffs on the song that deals with not always being cut out for the game of love. “I am the worst candidate… I can’t help you or myself…” goes part of the chorus, which could easily be a fan sing-along.

“Yesterday” may mark the halfway point of “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll”, but with it, the band shows they still have some tricks up their sleeve, and this one happens to be in a form of a solo acoustic song. It’s possibly the best song on the album, and touches on some social issues that can really get the gears turning in your head. “Is it a sin to murder for your country? The Bible says I’m unclean, but the president assures me that God is on our side…” goes the chorus, which is executed in the form of some nice crooning. It’s a song about someone who is struggling with the process of war — having trouble with killing — and perhaps the best part is how the first two choruses are sung more pondering that line mentioned a moment ago, as if trying to become okay with that fact. However, the final chorus is filled with anger and rage about having to do something that is surely so hard to condition yourself to do.

The mood becomes much lighter with the upbeat and fun “Nickels & Dimes”, which can get you moving with ease — even if you’re setting in front your computer speakers listening to it. In fact, you’ll probably be a somewhat sad that it only lasts a little under two minutes.

“Misery Keeps” is another bare bones song, which also stands out as being one of the strongest on the album, and is just solid all the way around, from the lyrics (“…when he learned what love was, he tried to push away his own…”) and storytelling, to the way the intensity grows the further along it gets.

Said intensity then peaks with “Aeroplane”, which is another party-style folk number that evokes some movement from the listener. Then you have “Mama”, which shifts that energy around slightly, and thanks to the heavily featured piano, sounds reminiscent of an old-timey Western tune.

Out of the twelve songs on the album, the only one that really fails to capture my interest is “Yard’s On Fire”. I can’t say that it’s a bad song, nor can I pinpoint anything that could have been done better. It really is as simple as it doesn’t appeal to me.

“Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” then concludes with the howling (in both senses of the word) “Good Time”, a joyous song whose title pretty accurately describes the listening experience of this record.

“Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” is indeed a marrying of the folk/country/rock genres. Not necessarily on every song, but occasionally, and you can bet on hearing at least two of those genres woven together on each track. Above all else, they’re nearly all vibrant, fun songs that you and some friends can jam to, to get ready for some hell-raising good times.

The Rye Boys are (and key members in making the record were):
Clayton Smith -  Vocals/Guitar
Nic Harper - Vocals/Banjo
Jobie Ritchie - Bass
Kraig Zirnheld - Drums
Denver Graves - Producer/Arranger
Mixed by Salim Nourallah

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit The Rye Boys websites:
Official Website / Facebook

Friday, June 27th, 2014 – Long Sword Spectacular Let’s the Rock Flow at Wits End

This night seemed like a good one to go out and catch some bands I like, but don’t often see. Luckily, Wits End was hosting such a bill; and it kicked off around 9:30, when Long Sword Spectacular took the stage.

It had been a little more than a year since I had seen the trio, who was now armed with some new songs, and opened their 38-minute long set with one of them.
imageIt was a surprisingly soft start for the typically noisy rock band, as Doug Jones lightly struck one of the cymbals on his drum kit. Soon, singer and bassist Josh Harelik added the bass to the mix with some intermittent riffs, and eventually Daniel Reid did the same with his guitar. It was certainly creative; and then Daniel’s picking of the strings grew much faster, as the track really came to life. His skills on the axe were highlighted throughout the track, like at one point when the drums and bass cutout right as he started using the whammy bar, while they all killed it on the powerful end.

“We are Long Sword Spectacular! Welcome to the show!” Josh shouted in his devilish voice, as they rolled things right into their next number, “Manhunt”. It was one of only a handful they did off their debut album this night, but they hit the highlights from it, and that song is pure LSS, being a heavy rock song that’s also rather fun. Speaking of fun, you could tell that was what the group was having, and during the instrumental interlude that followed, Doug was seen smiling at is band mates. Daniel then ripped into a solo, while Josh thrashed around with his bass before returning to his mic on stage right. “One, two, three, four!” he yelled, as they whipped it into “Firewalk”. That aggressive track brought them to their first break of the night, and they quickly got ready for their most recent single: “Died in the USA”.

Their fans cheered when Josh announced it was next; and after the instrumental lead in, he began to sing, “What the hell is going on? Is this supposed to be our Babylon?” Perhaps the best part of the song came when they were all jamming, with guitar solos flying left and right, while the rhythm section was absolutely dynamic. They didn’t allow for much downtime after, and Josh proceeded to play some dark notes on his bass, which proved to be a lead-in to “Dead Soul (Down the Hatch)”. Parts of the song were changed to better fit where they were at for the night, like the first line, “I was playing Wits End, the coolest bar in Deep Ellum…” You could tell it was a fan favorite, but now, their focus shifted back to their newer material, and Josh again led the charge with some low and thick bass lines.

It was another interesting song, the pace changing enough to keep you fully captivated. It was pretty standard for LSS at times, and after a second or two pause in the middle of it, they tore back into the song, with Daniel attacking his guitar. While the end featured some more placid notes from the guitar, and while the bass was low and loud, it didn’t have the punch it had even just minutes earlier. It was just different for them in some respects, and it was nice seeing/hearing a different side of the band.

“Let’s go on a threat display!” Josh suddenly roared, before orchestrating a clap along, which their old and the new fans were more than happy to help out. “Threat Display” was their last oldie of the night, and when throwing in the title of the next song during a momentary pause, Josh created his own little echo effect, repeating the title as he stepped away from the mic. “You guys having a good time?!” he asked during the track, a question that was answered with some loud cheers. “Damn straight!” he responded.
imageAnother lengthy instrumental break was thrown in during the next number, during which Josh jumped on to the drum riser, standing next to Doug and his drums for a bit as he rocked out to the music. They bridged it into another jam, before announcing they had one more left. “How many minutes do we have left?” asked Josh, the sound guy answering with “Seven.” “You heard him, boys!” Josh screamed, as the trio fired up their final song “Kills Witch”. It was an incredible song, and one of the most intense things they’ve produced. It was definitely worthy of being the closer.

“We are Long Sword Spectacular! Good night!” Josh finished, as they bid the people a farewell.

I haven’t seen LSS much, and I always forget how amazing their live shows are. They pack copious amounts of energy into each performance, and it didn’t matter that there were only a few handfuls of people watching them this night. They played like they were performing for hundreds, and you could tell they were having a blast doing it.

I’ll say this, I felt bad for the other bands who were tasked with following LSS, because it would not be an easy feat.

Their show schedule is a little light right now, and their next gig currently planned is August 22nd at The Boiler Room in Dallas. Pick up their LP and latest single, too. They’re available in both iTUNES and BANDCAMP.

After them was Public Love Affair, a band I hadn’t seen in a couple years, and one who has changed in that time.

They’re a three-piece now, and singer Justin Russell has taken up bass duties (he used to be the second guitarist). He’s apparently not the only singer the group has now, either.

Guitarist Caleb Ditzenberger sang lead on their opening number, the first of many songs that were new to me this night. They had room for some oldies, though, like the title track from their debut record: “Get You Some”. That was when Justin took over, as they alternated for the first few songs. That latter tune still packed a punch, even without the additional guitar, and there was a certain swagger Justin had as he sang, stepping back from the mic when he could, as he rocked out on the bass.

They delivered another song, after which Justin asked those watching to give it up for their drummer, Aaron, who apparently was just filling in for the night. At the angle I stood at, I couldn’t see him much, but the glimpses I did catch, I never would have guessed he wasn’t their permanent drummer.
A lot of their music has a sort of bluesy rock quality to it, and a couple tracks later, they did one that was steeped in it. Caleb was again handling the singing, and while he brought some different qualities to the table as far as how his voice sounded, it still had a tone that could pull that genre off with ease.

I didn’t catch much more, as I happened to see Dayvoh of the band Alterflesh and struck up a conversation with him.

Still, I had seen more than enough of Public Love Affair to get an idea of what they’re like now. To be honest, I was on the fence about the two vocalists at first, but that quickly grew on me. It’s an easy way to keep the crowd engaged, as well as giving a fresh feel to everything. Caleb has a fantastic voice as well, and they’re certainly set apart from most of their competition in the fact that they have two lead vocalists.

It was very good seeing them again, and seeing what they’ve evolved into. You can get Public Love Affairs records in iTUNES and BANDCAMP, and with any luck, a new one will be out sooner or later so they can better showcase this new format.

Next up was another band I hadn’t seen in a little over a year, and when I happened to stumble across 26 Locks in the first part of 2013, they were just getting started.

Since then, they’ve quickly built a strong fanbase, and earlier this year they released their debut EP.
They had the most supporters out this night by far, all of whom gathered around the stage as they got their 39-minute long set underway with a song that was a little more low-key in comparison to some of the others. It was slightly jazzy with a definite lounge vibe to it, which made the perfect environment for vocalist Catrina Rincon to fully show off her impressive voice. She was quite in tune with the music, too, at times waving her hands about in the air, doing little fluid motions with them in time with some of the beats Jeff Fendley was producing.

“Thank you. We’re 26 Locks and we’re happy to be here.” she told the crowd once it was over, before the quartet moved on to their next jam. There was a little more rock flare to it; and towards the end, Catrina took the microphone out of the stand, allowing her to move around a little more. They bridged it right into one of the cuts from the “Velvet” EP: “Inside”. They were in full rock mode, now, and the catchy notes guitarist Jerry Bolden was playing confirmed that. It only got better as the song peaked with some deafening drumbeats, heavy bass and soaring guitar riffs, prompting some explosive cheers once it was over.

“How’s everybody doing?” Catrina asked once things subsided, before asking the questing again, this time getting a better response. “I’m just making sure everyone’s awake…” she said, before noting they were just going to “splash” right into the next one, as it was a softer number. It was, and at the start, Jerry took a seat on the floor of the stage, staying there until the pace picked up some. Bassist Brandon Kirkpatrick provided some backing vocals at times, slightly harmonizing with Catrina, which gave the song a knockout punch. It didn’t alter the song much (if at all), but a smaller cymbal on Jeff’s drum kit had worked its way loose, and in the midst of that one, it fell to the floor. He fixed the problem afterwards, while Catrina checked on how much time they had left. “An hour and a half!” one fan yelled, which I think summed up how everyone watching them felt, ‘cause no one wanted it to end.
They kept the lighter pace going with another track from the EP, “Remain Unknown”, which saw Catrina spinning around and dancing at times (fitting actions, since one of the lines is “I keep spinning around…”), while Brandon again added some killer backing vocals.

Catrina called their next two songs “juicy”, telling the audience to get ready for them, before taking a moment to thank everyone for being there and supporting them. “We wouldn’t be anywhere without you guys. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true.” she said, before they tackled the title track of their EP. Simply said, “Velvet” is epic. It’s around nine minutes, which is unheard of these days where people’s attention spans are lacking and even a four minute song is considered long. The thing is, it didn’t seem to last that long at all. That’s how enjoyable it was. Once it amped up, most of the people in the room were jumping up and down; and at its height, Jeff was downright wild on the drums, as he banged about on the kit. The way fans reacted afterwards, you would have thought they had just seen some arena rock band play their oldest hit, the one that had anxiously been awaited all night. It was something else. Not just the reaction the crowd had, but live, the song is a masterpiece.

“That’s super sweet. I like that.” Catrina said, referring to the rave applause they had received, before saying they had one more. It started with Jerry taking a seat on the drum riser, but it wound up becoming a highly intense song, and made for a good note to end on.

Oh, the difference a year can make.

When I first saw 26 Locks, they got my attention. I thought they were great then, but, as with anyone, there was room for improvement. Looking back and comparing that show to now, I’d say they were a diamond in the rough then. One who has polished up quite nicely.

They were nothing short of a well-oiled machine this night. The performance was incredibly tight, and the chemistry they had with one another made it all the better. Basically, I was blown away.
You can get their EP for free on their REVERBNATION page, and I’d suggest doing it. Keep an eye on FACEBOOK, too, for upcoming gigs. They do have one on August 16th at the Curtain Club in Dallas.

The job of closing down the night went to a slightly newer band from Denton called Church Loves Devil.

They were a rock band, plain and simple. A really good one at that. Jason Pyles held down guitar and singing duties for the first half of the show or so, before they did one track where bassist Mark Bledsoe sang part of the lead, before drummer Aaron Pyles took over.

They all had pretty good voices to boot. There was some humor thrown in, too (albeit unintentional), like at one point when Mark thanked those who had made it out and stuck around for them, though much of it was hard to understand in his thick Southern accent. People started laughing once Jason looked at him. “The hell’d you just say?!” he asked, somewhat joking with his band mate.

I ducked out before the last two songs, but I really enjoyed them. Like I said, they were a rock band. Harder rock at times, but aside from that, they didn’t get caught up in all the sub-categories that exit. The world can also use more bands like that.

This was a fun night. It was refreshing to see yet another show (my third straight) of catching some bands I don’t often see, and some that were new to me. It rekindles the fire so to speak.

On another note, the sound here at Wit’s End was great this night. I haven’t been here much. In fact, the last time I was, was last fall, and there were some issues here and there that night with the sound. Tonight, tonight it was on par with most of the other venues down here in Deep Ellum.

Single Review: Swindle Boys Strike Back with “Comeback”

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It hasn’t quite been a full seven months since Swindle Boys (the Fort Worth-based rock/pop outfit formed by brothers Joey and Matthew Swindle) released their latest EP. The long-awaited “Motion” EP was the first record to capture the band’s newest sound, but even at the CD release show they were looking towards the future and threw a new song or two in the mix.

Their current plan is to release one single per month over the course of the next few months, and the first hit digital store shelves in the wee hours of this morning (right as the clock struck midnight).

It’s an astounding track titled “Comeback”, which perhaps captures the group’s style better than anything else they’ve released thus far. The keys give the song an electronic sound at times, though it’s mixed in well with the other instruments, and never dominates things. The guitar contributes what is often an ethereal quality, before rushing to life, and the drums are, without question, the backbone of the song, providing a steady, yet forceful beat at times and springing into action on the vigorous chorus.

What gets my attention the most, though, is the sheer emotion that is packed into every last word. “…You and I, you know, we’re not the same. But I can love you like you’ve never seen. You know, it wasn’t my choice to leave, but it has to be done…” Joey sings as the tune goes into the first chorus (and throughout it), mixing feelings of both longing and heartache in the delivery.

“Comeback” is one of those songs that gets your attention the moment you first listen to it. It commands it, and it should quickly work its way on repeat on whatever medium you’re using to listen to it. It also gives you hope, hope that if more pop music can start sounding like this, then maybe the genre won’t be as disregarded as it seems to be these days.

Swindle Boys is:
Joey Swindle
Matthew Swindle
Josh Brown
Chance Cochran

Purchase “Comeback” on:
Bandcamp / iTUNES

Visit Swindle Boys websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

Current Shows:
Friday, July 4th at Shipping & Receiving in Fort Worth

image(Photo credit: Shanna Leigh Tims)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 – Oh, Be Clever Casts Their Spell On Dallas

The Dallas-based radio station 102.1 The Edge had put together a nice little concert at the House of Blues this night. It was one of their “Low Dough” shows, with tickets being a mere five dollars, and the cheap price coupled with the standout talent ensured a sellout. Sure enough, about a week prior to the event, all the tickets were gone.

Even before eight, quite a few people were there. Anywhere between eighty to a hundred, probably (I’m horrible at estimating, though), many of whom had already staked out their spots in front of the stage.

Tove Lo and Semi Precious Weapons were the main bands billed. They were the only two acts whose name appeared on the ticket. Even the House of Blues website had just them listed. However, a third band was a part of the action.

Cory Scott Layton and Brittney Shields took the stage to a lukewarm welcome at best. You can’t blame the crowd, since I don’t think anyone had heard of them before. That didn’t affect the band, though; and Cory took his spot on stage right, behind some keys/synthesizers, while Brittney rushed to the center, exclaiming that they were Oh, Be Clever from Salt Lake City, Utah.

It took no time at all for the crowd to perk up, being completely captivated by the duos sexy electronic sounds, during which Brittney was seen pressing herself against the mic stand, grinding with it rather seductively, before removing the mic at the second chorus as she became more mobile. The song itself was spicy, too, with one of the early lines saying something about “…taste my scent…”.

It was followed by one of the handful of singles the band has released: “Next 2 U”. Brittneys’ voice was on fire as she belted out the chorus, “I feel alive next to you…”, and on a later line, she conveyed a strong feeling of desperation, in regards to wanting to know someone. I’ve got to say, it was nice to see a band who was doing more than just playing a song, they were feeling it. She even tried to make it into a sing along, asking everyone to help them out as they got to the last chorus, and some people had picked up on it enough to do just that.

“How’s everyone feeling?!” Brittney asked afterward, getting a strong reaction from the ever growing crowd. It hadn’t taken them long to make an impact on Dallas. Their softer side was highlighted with the gorgeous “Someone Better (Move On)”, and then they returned to their high-energy self with “Lost You”, another beast of a song that was wrought with emotion. It left the new fans screaming, and Brittney thanked them for the response. “This is not our first time to Texas, but it is our first time to Dallas and the House of Blues.” she said, meaning that everyone here this night was witnessing a small piece of history. “I’ve also picked up on saying y’all. So if it sounds very Utah, I apologize.” she added, which prompted some more shouts of people who were happy she was using the Southern term (and it didn’t have much of a Utah accent to it.)

Their next number, “Chest”, was one of my favorites from the show, ‘cause it was just so damn catchy, and it made you want to move around. Something several people were doing. It ended with Brittney stretching her arms out to her sides; as if she were soaking in the love they were being shown.

Already, they had reached the end of the line, though Brittney pointed out this final song of their 22-minute long set might be one some the audience had heard before. A sea of phones suddenly arose, as members of the crowd wanted to capture part of “My Religion” via pictures and video. The track was ultra sultry, with a stage show to match it, with Brittney sauntering around the stage, singing the often repeated part of the chorus, “Your sex, my religion.”

They may not have had many fans when they pulled in to Dallas this day, but now, people were visibly upset that they were done. However, once Brittney again stated how much they were loving being here and promised they would get back to Dallas, the crowd was calmed slightly.

Perhaps it was because I had absolutely no clue what to expect from Oh, Be Clever. I didn’t know what they sounded like or anything, but they blew me away.

Their music and performance was often dripping with sex appeal, but it was executed in a elegant manner. Britneys’ voice was astounding, and easily one of the best I’ve heard, while her prowess as a frontwoman was also superior to most, and she had no trouble getting all eyes on her and keeping them there. As for Cory, he may have been fixed in front of the keys, but he really got into the music, banging his head about when he could and dancing at other times.

Let’s hope their return trip to Dallas happens sooner than later, ‘cause I know I’m not the only Dallasite who can’t wait to see Oh, Be Clever again.

You can find their singles in iTUNES, and while they don’t have any shows booked right now, keep an eye on their TOUR PAGE.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 – Tove Lo Delivers a Steamy Pop Show in Dallas

The Dallas-based radio station 102.1 The Edge had put together a nice little concert at the House of Blues this night. It was one of their “Low Dough” shows, with tickets being a mere five dollars, and the cheap price coupled with the standout talent ensured a sellout. Sure enough, about a week prior to the event, all the tickets were gone.

Closing out the night was Swedish pop singer, Tove Lo. Just weeks prior, her debut EP, “Truth Serum” had dropped. That EP had apparently made her fans all the more ecstatic about this show, as the capacity crowd anxiously awaited her arrival on stage. Really, the excitement was palpable.

Her band this night consisted of two drummers and a guy on the keys/synthesizer/samples. Those three launched into the first song, warming up the crowd before Tove dashed on stage, immediately grabbing the microphone as she proceeded to sing, “Touch you once, my fingers go numb…” “Paradise” was as insanely catchy live as the recording makes it out to be, though it sounded even better, thanks to the emotion Tove packed in to the lyrics. I’d say the song, which conveyed a certain sense of longing, was sexually charged a bit, too. “It feels amazing to be here!” she remarked, before not so subtly setting up her next song with a clever lead in. “Usually I’m high all the time. But I’m not on drugs tonight. I’m just in love with Semi Precious Weapons.” she said, praising the band before her for their extraordinary show.

With that, they tackled “Not On Drugs”, the first of many songs this night that had the majority of the crowd dancing and singing along. It left her and her adoring fans riding a high (no pun intended); and now Tove said something to the effect of you should always let those you love know just how you feel. “…Hug them…” she said, sounding more like it was an instruction, before adding, “Make out with them. I don’t care.” It was an apt conversation to have before “Out of Mind”, a song that captures the gradual demise of a relationship, while still feeling for the person. It, too, was jam-packed with emotion, and Tove belted out the chorus in such a way that there was no denying this is a song based on a deep personal experience.

“How are you feeling?!” she asked the crowd afterwards, getting a booming response. “I’m Swedish, and we usually hold back…” she noted, pointing out she was enjoying that no one here had any reservations. “I fucking love that you’re not Swedish!” she shouted, before saying the next song was about, “When I fucked up. Once.” Heartbreak was again the center issue of “Over”, though it cast it in a different light versus the previous song. They wound it right into their next number, and Tove now turned her back to the audience. She received some hollers as she pulled her shirt off (a shirt that had the Parental Advisory Warning label printed across the front), revealing a more formfitting outfit. She turned back to face everyone, twirling the shirt in her right hand before sending it flying out in the crowd, where it became the trophy of one lucky attendee. Then came the infectious “Love Ballad”, whose upbeat sound served to put people in an even happier place than they already were.

“Put your hands up!” Tove commanded towards the end, as she led the room in a clap along.

Fans screamed with glee as “Habits (Stay High)” got underway. It was another tune that had people showing off their dance skills, even if it was just throwing their arms in the air and shaking their bodies while they sang along. Tove even held the mic out to one young lady, letting her sing the first line of the chorus, “You’re gone and I got to stay…”, before taking back over. She was jumping around as she sang, waving her arms about, becoming completely immersed in the track; and there came a time where she started another clap along, with everyone just picking up on what they needed to do after seeing her slowly raise her arms in the air.

“I love that you know that one!” she exclaimed once it ended. “Even though it hurts every time I play it…” she mentioned. Props to her, because it didn’t appear painful to her as she performed it, though it was evident it was another she has a deep connection to.

“Dallas, this has been an amazing first…” she said to everybody. Whether she meant to sound a little dirty or that was just how she phrased it remained unclear, though she quickly clarified with “time in the city.” The pulse pounding track “Run On Love” came next, and it was filled with even more energetic moments, from clap alongs, to jumping (which Tove did plenty of during the first chorus alone), as she expended every last ounce of energy she had in her, committing to the song completely.

That brought a rather abrupt end to the 29-minute long set. She thanked everyone again for their support and waved goodbye before disappearing backstage. People were hesitant to even leave, thinking, hoping she would be back. Eventually, the house lights came back on though, confirming that was a wrap.

That would be the only downside to any artist, not just Tove Lo, who only has one EP in their catalog: they don’t have much material to fill a long set.

However, if you can fault this show just because it clocked in on the short side, then there’s something wrong with you.

Honestly, I wasn’t even sure how much I would enjoy it, given that the pop genre is something I’m not too into, but Tove Lo and her band mates were phenomenal.

The performance was quite engaging and very fan oriented; and Tove continuously proved to be a riveting figure. Her voice was incredible, and each song found her doing something a little different with it, while she incorporated just the right amount of sultriness into the show, but never relied on that aspect. After all, her natural talent was more than enough to enchant the fans this night.

The Swedish musician has a few shows peppered across the U.S., with a couple in California at the start of July and then a show in New York come August. An Australia tour is also planned for December. Find her full tour dates HERE. Check out “Truth Serum” on iTUNES, too. After all, it’s cheap.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 – Semi Precious Weapons Shine in Dallas

The Dallas-based radio station 102.1 The Edge had put together a nice little concert at the House of Blues this night. It was one of their “Low Dough” shows, with tickets being a mere five dollars, and the cheap price coupled with the standout talent ensured a sellout. Sure enough, about a week prior to the event, all the tickets were gone.

Perhaps the act people were most excited for was the indie pop/rock outfit Semi Precious Weapons. The smaller Cambridge Room at the House of Blues was filled to capacity by the time they took the stage, with everyone squeezed in tightly next to one another. Once radio personality, Jessie, took the stage, the crowd went wild, and after a glowing introduction, she left the stage, while frontman Justin Tranter took her place, leading to even more cheers.

The quartet’s 46-minute long set was comprised entirely of songs from the recently released “Aviation”, beginning with “Never Going Home”. Tranter was moving his hands about in the air while he sang the first verse, eventually stretching his arms out to his sides, before slowly moving them in front of him. “‘Cause we’re never going home tonight…” he started on the chorus, waving his index fingers from side to side as he did so. It made the song all the more fun and captivating, and as it neared the end, he offered a “Hello” to Dallas. “I said, “Hello, Dallas!’” he repeated after not quite getting a loud enough reaction. “We are Semi Precious Weapons.”

Bassist Cole Whittle had been killing it on the song, tearing it up on his bass, and now he, drummer Dan Crean and guitarist Stevy Pyne wound them into the subsequent track on the record: “Scream to the Sky”. “We’re in Dallas!” Tranter exclaimed after singing the opening line, “I don’t know what city we’re in tonight…” The energy level spiked with that one, peaking once a clap along was started; and then came a point where Tranter yelled at the audience, “SCREAM!”, as he held the mic stand out to everyone, before pulling it back and dragging it around on stage, jumping and kicking at the air as he did so.

Two songs in, and they already had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand.

“Hello!” Tranter said, hitting a very high falsetto note, before asking in his normal voice, “How the fuck are you, Texas?!” The fans roared back at him, especially when he mentioned this was their favorite place to perform in the whole world. “…It’s true, I’ve said it in interviews…” he said, before giving the show a dose of comic relief by saying he needed to put in a drink order to whoever would be buying. “We need three whiskeys, and some chardonnay for the lady.” he said, referring to himself, before fluffing his hair. That got a well-deserved laugh from the spectators. It also wound up making a good segue into “Drink”, another song that Whittle stole the spotlight on for a time, taking his bass off before the final chorus and waving it around in the air as he continued to pluck the strings. It was a sight to see. Crean then segued them into the next number. “This is That’s My Friends!” Tranter shouted, as it got underway. The jacket Tranter had been wearing was slowly removed throughout that number. It hung on to one shoulder for a while before he finishing pulling it off, then turned around and did what appeared to be a bit of twerking, an action that had nearly everyone applauding his dancing skills. “Sing, bitches!” he then commanded as the chorus came back around.

The room filled with the sounds of clapping and cheers, and folks were all too eager to keep it going as Tranter egged them on, seeking more. “People always ask, ‘Why is Texas your favorite place to perform?’ and I just say, ‘Come to a fucking show!’” he declared, getting another deafening reaction from everyone. Jessie then brought them the drinks they had asked for, something Tranter mentioned was rather appropriate, as their next song was “Free Booze”. Crean got pretty wild with his drumming on that one, growing very intense; while Pyne ended up unleashing an astounding solo on everyone’s ears, and in that moment, the crowd realized what a stupendous guitarist he was.

“Let’s be honest with each other, Dallas. Are we having a good time?” Tranter asked, getting a lackluster reaction the first time around. He himself was laughing when he told everyone to forget that and that it never happened, before posing the question again. “You can make out with person next to you for the entire time of this next one.” he said, following that with, “I’m giving you permission not to look at me. I know, that’s shocking.” he cracked. No one did that during “Cherries On Ice”, though there was plenty of dancing and swaying to the electronic type song. “Where you’re lips at?” Tranter sang near the start, using what I believe were his index and middle finger to resemble a pair of lips. Then, the last time he repeated that, he placed them right on his crotch. That drew a slightly shocked reaction from the crowd, though everyone was laughing.

No one enjoyed hearing that they only had a few songs left, and after making it known, Tranter quipped he thought we were supposed to be slow, as in at a relaxed pace, and have big hair. “I have big hair fantasies that are not being fulfilled.” he told the fans, mentioning the next song was one of his favorites. Before they got any further, though, something caught his eye. He asked for a woman to join them on stage, and he marveled at the shirt she had made, which had the band’s name spelled out in little jewels (bedazzled). She was thanked for her dedication, and then they got to the lyrically superb, “Look to the Stars”. Just as the rest of their set had been, it was brimming with nonstop action, and ended with Pyne rushing to center stage, where he cranked out another guitar solo. “Stevy fucking Pyne!” Tranter declared once it ended.

The Edge was then thanked for having them as a part of this show, as well as Jessie, who Tranter said placed the next song at the number one spot on her countdown earlier that afternoon. It was the albums lead track, “Aviation High”. The crowd seemed to be enjoying it more than they had even the other songs (that’s saying something), but while it ended, it wasn’t over yet. “We’re alive, alive…” Tranter sang, this time a cappella, before the entire room picked it up and sang to the band. It made for an awesome moment, and one that should stick with everyone who was there.

“…I love Dallas.” stated Tranter before their closing number, “Hands Up”. Even after all this, that one proved to be the most energetic, and not just because fans threw their hands in the air when the lyrics said so. “Will you jump with us?!” Tranter asked in the latter half of the song, and immediately, everyone began bouncing around. They stopped as the music changed, before being asked one last time at the end, obliging once more.

Pyne, Whittle and Crean all left, but Tranter stayed on stage for a moment, expressing their gratitude for everyone. “…I fucking love you… I can’t believe so many of you still care about us after all these years…” he said. Every word he spoke came from the heart and was quite humble, which in turn was respectable.

Semi Precious Weapons exceeded all expectations I had for them, and I think that can be said of everyone who was at the show this night, even those longtime fans.

It was, indeed, a performance they put on, from start to finish, and they never slacked up along the way. They left it all on stage, and gave the audience a piece of themselves in the process, which is something not every band does these days.

They have a show at The Vanguard in Tulsa, OK on Friday, June 27th, as well as some dates throughout July, all of which can be found HERE. Be sure to check out their records in iTUNES, too.

Nothing More Releases Debut Album; Announces Late Summer Headlining Tour

imageIt was only a matter of time before Nothing More got signed. I’ve been one of their thousands of fans who have anxiously been waiting years for that to happen to the San Antonio-based rock outfit, who even as an independent band managed to make quite the name for themselves, keeping a rigorous touring schedule and often performing with nationally known bands.

It has only been a little more than three months since they announced they had inked a deal with Eleven Seven Music, who would be re-releasing their self-titled album (an album they independently released in June of 2013) on a national level. In the meantime, they kept busy by playing festivals all across the U.S. (Rock On the Range, Rocklahoma, etc.), touring with bands like Chevelle and Killswitch Engage, along with doing a European tour to promote “Nothing More”. To say they’re a band quickly on the rise would be the understatement of the year.

Their album was one of the best records I bought during 2013, and it will be making my year-end Top 10 list again this year. It’s a superb record that has an amazing flow to it; and every song is teeming with emotion, from tackling subjects like addiction, to religion, consumerism, and death (based on the personal experiences of frontman Jonny Hawkins, who lost his mother to cancer). It’s an album that makes you feel, and WILL stir something in you, which is pretty rare these days.

In support of the record, the band will be heading out on a month long tour across the U.S. later this summer, which should surely get them warmed up for their tour with Volbeat and Five Finger Death Punch later this fall.

The album can be purchased in a variety of places (perhaps even at your local Best Buy); and if you see that Nothing More is coming to a town near you, go see them. Trust me, they put one of the most mind-blowing shows of any band. Ever.

Amazon.com:
CD: http://smarturl.it/NothingMore_Amz
LP: http://smarturl.it/NothingMore_AmzLP
Digital: http://smarturl.it/NothingMore_Amzmp3

iTunes:
LINK: http://smarturl.it/NothingMore_iTunes

Best Buy:
CD: http://smarturl.it/NothingMore_BBYCD
LP: http://smarturl.it/NothingMore_BBYLP

“We Are Not Machines Tour”
Tue/Aug-05 Kansas City, MO The Riot Room
Thu/Aug-07 Grand Rapids, MI The Stache @ The Intersection
Fri/Aug-08 Chicago, IL Beat Kitchen
Sat/Aug-09 Birch Run, MI Dirt Fest 2014
Mon/Aug-11 Pittsburgh, PA Altar Bar
Tue/Aug-12 Lancaster, PA The Chameleon
Wed/Aug-13 Toronto, ON Lee’s Palace
Fri/Aug-15 Albany, NY Upstate Concert Theater
Sat/Aug-16 Portland, ME Port City
Mon/Aug 18 -18 Baltimore, MD Ottobar
Tue/Aug-19 Charlotte, NC Amos Southend
Thu/Aug-21 Atlanta, GA Masquerade Hell
Fri/Aug-22 Nashville, TN The End
Sat/Aug-23 St. Louis, MO The Firebird
Sun/Aug-24 Springfield, MO Outland Ballroom
Tue/Aug-26 Little Rock, AR Juanita’s
Wed/Aug-27 Dallas, TX Trees
Fri/Aug-29 Houston, TX Scout Bar
Sat/Aug-30 San Antonio, TX Sam’s Burger Joint
Tue/Sep-02 Tucson, AZ The Rock
Wed/Sep-03 Los Angeles, CA Troubadour
Fri/Sep-05 Denver, CO Marquis
Sat/Sep-06 Colorado Springs, CO Black Sheep
Tue/Sep-09 Seattle, WA El Corazon
Fri/Sep-12 Portland, OR Dante’s
Sat/Sep -13 Sacramento, CA Monster Energy Music's Aftershock Festival
Sun/Oct-5 Louisville, KY Louder Than Life

Full tour schedule can be found HERE.

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Saturday, June 21st, 2014 – Eleven Hundred Springs Provides a Two-Stepping Good Time at Hank’s

You don’t generally think of McKinney as being a place to go see live music. However, Hank’s Texas Grill ensures that is, especially for the fans of country music.

I had only been there once before, and with Eleven Hundred Springs providing the entertainment this night, it seemed as good a reason as any to make a return trip. Well, that and I was in the mood for something different from the typical rock shows I see down in Deep Ellum.

At 9:45 there was already a healthy crowd who had paid to get into the showroom/patio area of the restaurant, some of whom sported their Eleven Hundred Springs shirts (like the one with the lyrics, “Raise hell, drink beer.” printed on the back), as they waited on the local powerhouse to take the stage.

It was 9:59 when singer and guitarist Matt Hillyer, bassist Steve Berg, drummer Arjuna Contreras, fiddle player Jordan Hendrix and Burton Lee (who they later mentioned was making his return as their pedal steel guitarist) took the stage, being greeted with plenty of applause and cheers.
image“Get high, everybody, get high!” Matt sang, while Steve backed him up, as they kicked off their set with a rendition of ZZ Top’s “Thunderbird”. “All you kids from McKinney, Texas, you grow so big and tall.” sang Matt, changing the line slightly to be even more accurate to where they were spending the night. The song came to abrupt end when all the instruments ceased, and Matt crooned, “Roll up another joint…”. Their original, “Thunderbird Will Do Just Fine”, works as a sort of sister song to that one by the iconic Texas trio; and that classic also had plenty of people singing along.

Arjuna began to count them in to the next one, before Burton motioned for him to wait a second as he adjusted his pedal steel. It didn’t take long, though, and seconds later they opened up their song about how hard it is to get by these days: “Hard Working Just Ain’t Working Anymore”. “Come on y’all, let’s work in out!” Matt shouted at the crowd after the first chorus; while later Jordan got his first moment of the night to shine, doing a fiddle solo. “Let’s keep it country. Let’s see how many of you can two-step.” said Matt after that song, giving an open invitation to everyone to invade the space directly in front of the stage. They then looked back to the “A Straighter Line” album, doing the sorrowful, “Sad and Lonesome Song”. Couples didn’t let the fact that it was a song about a love lost keep them from enjoying it, though, and plenty took to the floor, showing off their dance skills for the duration of the track.

Aside from their originals, EHS is known for doing plenty of covers, too, and now they tried their hand at Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Looking Out My Back Door”. That is one I don’t believe I’ve heard them do before, though they performed it exceptionally well; and while keeping it true to form, they also managed to put their own twist on it. They were in one of the cover portions of the set, and now they focused on country legend George Jones with the amusing and entertaining “Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half as Bad as Losing You”). It came complete with both a drum and fiddle solo; and afterwards, Matt mentioned how good it was to be back here at Hank’s, a venue they play every New Year’s Eve. “Are you feeling good?” he asked the crowd, before stating that they felt great. “…You can dance along to this one and hope you sing along, too.” he then said to everyone, as they did their first song of the night off the “Eight the Hard Way” record: “This Ain’t the First Time (But it’s the Worst Time)”.

“I came home, loaded again; watched the sun come up with all my good timing friends. We all know how the story ends…” Matt sang, as the song got underway, before some members of the audience helped him and Steve out with the next line, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E…” That fun little number certainly got people excited, though that level of excitement paled in comparison to how riled up “We’re From Texas” got people. “‘Cause we’re from Texas, we don’t give a shit. Yeah, we’re from Texas buddy, and we’re damn sure proud of it.” goes the first chorus (which should sum up what the song’s about), and one of the later lines was changed slightly, and instead of “steal your girlfriend” it was, “We’ll screw your girlfriend, kick your ass and drink all your beer…” The song oozes with state pride, and everyone at Hank’s this night was feeling it.
imageThey then slowed things down a bit with yet another song off “Eight the hard Way”, “No Place Else to Go”. The best part of it (and perhaps of the entire night) came out the end, when a large bug that had found its way on stage jumped/flew on to Matt’s back, causing him to spin right around in a mix of shock and horror as he tried to figure out just what that had been. The last few lines were sung in between him laughing at himself. After it bounced off his back and fell back to the floor, Jordan stomped on it; an action Matt later thanked him for and for protecting him. “Watch out folks! There are flying possums…” Matt laughed after the applause.

They then knocked out The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider”, but only did a partial cover of it, and during the instrumental break, Matt began conversing with audience, mentioning this was one of their favorite places in the whole world to play. “…We’ve done a lot of stuff here…” he said, seeming to reminisce about it all, and mentioned after-parties, along with some things he probably shouldn’t talk about. He then proceeded to talk about “freaks”, being quick to point out he meant that as a good thing. There were the nine to five freaks, the weekend warrior freaks, and even the closeted freaks, and each category he named drew some cheers. “You’re not closeted, now.” he cracked after that last one, before getting to what he said always gets the most response, and a group he considered himself to be a part of: the twenty-four seven freaks. Indeed, the most noise was made over it. That was the setup for one of their oldest hits: “Long Haired Tattooed Hippie Freaks”. It ended with Jordan busting right into his fiddle solo, which is a song in itself, and prompted nearly everyone to pull their phones out and snap some pictures, along with hollering over his skills.

It began to taper off and Matt removed his cowboy hat, using it to fan the fiddle, before Jordan took a bow as the crowd applauded.

They rolled on with the very authentic country song, “Whose Heart Are You Breaking Tonight” from the “Country Jam” album, and they stayed on it with “Every Time I Get Close To You”, which ended with Matt pointing his guitar at the audience as if it were a gun. No sooner had it ended and then the gentle chords that start the title track from another record, “This Crazy Life”, were heard. I admit, it’s one of my favorites from the band; and even though Matt flubbed one of the last lines of the last chorus (a few words around “…Vacation every summer on the coast and raise a glass and drink a toast to the days gone by when I was really out of my head…” became total jargon), it did nothing to ruin or even harm it. And yes, he shook his head in disbelief when he forgot the words, laughing it off.

The subject of love was again tackled in more of a humorous spirit with “Show me The Money (Or I’ll Show You The Door)”, which they bled right into another staple of their show: a cover of “Rock Island Line”. They expanded on it some, adding anything from a portion of another song into the instrumental break, to a guitar solo, making their fans love it all the more. “Everybody feeling good?!” asked Matt afterwards, getting a loud rise out of everyone. “We do, too.” he added, before eventually saying they were going to slow it down. They did so with “I’m In A Mellow Mood”, which has a sort of old-timey country vibe to it, before picking the pace right back up with another fan favorite: “Seven Days”. The instrumental breakdown seemed to go on a little longer, giving the song even more of a kick; and once it ended, Matt announced they had another two-stepper coming up. What would generally be referred to as “the pit” (at least at a rock show) had never been completely clear of dancers this night, and those who had wandered away flocked back for the catchy ballad, “Texas Afternoon”.

Now came what was called the “Bob Wills portion of the set”, and Matt gave it up to Arjuna, saying he was going to start them off with some Wills style rhythm. His drum solo had everyone in awe (it included plenty of cowbell), as he progressively got more intense, even tossing a drumstick in the air at one point. He caught it by the end that is typically used to strike the kit, and used it that way, hitting the cymbals and such with the broader end. The instant that came to an end, Jordan walked towards the forefront of the stage, coming in on his fiddle, setting them off on a more rocking rendition of “Time Changes Everything”.

That was it for the Bob Wills portion, though it was another highlight of the night, and then came “Stuff You Can’t Refuse”.  “Let’s keep it moving!” Matt yelled as they fired up another cover. The quintet took a little sidebar once it was done, making “Queen of Canton Street” look as if it were a little impromptu. Good choice, though. The mood again spiked when they got to “Why You Been Gone So Long?” — another cover the band has put their stamp on. “Come on, Burton Lee!” Matt shouted after the first chorus of that Carl Perkins tune, as Burton started on a little pedal steel solo. “One more time, one more time.” Matt told everyone before the final chorus, as he raised his guitar up, holding the body close to his chest.

“This is for all the drinkers in the house.” he announced before they did a song from “Midway”, “I’m an S.O.B. (When I’m S-O-B-E-R)”. Yeah, it’s as entertaining as the title suggests. The band took another moment to discuss their next move, before Matt mentioned this next song was a favorite of theirs, but one they hadn’t done in a little while. He was speaking of “Your Place or Mine?” by Gary Stewart, which was an even blend of country and rock.
imageThey were deep into another cover segment now, and after another track, they did the standard, “T for Texas” by Jimmy Rodgers. “Hope y’all are having as much fun as we are. We’re having a blast!” Matt said to the audience, before noting they had just enough time left for a few more. One of those was “Heartstrings”, while another was a great cover of “Truck Driving Man”. As soon as the last notes of it had been played, Matt used the silence to start their next number. “You asked me if I wanted my jacket back, you know, it looks better on you…” “See You in The Next Life” is perhaps one of the most moving songs ever, with lyrics that cut to the bone. For example, “…You know, I wish I could make it work, ‘cause I feel like such a jerk. I wish it wasn’t such a game, because I feel like I’m to blame… I hope I get a second chance, I hope I see ya in the next life.” It’s not just a tearjerker, though, and some gladly danced with their special someone during it. They weren’t about to end on a somber note, though, and had one last song up their sleeve.

“Thank you. We’ll see ya next time.” Matt said to the onlookers as the segued right into the final song of their 2-hour set. “Last call! he shouted right before “Raise Hell, Drink Beer” really took off. “Come on and raise some hell!” he roared after the first chorus, getting the spectators more pumped about it. It eventually came to a rip-roaring close with some blaring bass, monster guitar riffs and some deafening notes on the fiddle and pedal steel, while Arjuna dished out some thunderous beats. One of his drumsticks suddenly went flying to his right, and he scrambled to get another.

“God bless.” Matt said, waving at everyone, as they mostly disappeared backstage (Steve stayed out and began to tear down). The fans gave them the applause they so deserved, hoping it might also bring about an encore. It didn’t, but after two-hours, how could you expect one? It was already more of a show than most bands put on.

This was a phenomenal show, as it usually is. It was also nice getting to see them play a full headlining set for the first time in quite awhile, as the two times I caught them last year they happened to be opening for The Toadies.

Eleven Hundred Springs is one of the best in Texas Country that North Texas has to offer, and whenever they’re headlining, you can count on a show on this scale. I overheard one woman talking to someone else as they finished this night, and she was marveling at the fact that they “don’t take breaks”. It’s a nonstop performance, and between their seemingly endless amounts of original hits and the variety of covers they have in their repertoire, it’s a show that’s entertaining from start to finish.

They have plenty of albums to pick up in iTUNES, and their full tour schedule can be viewed HERE. They’ll be playing the Gas Monkey Bar & Grill in Dallas on June 27th, and then the Rocking the River concert series at Panther Island Pavilion in Fort Worth on July 3rd (that one’s a free show). They have a show in Lake Dallas on July 4th, and then they’ll be up in Denison on July 12th at Tupelo Honey. They also have a show in Lewisville on July 22nd, along with some dates around Texas booked further out.

Album Review: “Skylines” by Shapes and Faces

imageThe Dallas-based quartet known as Shapes and Faces has been around for a little more than a couple years now, and are now on the verge of the release of their debut album, “Skylines”. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the band is that you can’t pigeonhole them into one certain genre. They’re self-described as being indie, rock and new-wave. There are also some elements of pop thrown in, and probably even some other styles.

They don’t just mix them, either. They traverse through all of those styles, which makes for quite the listening experience.

“Big Sky” opens the little over 37-minute long record, starting off a little slow, before its catchy music bed, complete with heavy drum beats and blaring guitar riffs really take hold. There’s a very upbeat feel to it, and it will have no problem in reeling you in and making you interested in the rest of the record.

That spirited track then gives way to the rocking, “Blank Stairs”. “…Without yesterday, you never get older.” goes the chorus of the albums shortest track, as the four-piece shows that aside from crafting songs that get your attention, they’re also great lyricists. It’s a monster if a song, and my favorite from the album.

“Lost in CT” gives it a run for its money in my opinion, though. The band shows off their gentler side at first, while the track obviously stems from deep personal experiences. That emotion is conveyed, and one of the messages I get from it is to savor the little moments. “And the answers are always on the edge of the earth. When you don’t seem to notice what you’re home is really worth.” Derek Bennett sings on the chorus, a somewhat simple, yet impactful line.

Then, the catchy notes that begin “For You” spill out of the speakers. The track blends a new wavy vibe with rock exceptionally well. I’m hesitant to say it’s cutting edge, though there is a very refreshing quality to the way the keys interact with the bass, drums and guitar. Simply put, it’s mesmerizing.

‘To Survive” dances between an entrancing atmospheric vibe and an indie/rock song that rocks like no other. Two sounds that may sound contradictory, but they’re blended well on this lovely track; which fades out to the lone instrumental song on the record. I’ve said it before in past articles, and I’ll say it again: with few exceptions, instrumental music is just something that generally doesn’t appeal to me. However, there’s something truly captivating about “Artifacts”. The flow it has is great, starting slow, building up, then tapering off. After assuming it’s just going to be a more relaxed number, then it roars to life, providing something you can bang your head to.

The lyrical depth is again highlighted on the chorus of “Red Lights”. “In the end I just want you to find yourself outside of this cage…” Derek sings, a genuine quality heard readily in his voice. It’s a touching song, and the same could — to some extent — also be said of the following track, “Monster Tommy”.

The album closes out strong with “In My City”, which carries a certain feeling of triumph to it, and also seems to be coated in a layer of longing for days gone by, while simultaneously being excited by the prospects of things to come. All of which makes for a fitting way to end the record.

It’s definitely an all encompassing record, and one you won’t tire of for some time. At least you shouldn’t.

It’s refreshing to hear a band be able to pull off a varied style of sounds, and most impressive of all is how they make it sound like it fits what Shapes and Faces is, instead of, you know, coming across as if they’re trying to do something different for the sole purpose of being different.

If you haven’t gotten the drift by now, “Skylines” is well worth the investment of your time in sampling it, and if you like it, then you’re money, too.


Shapes and Faces is:
Derek Bennett – vocals and guitar
Ryan Martin – drums and backing vocals
Jeff Givens - guitar
Chase Gamradt - bass

Purchase the album on: iTUNES or Bandcamp

Visit Shapes and Faces websites: Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:
August 22nd at The Grotto in Fort Worth
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Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 – Ume Annihilates at the Index Fest Announcement Party

Who can say no to a free concert? Anyone? I certainly can’t, especially not when one of the bands playing is the Austin-based Ume.

The reason it was free was that Spune — the force behind Index Fest — wanted to make the announcement of the first round of bands for the fall festival into something more exciting than just checking a website one random morning. So, they organized this show at Trees to announce the first thirty bands live, tapping some great talent like A.Dd+, Booty Fade and Wrestlers (along with Ume), while Goose Island Beer Co. was on hand providing some free beer.

I was a little late to the party, getting there about nine, right as the rap outfit A.Dd+ was wrapping up, and after seeing how vacant the parking lot behind Trees was, I was surprised to see the venue packed. I’d guess around a couple hundred people easy.

Half of the first wave of bands were announced before Ume took the stage; and then, at 9:29, the curtain again opened, this time on one of the best trios around.

They’ve been making a name for themselves for several years now, and the newly released “Monuments” album has really garnered a lot of praise and attention. However, it wasn’t one of those newer songs that they opened with. Instead, they did the classic, “The Conductor”. Like many of their songs, there’s sort of grungy tone to singer and guitarist Lauren Larsons’ voice at times; and when she wasn’t singing, she was shredding on her axe (her skills are so awe-inspiring that she can make most guitarists look like amateurs), holding it above her face at one point as she viciously picked at it.

The “Monuments” LP was their primary focus this night, though, and after the packed house roared over that first song, they got to it, as drummer Aaron Perez counted them in to “Too Big World”. Lauren kept the non-stop action coming, using one of the instrumental breaks to sit on the stage, before she laid down, clutching her guitar and letting the rock ‘n’ roll spirits consume her, ‘cause even though she couldn’t see the strings, she was tearing it up. A grin came across Eric Larsons’ face when he realized the cord to his bass had gotten tangled on the guitars’ headstock, and he quickly undid it, while Lauren seemed none the wiser, standing back up and returning to the mic, before eventually spinning in a few circles at the tail end.

They followed it by going directly into the final track from the album, the gritty yet at times serene sounding, “Reason”, before taking a brief break. Eric then served up some bass riffs, and once Aaron laid some beats over it, there was no denying that it was “Burst”. Luckily, they haven’t forgotten about their 2011 album, “Phantoms”, and the more shoegaze/rock sounding track was one of their best this night. “Is this the way, is this the way it’s meant to be? Is this the way, it comes in waves and goes again?” Lauren crooned in a soupy sounding voice towards the end, while Eric waved his bass around in the air. Afterwards, they kicked things up several notches, doing the beast of a song that is “Embrace”, their claws sinking deeper into all those who were watching, making the throng of people love it all the more.

“We appreciate y’all being out here on a Tuesday night. This is awesome!” Lauren remarked after changing guitars, before doing another track, which I believe was “Hurricane II”. There was a point was Lauren slowly dropped to her knees at the edge of the stage, appearing to channel the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, not just because it looked like something he may have done, but also because she had now given herself up to the music. She then brandished her weapon of choice at the crowd, pushing it out towards them, an action that received plenty of cheers. As they prepared for their next song, Aaron opened it up with a drum roll followed by a solid, steady beat, repeating it for the duration of the intro to “Oh Fate”. That rip-roaring number then gave way to “Until The End”, as the three-piece showed off their softer side for a couple of minutes. Lauren faced Aaron and his drum kit as they all built the song up, and at the very end, on the final guitar licks, the way she attacked the guitar was something else to watch.

They dished out another one, which wound down with Lauren suddenly becoming a lifeless heap on the stage as the music died out. Then, when it when came back in, she sprung up and plucked the strings of her axe. The aggressive songs kept coming with “Chase It Down”, and during an instrumental portion, Lauren pumped her fist in the air to incite the crowd. It worked. “Thank y’all so much. This is really amazing.” she said, before informing everyone they had a couple left. No one liked that, but hey, all good things must come to an end.

They dug deep into their catalog, and another song that is still (fortunately) a staple in their shows is “Baby Xie-Xie”, which was quite possibly the most intense thing they did this night. It’s very raw, which behooves Ume, and after the first verse, Lauren raised a knee into the air before kicking, all done in perfect time to the drums. The crowd was enjoying it, too, some a little more than others. A mosh pit (if two people can even be defined as a mosh pit) broke out, and I was one of several people who unexpectedly got body slammed due to not even knowing it was going on.

With that, they were onto the final song of their 43-minute long set, and the lead single, “Black Stone”, had been saved for last. It doesn’t even last quite three minutes, yet there was as much energy packed into that time as there had been throughout their entire set, and they left the audience craving more.

Few bands embody the rock ‘n’ roll as essence as purely and as definitively Ume does. That was seen this night, along with any other time they play (or at least the handful of times I’ve seen it has been).

They’re superb, and great to watch. In fact, you’ll never even be looking away.

They’ll be back in North Texas on July 24th, opening for The Toadies at The Rockin’ Rodeo in Denton. Aside from a string of dates with The Toadies in late July, they also have a tour going on now with Circa Survive. Their full list of dates can be viewed HERE, and there’s a chance they’ll be coming to a town near you. Oh, let’s not forget their July 4th show at Hyde Park in London with Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Motorhead and Fait No More. As for their music, you can purchase it in iTUNES.

I didn’t stick around after their set. I had seen the duo of DJ Sober and Picnictyme, better known as Booty Fade, before, and they’re just not my thing. Ume alone was worth it, though, especially since they don’t often play in the area, and for free no less… How could you not have been at this?

Saturday, June 14th, 2014 – Punk Rock Prevails at Day 4 of The Elm Street Tattoo & Music Festival

The fourth night of the Elm Street Tattoo and Music Festival was the second date of it I made; and like the first, Club Dada was my destination.

Some club hopping might have been done early on in the night, but I had already purchased a single-day ticket before I knew some of the other acts performing elsewhere. That worked out alright, though, because the lineup this night wound up being pure insanity.

The show was going down on the outside patio, and Stymie had the privilege of kicking it off. The quartet mentioned they were from around these parts, before one of their friends/fans quickly called them out, saying, “No you’re not, you’re from Denton!”

They raced through quite a few songs (eight total) during their 26-minute long set, and for the most part, they jumped from one right into the next. After a handful, their singer/rhythm guitarist mentioned they were going to do some newer songs. “…But these are probably all new to you, anyways.” he remarked  after thinking about it.
imageIndeed, they were. Those who had arrived early did seem to be enjoying them, though, and after knocking out a couple more songs, he mentioned it was their favorite point of the set. He asked the bassist if he wanted to tell everyone why, but he gave it back up to the singer. “It’s our last two songs.” was his answer for why it was their favorite part.

Their music had some punk rock elements to it. I don’t know if I’d classify everything they did in that genre, but they did have a few songs that were over in just a couple of minutes at most. The energy they put into the show was also fitting of a punk rock outfit, though they weren’t on the same level as the bands that would follow.

They were a very enjoyable act to watch and listen to, though.

The night got super interesting when Mugen Hoso took the stage. The band had been in Texas for a few days now, playing cities like Denton and Fort Worth, and I had heard a lot of buzz about this Japanese duo regarding how sensational their shows were. Let’s just say the Tokyo-based duo did not disappoint… And that’s putting it mildly.
imageDrummer Taro appeared to understand and speak English a little better than singer and guitarist Hiro did, and he helped him through the sound check (translating the questions the sound guy was asking). The two then stood at the forefront of the stage as the now sizable audience looked on, wondering just what they were about to see.

“We are from Japan.” Hiro said, his accent thick, but still understandable (at times). “Lock and load.” he then said, repeating it another time or two while Taro situated himself behind his drum kit. Their opening number did have a real punk vibe to it, and what could easily be understood was the often repeated line, “It’s only rock and roll…”. The music was great, but it was the stage where this band excelled. Taro was running all over the deck, jumping and soaring through the air, landing in another spot and then repeating. It was off-the-wall craziness at its best. They segued it directly into another number, showing off their serious chops as musicians as well as some humor in the latter portion, when Taro would let loose some beats before stopping. Hiro stopped at the instant he did, making some faces that you just had to laugh at, before they picked back up and repeated. They already had everyone enthralled, and this new collection of fans took those pauses to voice their love for their new favorite band.
imageThey were so coordinated; and the first break of their set they used to voice their love for the Lone Star State. “Come back, Texas. Come back, Dallas. Love, Dallas! Fun place! Happy…!” Hiro said, still getting his point across in his broken English; and, as people usually do when their hometown/area gets mentioned, that had the crowd roaring. Talk then turned to a previous tour they had done, and while in North Carolina, Hiro had gotten bit by a dog. He even took his shirt off, showing everyone the mark he still had on his chest, and mentioned that incident had resulted in a song. “North Carolina, bit by the dog.” Well, I think that’s what he said, but I really don’t know for certain. Parts were understandable, others I think were sung in Japanese; and then they eased things into a moment of silence. “I will bite, you!” Hiro said wide-eyed, as he pointed at a guy in the crowd. They then ripped back into the tune, and Hiro seemed to glide across the stage as he jumped on one foot over to one side, then back again, and then back and forth once more.

Everyone was in total awe at this point, making them all too eager to clap along once they got their next song going. Hiro showed little regard for his physical wellbeing this night, and this was one song where he would jump into the air before falling onto his back. Let me just point out that this is a wooden deck. Some of the pieces are broken and jagged, too. I’m not saying a concrete stage would be much easier on the body, but you’d have a better shot of not getting so scraped up. Still, he could have cared less, doing that a time or two before rolling over towards the drum kit. Then, at the end, he laid down, stuck his legs in the air, and with his axe laying beside him, shredded like no one’s business.

“Love is beautiful. Love is wonderful. Sometimes, love is crazy.” Hiro told the crowd afterwards, doing a good job of sounding like an insane person when he said that last sentence. “My name is Love Monster.” he then told the crowd. I can only assume that was the title of their next number, and both he and Taro placed a hand on the top of their head, extending their pinky and index fingers to look like horns. The spectators were brought into the show during this one, quickly picking up that they needed to sing along on a “La la la la…” part. They were loving it, the band was loving it. It was a beautiful moment.
imageThey then surprised people with a cover of The Who’s “Young Man Blues”. “…When a young man was a strong man,
all the people they’d step back.” Hiro sang, having some fun with that line, as he stepped further and further back from the mic, until he was almost at the fence that made the back of the stage. That got a huge rise from everyone, and even more exciting was when he got out in the crowd and interacted with everyone. He returned to the stage stage, and while it was only trace amounts, there was some blood dripping from his left elbow. He even had a little wound on the back of his head, no doubt made worse by the dive he took at the end, when he again hit the stage at full force.

Sadly, they were already onto the final song of their 34-minute long set, and they got a chant of the songs title going: “Ichiban”. I don’t imagine anyone knew what it meant, nor did they care to know. It was all irrelevant. “We are Ichiban!” Hiro began chanting later on in the tune. Everyone soon joined in, growing louder with each chant of the phrase, until it was all consuming.

No sooner had they finished then people began demanding more, something they didn’t have time for. “We come back next summer?!” Hiro said to everyone, asking if that was okay. It was, but I have a feeling the summer of 2015 can’t get here quick enough.
imageThis was one of the most spectacular shows I’ve seen a band do. Really, it’s been a little while since I was left wowed by a bands set and looked on in complete awe over what was taking place. Mugen Hoso left me experiencing all of that, and it was amazing.

I also loved the fact that despite the slight language barrier, it was never a real issue. The crowd was able to understand everything that really needed to be well enough, while the band was able to read the audience and know how much they were enjoying it. Just goes to show that music is the universal language, and it transcends all.

They do have some dates left in the U.S. (going through July), so check out their OFFICIAL WEBSITE to see if they’ll be coming to a town near you.

After that performance, I was wondering if even The Riverboat Gamblers could top it. I should have known better.

“We’re a band! We’d like to play some songs for you!” frontman Mike Wiebe told the now packed patio as soon as the sound check had been completed. “We’re gonna play this song for you! It’s called True Crime!” he then exclaimed. With that, the quintet who originated from Denton went from 0 to 120 in about a millisecond. 2006’s “To the Confusion of Our Enemies” was in full effect this night, and the intense pace coupled with the vocal assault of Mike singing and guitarists Fadi El-Assad and Ian MacDougall and bassist Rob Marchant doing the backing vocals quickly incited a mosh pit. I don’t even think they were halfway through the first verse when people began slamming against one another; and all the while Mike was jumping around, throwing the mic into the air before catching it just in time for the next line.
imageThat album may have been the primary focus, but many of their records were represented this night, and they bridged that right into one of a couple old songs this night: “Sunday Dress”. That truly punk rock track served to further rile up the crowd, and once Fadi and drummer Ian Walling ripped into “Save You”, well, that ensured they had everyone completely captivated. Mike again threw the mic high into the air after he finished the first verse, catching it without even really looking at it; while towards the end of the tune, the fans shouted along, “You’ve got the rhythm, but you’ve got no soul! C’mon!”.

They kept it coming, immediately firing up “The Gamblers Try Their Hand at International Diplomacy”. The brief number just made things more thrilling, and once it slowed down near the end, Mike began spinning his microphone, giving it a lot of slack as he held the cord. He progressively got faster and faster, and then BAM, they wound it right into the subsequent track from the record, “Walk Around Me”. It was hard to tell which songs fans enjoyed more, that one or “The Song We Used to Call Wasting Time”, which featured another segue where there wasn’t even a split-second between songs. I would say perhaps the latter, due to the extreme amounts of energy the packed into it. Mike was again making the rounds of the stage, and if not during this song, it was around this point that he grabbed the speakers that were on stage right, climbing on what was nothing more than a small ledge, standing on it and holding on to the top speaker. He then jumped atop one of the monitors by Fadi, using a member of the crowd (myself, actually) to get balanced on it while he continued to spit out the words, “…Being spurned is fine if it means that I can eat…” Then, right at the end, he did his usual standing and then falling off the edge of the stage, allowing the audience to catch him and push him back up.
imageWalling kept the beat going as they took their first break of the night so that Fadi, MacDougall and Rob could change keys. “I don’t even have to tell you what to do.” Mike said, referring to the clapping fans had instinctively started doing in time with the drums. He took just a moment to catch his breath, before saying that ten and a half years ago to the night, they were sitting in their rehearsal space, brainstorming of some new thing to do. They came up with it. He said it was the motion of striking one hand against the other, and they called it clapping. “We don’t get any royalties from it, but goddammit we should!” he roared. By that time, they were ready to carry on, and surprisingly, “Blue Ghosts” was the only song they did from “The Wolf You Feed” this night. (I say surprisingly since most bands always focus on their newer stuff more. Just goes to show they’d rather give the crowd the old music they know they want to hear.) I wouldn’t have minded some other tunes from that record to be honest, but that single is pure Gamblers, and a cool moment came before the last chorus, when Mike lept into the air, pulling his legs up behind him, before landing and grabbing the mic stand.

“…My faith in humanity is restored!” Mike shouted afterwards, talking about what a crazy world this was. “Kittens are attacking puppies to save little kids!” he then exclaimed, before saying he has five therapists, all of whom were telling him different shit. Yeah, they’re more than just a stellar band, they entertain with great banter, too.

I would have thought the mood had already reached its fevered pitch, but with the announcement that “Rattle Me Bones” was the next song, it was evident it had not. Mike led everyone in a clap along there at the start, and MacDougall and Fadi again added some excellent backing vocals, the trade-off between their parts and Mikes’ being incredibly precise. “DissDissDissKissKissKiss” came next, before they tackled another one from the “Backsides” record, “Mark My Words”. MacDougall appeared to be shredding extra hard on that one, while Mike added to the percussion with a tambourine. He tossed it in the air at the third chorus, trying to catch it, but just let it drop once he realized it was out of his reach.
image“That’s an old song…” he remarked afterwards, before beginning a speech about how it was okay to look back on the past, so long as you kept your eyes on the future, too. “It’s okay to nostalgiaerize the past.” Mike told everyone, adding, “That’s a word. Look it up. I went to Harvard Word School.” He said it so convincingly that I now consider my computer to be wrong since it is telling me that is not a correct word.

A surprising lull came next, and it may have been a cover, or perhaps a new song for the record Mike had mentioned earlier (a record they will soon be taking some time off to work on.) “…Love is just infatuation…” he crooned. It was an awesome song, and with only two left in their 36-minute long set, they had saved the best for last.

“We’re excited to be playing with The Vandals tonight!” Mike screamed. “We’re excited that Brutal Juice is playing right next door tonight!” he then yelled, giving a shout-out to the iconic local band. “We’re excited to be playing this song! It’s called Don’t Bury Me… I’m Still Not Dead Yet!” he finished. Mike did some real crowd surfing during that song that acts as an anthem for the outcasts. Everybody took it as that, too, passionately singing along to every last word; and once it was over, the mic stand fell apart. The piece that holds the microphone came out of the rest of the stand, which toppled over, as Mike gave it a perplexing look, before waving it around and holding it out to the side as if it were a flag.
imageWith that, it was time to wrap up their action-packed set, and that job fell to “The Art of Getting Fucked Over”. Mike was looking to do something big, and as they neared the second chorus, he climbed on top of the speakers on stage left, which didn’t look like an easy feat in the first place. His band mates brought things down, while he urged everyone to move a little closer to him. “I don’t want to die tonight.” he stated. “Who are you texting?” he then asked one of the members of the crowd. “Is it your mom? Are you saying, ‘Mom, I’m about to watch this guy die. It feels weird.’?” Once everyone was packed in tight, he threw a glance MacDougall’s way, who in turn looked at Rob, Walling and Fadi, and they began amping things back up. “G! A! M! B! L! E! R!” everyone shouted along with Mike, who after a few rounds of that, jumped in the air and spun over to his back. He didn’t die this night, and continued singing while the fans moved him back to the stage.

It was one helluva way to end the show, a show that was superior to everyone’s at Dada this night.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a band who puts on as phenomenal a live show as The Riverboat Gamblers do. They blew my mind the first time I saw them going on two years ago, last summer when I caught them in Denton, and even this abbreviated set was perfection from start to finish.

Apart from the high-energy show that never relents, it’s also very noticeable how much time and effort they’ve put into this (then again, they have been around since the late 90’s.) They’re so cohesive and in synch with one another. It makes it even more of a spectacle to behold.

They’ve got nothing on the books right now, however, you should check out their albums in iTUNES.

Headlining the show at Club Dada was the legendary punk rock outfit, The Vandals, who, I must confess I had never really listened to until seeing them live this night.

Their intro music sounded like something that would have been played to announce a king was about to make his entrance, though, much like the band, there was a quirky twist to it. The patio was near capacity, and people were pushing against one another, trying to work their way up as close as possible to the stage, cheering the band they obviously idolized.

Derek Grant (of Alkaline Trio) was filling in on drums this night, starting them off on their first number, “It’s a Fact”. It didn’t take them long to start having fun, not just in playing the music, bit for example, when guitarist Warren Fitzgerald jumped onto one of the monitors, acting like he was having a hard time balancing on it, and flailing his arms around for a second. “There’s a guitar solo from the guitar Nazi!” frontman David Quackenbush remarked. They kept the blistering pace going by moving directly into “Café 405”. “It’s like we’ve never played that before!” David said with a smile on his face, while he, Warren and bassist Joe Escalante laughed about it. They then started to take requests. “…Be very specific and enunciate.” Warren told everyone, as the massive collection of people proceeded to shout song titles at them.

They decided to go with one of their own; one that also appeased fans and showed off their pure comedy roots: “Live Fast, Diarrhea”. Hearing the title alone was enough to make me laugh, and quite a few folks were singing along with them. “Count down this next song, Jojo.” David said to Joe, who wasn’t too keen on the nickname. “That sounds like a dancing bear’s name.” he said aloud before “4, 3, 2, 1, -1”.

Afterwards, David addressed the crowd. “How’s this festival been so far?” he asked, later asking if the Rev [The Reverend Horton Heat] was indeed playing across the street about this time. “…The Reverend Al Sharpton.” Joe replied, as they all agreed that didn’t sound as much fun as Horton Heat did. Their humor was often showcased, though they always kept it short, too, rather than having long, drawn-out conversations with the crowd or one another. They continued with the all too catchy “People That Are Going to Hell”, after which they again took requests. “That is one we will not do!” David told one fan in a very cherry tone. “It’s like it never happened.” Warren added. A brilliant idea then struck Warren, asking, “How about we do the next one on the set?” His band mates agreed, and that next song was “N.I.M.B.Y.”.

I guess I missed the part they messed up on, because once it was over David sarcastically joked about how good they were as a band. “We’re super tight…” he said, before spelling it the cool way, “Tite.” “Can I blow my baby load yet?!” he then asked Warren, referencing a joke he had made earlier. “Who’s the baby fucker?” he then asked, saying he had only recently heard that disturbing story about whatever band that was (I’m not going to take time to look up the story). “One Direction.” Warren joked, before they tore into “Pizza Tran”. Derek, Joe and Warren gave the track a breakdown, during which time a woman joined them on stage, and she was just dancing along to the music while they looked at her. “What day is today? Father’s Day. Or maybe Father Issues Day.” quipped David. They let her keep dancing, which was cool, before Warren eventually hugged her, serving as the sign to leave the stage.

David was afraid they were coming off as too much of a sappy band, and he promised that after one more love song, they would do nothing but “hate” filled music for the rest of their set. “The New You” was the love song in question, and I have to say, the soft intro where he crooned, “Now you say that you like me but you don’t like, like me…” was rather lovely. Then, as promised, they did leave the stuff about love behind, doing a song about a friend David said he had who was no longer around. He was speaking of “The Legend of Pat Brown”, another jam that really excited the fans.

“Is there a bathroom up here?” Warren asked once it was done, before disappearing behind his amp and acting as if he were about to relieve himself. “This one’s about another dead friend of mine.” David then stated, as they showed off their true punk form with “Take it Back”. “I should kill some more friends so I can write some more songs.” he wondered aloud afterwards, before admitting that was kind of a bad joke. Then came “Oi to the World!”, which was clearly another fan favorite, and it became a giant sing-along at times.

“I’ve got a spider bite…” David told everyone after, saying he thought it was getting bigger, and if he died, he wanted the crowd to let him know. The catchy “I’ve Got an Ape Drape” came next, and David even changed some of the lyrics to fit the night, singing something about seeing The Riverboat Gamblers. “And Now, We Dance” and “Anarchy Burger (Hold the Government)” were two more songs beloved by the crowd, and after those, David asked a very serious question. “What happened to all the Cowboys?! Did y’all kick them out of town?!” he asked everyone, saying they had been in Texas for a couple of days now and hadn’t even seen one.

That was a very fitting setup for “Urban Struggle”, which they made out to be their final song, thanking everyone when it was over and bidding them a good night. They never moved from the stage, though. “Is this an encore?!” David asked, before they all agreed that it had to be. They had another request, and David held the mic down to one woman so she could tell them what she wanted to hear. The fans roared once she said, “My Girlfriend’s Dead”. That was deemed a good choice, with David saying they had to do the one where “all the money came from”.

People thought that was it, but then David said Warren wanted to sing a song for everyone, handing the mic off to him, while he took over on guitar duty. “Hi, Deep Ellum!” said Warren, before asking what “Ellum” meant. Someone told him it meant Elm, and he jokingly replied with, “That’s stupid, why not just call it Elm?!” “He just called your city stupid!” David chimed in.

Warren then asked who had maybe come out this night to meet a “wonderful woman”, being answered by the shouts of some guys. He crushed their spirits by saying it wasn’t going to happen, because the few who actually had come to this show were probably taken. No one seemed too broken hearted, though, especially once they busted out their rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, a very fitting way to end their 54-minute long set.

I didn’t know what to expect from this over thirty-year-old punk band, though I enjoyed them much more than I thought I even would.

Even now, they still have it. Their performance was fun and enjoyable, and they commanded the crowd quite easily. Part of that may have been because in these eyes, The Vandals could do no wrong. Still, they did put on a great show that had people laughing as much as it did rocking out.

Personally, I don’t think I’ll be buying any albums, however, whenever they come back to Dallas, I’ll seriously consider going to the show.

On that note, you can find their records in iTUNES, and keep an eye on their FACEBOOK posts to see if they might be playing near you.

And thus ended my experience at the second annual Elm Street Tattoo and music Festival. Given that it ran five days total, I only heard a small percentage of the more than fifty bands that played, but the experience was great. Considering this festival happens during a month with a Friday the 13th, that means it could either be in February, March or perhaps November of 2015 when the third one takes place. Too early to know when, yet, though I’m already looking forward to it.

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 – Ishi Electrifies at the Deep Ellum Tattoo & Music Festival

The night prior to this, the 2nd annual Elm Street Tattoo and Music Festival had got underway, and now, with three of the four venues participating this night, it was more in the full swing of things.

Most of the attendees were no doubt clamoring to see the bigger name acts like Lucero or The Chop Tops who were playing Tress and Three Links, respectively. Club Dada also had one helluva party happening, though, and those who weren’t there from start to finish missed out on one unforgettable night.

Electronic acts were the focus of this bill, and it began with the duo Def Rain, fronted by Ashley Cromeens (of Record Hop fame).

She wasn’t alone on stage, and there was also a guy who operated the synthesizers, lights and such that they used. The room was practically empty, but that didn’t keep Ashley, who had the hood of her sweater drawn over her head, from getting out on the floor right in the first song. She danced about, doing her own little variation of The Robot, while the guy shone a light on her, creating a makeshift spotlight.

“We opened the World Cup earlier…” she told the few onlookers afterwards, joking, of course. She mentioned how hard that flight in from Brazil was, before delivering another experimental/electronic tune. By this time, the room was blanketed in a thick haze of smoke. It reminded me of the days you could smoke in the Dallas clubs, minus the smell of tobacco.

“Enemy” was one of the songs that stood out the most to me, with some gorgeous and catchy organ like sounds at the beginning. Ashley interacted with her cohort on that one. All the equipment was sit up on the stage floor, and he spent the duration of their 30-minute set hunched over it. So, she leaned into the side of his face, singing a line or two into his ear.

“Thank you very much, we are Def Leopard.” she told the growing number of people afterwards, then, after another track, she mentioned the all too cool strobe lights they had been using. “They’ll make you have three-headed babies…” she stated, adding she herself had a couple. “Love it When” had more of a minimalist sound to it. They had a couple more left after it, one of which again had Ashley showing off her dance moves as she got out amongst the people.

The group was different from what I’d typically listen to, though I highly enjoyed them. They’ve made some good tracks that really get your attention, and their live show was just fun. I also enjoyed all the lights they used. It was nothing extravagant, just simple things you can buy at just about any store, but the way they used it, it looked awesome.

I’d definitely see them again.

Keep an eye on their FACEBOOK PAGE for news on future shows, and you can find their debut album in either iTUNES or BANDCAMP.

Blackstone Rangers were next, doing a knockout 35-minute long set filled with their slightly shoegaze/dreampop sounds.

Their opener had a calm start, as singer and keyboardist/synth player Ruth Smith made different sounds in the microphone. It then took a powerful climatic twist, with Derek Kutzers’ guitar roaring to life, while Daniel Bornhorst exploded on the drums. The pace ebbed and flowed wonderfully as they ran through a series of songs, each giving way seamlessly into the next.

Admittedly, the gauzy sounding vocals made it hard (almost impossible) for me to later decipher the songs, though there was one several in that I really liked. Along with the beats they had playing via the track, Daniel started it with some very steady drumbeats, and Ruths’ voice sounded downright lovely on it.

A song later, Derek broke a string on his axe, adjusting some of the others during it to compensate, before they had to take a timeout to fix the issue. “Does anyone know any jokes?” Ruth asked after mentioning they did have some merch for sale. No one stepped up to the plate, so she went on to thank all the bands, venues and everyone else responsible for putting this on, as well as “anyone who has tattoos.” She confessed she didn’t have one, but always wanted to get one, before saying that Derek had a Blackstone Rangers tattoo. “He really doesn’t.” she then informed everyone, but she did offer to pay for anyone’s ink if they wanted to get a tattoo of their band name. There were no takers.

They were ready to go at that point, and busted out one last track for everyone.

Their music was a great listening experience, and it created some lush landscapes. Everything intertwined with everything else very well, and they could get you lost in some soupy, dreamy sounds, before suddenly turning the song into a whirlwind rock number. The smoke machine they used created a nice element, too (though it didn’t produce as much smoke as the previous act had).

After hearing a lot of good things about Blackstone Rangers, it was good to finally see them, and they lived up to the hype I heard.

Keep an eye on their FACEBOOK for future shows, and you can find an older album of theirs on iTUNES. Their newest one can be heard on BANDCAMP.

The main support slot went to Painted Palms, who were on tour, and it didn’t take any time for this San Francisco quartet to win over the sixty plus people who were now at Dada.

Their indie/pop songs were intoxicating, and the first number enthralled many, before one of the band members left the keyboard he had been using and picked up his bass. “How y’all doing?” their singer/guitarist asked after the second tune, before they started into another stretch of music, usually stopping just long enough to allow for applause.

Some of the tracks they did off the recently released “Forever” LP included the low-key “Sleepwalking”, which heavily featured the bands full-time keyboardist and synth player and focused more on their electronic side, as well as “Carousel”, which was catchy all the way around. From the rhythm section to the guitar licks, and even the hypnotic tone their singer sang in, it was a killer track.

It was during the following break that their singer mentioned they were on tour from California. “…It’s still early on, so we’re not tired yet.” he said, before they dug an older track out, “All of Us”. The new batch of fans seemed to really like that one, though the next one with the mighty, pulsating rhythm section was an undeniable powerhouse. That left them with just enough time in their 45-minute long set to do one more.

No one was ready for them to be finished, and cries for an encore were instantly heard. They couldn’t do that, but still, for a touring band to come through a city and be so well received, well, I’d say that’s a good welcome.

They were so fun, from the music to the performance, it just radiated a feel good vibe that infected everyone. In turn, that made them the perfect opener for the headliner.

They still have several dates left across the country, and their full schedule can be viewed HERE. As for albums, they have a couple of those, and you can find them in iTUNES.

Capping off this night of electronic music was Dallas’ on king of the genre: Ishi.

While sound checking, it looked like the most eccentric part of frontman JT Mudd’s attire this night was going to be his skin tight pants. But then they disappeared back to the green room, and upon returning to the stage at 12:15, he had on one of his signature hats, along with a cloak of sorts, as well as a pair of stunner shades lit up with neon colors. Yeah, this was what people have come to expect of Ishi.

They had some props on stage, giant balls that were constantly changing colors, often hitting some of the softer shades in the color spectrum.

“How we doing, Dallas?” JT asked, being quick to thank everyone for coming out on a Thursday night, labeling the people there their “true fans”. They then surprised everyone by opening with a song from their first record. One that isn’t played all the time anymore. It was the lead track from the “Through the Trees” album, “Our Time”. This instantly sent the crowd into a frenzy, and much of them sang right along with it, “Don’t let go of who you are. You came too far to be the one left standing on a falling star…”
imageLast time I saw them, a couple months prior to this; they were bringing a backing female vocalist back into the mix, having her sing on a couple tracks. Tonight, she was an even bigger part of the show, and it helped make songs like “Our Time” sound even better this night. “Come on!” JT, who now stood on the large shelf of sorts that stretches in front of the stage to fit the monitors, instructed before the final chorus. The dancing (from both him and the crowd) reached new heights then, and it only intensified.

With one lead track out of the way, it only made sense that they’d do the other, and after a moment of silence, the track for “Mirror Ball Sky” kicked on, sending the audience into another fit of excitement. Fans again helped out on every last word, singing it all, while JT moved around the stage, interacting some with his band mates, but focusing most on the crowd. They had been working their way from past to present, and now they looked ahead to the future, doing one of a handful of new songs this night. Jonathan Merlas’ drumming was extra forceful at the start of it; and the female vocals were heavily utilized on this one, as they whet fans appetites of what’s to come.

That pattern was repeated once more, as they reached back to album one. They pulled “Pastel Lights” out surprisingly early, causing the crowd to rejoice. It was a wise decision, though, because the classic resulted in this dance party truly hitting its stride. Upon reaching the first chorus, JT knelt down on the structure in front of the stage, getting more on eye level with everyone, and he was practically mobbed as fans reached for him or leaned into the microphone to sing along with him. It’s really quite something to see, because you realize, to these fans (myself included), there’s absolutely no difference between JT and some of the biggest musicians in the world. He’s a superstar of that stature, even if it is on a smaller scale.
imageThe segue between it and “Moon Watcher” was flawless, and during the break after the first chorus, guitarist Rocky Ottley stole the show with a rip-roaring guitar solo. “It’s still Rocky.” JT informed the crowd, as the guitarist was sporting a new haircut, without the shoulder length hair. Focus then shifted back to JT, who used that break from singing to demonstrate some more of his moves, and now he was seen thrusting his pelvis into the air. “Sing with me!” he asked of the crowd once they hit the last chorus. Fans did, shouting even louder than they already had been, “…Call out to the sea when you’re looking for me. I’ll be riding the waves of our sweet, sweet memories.” Clapping along also became a mandatory thing, and as the song ended, JT crossed his legs, doing a combination of a bow and a curtsy to express his gratitude.

“Here’s another new jam for you.” he stated, as they rolled right on to the next number. It was during that one that things got even more interesting, and while JT towered above the crowd, a woman walked on stage from the side, going behind him, lifting up the cloak and grabbing his butt. That drew a swift and surprised reaction from him as he turned around, and with the shades on, it was impossible to tell if he found that amusing or if it crossed a line. Either way, she quickly left the stage.

“We’ve got a new video for this one…” JT told the crowd, saying it would be dropping on the following Monday. He then grooved to the intro of “Emotional Hard Drive”. It’s a fitting song to make a video for, as it’s one of the best offerings on “Digital Wounds”, and it makes for the perfect dance number, as could be seen in the pure craziness (from the audience) that started happening during it. Still, the surface was barely being scratched. He tapped into his falsetto voice for “Touch The Future”, and after having been watching from the sidelines for a few songs, their female vocalist returned. “…Listen to the nightingale sing.” JT sang, pointing at her as she belted out some lines. The dance finish they gave the track was nothing short of epic, and then, after giving the fans just a moment to get their applause out, they started what was said to be a brand new song.
image“Everybody wants to be a star…” was one of the often repeated lines of the tune that people instantly embraced. It was Ishi through and through, boasting a stellar dance beat that featured large quantities of the female vocals, and she downright killed it with her astounding set of pipes. She left, and JT thanked her, as “Digital Wounds” began to play. The steady beat made for another good time to clap along, and it ended with JT stretching his arms out to his sides, seemingly basking in all the love they were being shown, love that only grew with their next song.
The sexy “Shake Your Dandelion” elevated the mood to new heights, and fans were all too eager to clap along at the start of it. The number of people this night might not have been as large as what Ishi can usually pull on a weekend, but I’d still guess there were upwards of one hundred or so, all of whom knew just how the chorus went. “Step into my world, and I’ll satisfy you…” they all sang when the first chorus was given up to them.  Rocky then tore into a blistering solo after the second, while JT requested to see everyone’s hands in the air after the third. “We fucking love you, Dallas!” he exclaimed as the song trailed off, and the next one faded in.

If anyone was still uncertain about if this was a party or not, then “Disco Queen” confirmed that it was. It, too, drips of sex, and the movement during it was constant. “Guitar!” JT said in a high-pitched voice, giving things up to Rocky, before he disappeared from the stage and back to the green room. That could mean only one thing, and sure enough, he and Jonathan finished out the song, and immediately following it was “Mother Prism”. Jonathan fired off some quick, heavy beats there at the start, sounding quite impressive, but the further they got into it; there was still no sign of JT. Then he appeared, having donned his royal looking red robe and a Native American headdress. He barely got back on stage in time to get the mic and sing the first line, before he picked up the shield that had been resting against the kick drum all night, waving it in the air.
imageAll inhibitions were lost during “Mother Prism”, which was complete with jumping and chanting of the tribal like sounds, “Aiyah, aiyay…” That ultimate feel good song culminated with JT leaving the stage and getting out amongst his people, who swarmed to him like moths to flame. Some reached for the mic, making their own sounds into it, while he just smiled as he and the throngs of supporters sang and danced. And just to tell you how crazy things did get, someone threw a shirt they had on in the air and it fell and hung from one of the cords that supplied the house lights power. Chances of going to a concert and experiencing a truly magical moment are pretty slim these days, but that song is one that always guarantees it.

With the two lead singles out of the way, you could guess that their show was winding down, and it seemed like “Slowly But Surely” might be it. They again enlisted the help of their female vocalist, who, apart from the backing vocals, also sang one of the verses. The song was made even more incredible with another wicked solo from the one and only Rocky, who even got a clap along started towards the end. The crowd was roaring, and when asked if they could handle one more, it was obvious they were more than game. “Good, ‘cause that’s all we got.” JT remarked, before adding they had some new shirts for sale and he’d be hanging out by the merch table as soon as this one was done.

“We fucking love you, Dallas.” he said again, a sentiment so strong it was worth repeating this night. They opted for a cover to close out their 70-minute long set, and that cover was New Orders’ “Bizarre Love Triangle”, a song they’ve made all their own. It was a fun note to end on, and enough people knew it to add it to the list of sing-along numbers this night.

There are few bands who make their shows into as fun experiences as what Ishi does, and they are consistent with it. If anything, they only get better from one show to the next.

It’s electronic music, but it’s fresh and doesn’t have the generic sounds of some other acts in the same genre. That’s to say they don’t get repetitive, and nothing they do sounds similar to any of their other music. That, along with the atmosphere they create is what keeps people coming back for more, and that’s why in the North Texas music scene, they’re about as big as one can get.

You can see them at The Chuggin’ Monk in Arlington on June 21st, and before heading out on a West Coast tour, they’ll be doing a sendoff show on July 11th at Trees in Dallas. Their homecoming from said tour will be at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth on August 15th. Their full tour schedule can be viewed HERE, and if you live in California, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado or Oklahoma, you should probably give it a look. As for their music, pick it up in iTUNES.

The Elm Street Tattoo and Music Festival got off to a great start, and even on a Thursday night there were a ton of people around Deep Ellum checking out all that was going on. Things would only get crazier by the time the weekend was finished.

Friday, June 6th, 2014 – Secret of Boris Takes Trees

More often than not, when Trees hosts an all-local bill, it’s screaming my name. This night was no exception.

A couple great rock bands that I hadn’t seen in awhile were playing, along with some I had never seen before.

It was a five band night, and Silhouette, a hard rock/metal band from Fort Worth, got the night going sometime around nine-o’clock. I ended up not seeing their show, though, as I was out on the patio chatting with some people (maybe I’m not as much of an introvert as I consider myself to be?).

I hated not seeing at least a portion of their set, but maybe next time. They did recently release a lyric video for one of their brand new songs (from a forthcoming album), which you can watch HERE.

I did make it inside for the next act, though, as Awake in Theory was one band I could not miss.

Guitarists Terry Kimmel and Brad McCain, drummer Raymond Chambers and bassist John Skenesky ripped right in to their brief 26-minute long set with “Playing the Victim”, which caused a decent amount of people to gather in front of the stage. Eric Hawkens mic stand let him down this night, and early on during the song he went to move it back towards the drum riser, and as he did so, it fell apart slightly, with the mic falling to the floor. He and Terry shared a nervous grin over the mistake, which they quickly recouped from, and the song was still one of the strongest of their set (which is precisely what makes it work so well as an opener).

Already fed up with his mic stand, Eric grabbed it and walked over to the side of the stage, smashing it against the ground as the remaining pieces splintered into the air. “This song’s called Dangerous.” Eric told the crowd before jumping onto the drum riser. His band mates made a near seamless transition into it. Eric formally introduced Brad to everyone as he began his slick guitar solo; while the monstrous kit Raymond manned supplied a stout backbone to the track.

Another fluid segue led them to their next track, as Eric set it up by saying it went out to anyone who had ever had to do what he did within the last few years: take someone you love to rehab. “…And you say ‘No fucking more!’” he stated. “Let Go” sounded even better than usual, and while simple, the count in Eric gave in advance of the track taking a heavy turn made it sound all the better. “If you see someone down, you pick them up.” was the advice he gave towards the end of it. Afterwards, he took a poll, a poll some people seemed hesitant to answer. “Who here’s lost someone?” he asked. What could normally be a rather routine question no doubt hit a little closer to home to those truly immersed in the Deep Ellum community, given that just the day before a couple members of that community (including Brian Alguire) had left the world. It took a couple seconds, but a few people raised their hands, before Eric went on to say that was what the next one, “Mondays Dawn”, was about.

He apologized afterwards, noting the first rule in the lead singer’s handbook was to not make people feel sad. “…Pretend it was about clowns and shit.” he joked, before going on to say they seldom do dedications, but they were going to dedicate their next song to someone. His attention then turned towards me. “Jordan’s like, ‘He’s just saying that, they always do dedications.’” He proceeded to give this little blog the best on-stage shout-out it has ever received. It was what he said last that had me rolling, though. “Ladies, I’m just saying, look at those biceps. He’s ripped like Jesus.” (All the more motivation to work out: actually being able to fit that compliment.) One of my favorite songs of theirs, “Innocence”, followed that humbling moment, and it sounded in rare form this night, even for it.

They decided to call it after that, skipping ahead to their final song, “Daddy’s Little Girl”. But first, Eric disappeared behind some of the amps, emerging without his shirt. “I lost a bet.” he stated, before conversing with his wife, who was in the upstairs portion, letting her snap some pictures real quick. “I’ll stay this time, because you complained I moved around too much last time.” he said and laughed, taking a timeout for a few moments so at least one picture would turnout well. Raymond (again) showed off the full extent of his chops at the start of that number, before it eventually ended with Terry and Brad standing next to one another on stage left, shredding on their axes, before reaching over and adjusting the tuners on the others guitar. “Thank you.” Eric said very humbly at the tail end of the track, which further proves what a class act they are.

In some ways, this was one of the best shows I’ve seen Awake in Theory do. The reason falls squarely on the shoulders of the transitions they utilized so well for much of their set, which gave it all an excellent flow. That’s one attribute they’ll hopefully make into a standard.

Speaking of shows, they do have a headlining gig at Hailey’s in Denton on June 21st, which I imagine will be well worth going to.

Eaglesnake was up next, and they commanded a larger crowd than any act this night (it was probably upwards of one hundred people, give or take). They hit the stage with an explosive force, captivating nearly everyone’s attention with their music that blended elements of rock, metal, electronic (partly from the keys Drin played), and even rap — at times in the vocals of frontman Jay Heaven, and always due to DJ Lil E, who, among other things, was scratching some records.

I believe they opened with “Turn and Walk Away”, and along with his stellar playing, bassist Pierce VR was often seen viciously slapping the body of his bass. They rolled on with another song, after which they took a break. “How the fuck y’all doing, Trees?” Jay asked, being met with a roaring response. “Can I catch my breath real quick?” he then asked. The nonstop moving around he had been doing had drained him a bit, though it hadn’t taking a toll on him.

He didn’t need much downtime before they unleashed another song on the spectators ears, a song that got some audience participation going in the form of a clap along. Next came “High”, which was equal parts eerie (with the low-key music bed on the verses) and hardcore, with Jay letting loose some violent screams. Sauce bled the end of that track right into a drum solo, with DJ Lil E soon joining him as they jammed for a moment.

“Do you mind if I play the keytar?” Jay asked everyone before reaching for the instrument. He then made an impassioned speech about music in general. “I love motherfucking music… I love motherfucking Deep Ellum…” he shouted, adding, “They’re never gonna stop us!” Guitarist Kid showed off his skills during the next track, placing the axe on top of his head while picking at it, and Sauce twirled one of the drum sticks between his fingers. “Can y’all hear this keytar?” Jay asked the audience after another song, as his band mates were evidently having some trouble with it. He proceeded to knock out a keytar solo, something very few people can pull of these days, though he managed to.

They did one song, before asking how much time they had left, only to find out they had gone past it. Jay and the rest of the band weren’t ready to end it, though, saying they were going to do one more song, because it was their favorite. Their photographer insisted that wasn’t the best idea, though, and despite the fans resounding request for one more, they weren’t allowed it. Their show took on another element then, and while the curtain was being closed, Pierce VR returned to center stage, a wick of sorts placed on the headstock of his bass, and it (the wick) was on fire. Apparently, he is also fire breather, and it was an unforgettable way to end their 30-minutes on stage.

The energy they had was incredible, and the fans were able to feed off that, and in turn, the band got a boost from that. I’d even say there’s a certain degree of originality to their music, which combined with that performance, makes for a show that will draw in new ears with relative ease, and keep everyone coming back for more.

They have a few songs on their REVERBNATION page, which can be purchased there. As for shows, they have one at The Boiler Room in Dallas on June 21st, and then one at Curtain Club in Dallas on July 11th.

Next was No Weapon Formed, whose set began with guitarists Josh Presley and Nolan Bradvica, bassist Soleh and drummer Dylan Burt tearing into their first number. Soon, frontman Brandon Thomas descended the stairs from the greenroom, and while simple, that served to give more of a professional feel to things. They cranked out several songs during their 37-minutes on stage, and right in that first track Josh played a stellar guitar solo, his first of many this night. The harder rock sounds kept flowing, and after that one, Josh went to adjust his axe, before the strap came undone and it fell towards the floor. His band mates chuckled at that slightly, before moving on to their next one, which was just one of the tunes were Dylan demonstrated what an exceptional drummer he is, doing great work behind the kit.

“We’re thinking of changing our name to Murphy’s Law.” Brandon joked afterwards. The next song was one that really stuck out to me, and the notes Bradvica was playing oozed a very raw rock sound with sex laced all throughout it. Basically, just what a real rock song should be. “Fucking Dylan Burt on drums!” Brandon announced to the crowd before their next one (he had introduced most of his other “friends” prior to this). Josh had another wicked solo on the next one, before they pulled out one that was a really heavy hitter, and as it neared the end, Brandon left the stage to the instrumentalists for the rocking outro they gave it.

They may not have had as many fans as the last act did, but those who were there for them were clearly avid supporters, and more than a few were sporting No Weapon Formed shirts. They screamed at the start of “Enough”, a song that has quickly gained traction among fans (and even a local radio station). That could have been it, but after finding out they had time enough for one more, they used it; and Dylan slayed on it, appearing to use everything he had left in him to impress.

Considering the band’s still fairly new (they’ve only had this lineup since late last year), you wouldn’t have guessed it watching them on stage. They’ve found their grove rather quickly; and as great as the music was, it was Brandons’ voice that stuck out most to me. The way he wailed was reminiscent of that of the 70’s to 80’s era hard rock/metal singers, and it sounded phenomenal.

They only have a couple of songs recorded at the moment, and listening to those was more than enough to make me a fan. However, seeing a show was, of course, far better. I’ll have to do more of that.

They have a gig at Hailey’s in Denton on July 12th and then one at The Rail Club in Fort Worth on July 18th. You can also catch them at RBC in Dallas where they’ll be opening for Saving Able on August 10th.

Secret of Boris had the late slot, taking the stage around 12:45, as bassist Ryan Ragus stuck his hand out from behind the curtain, giving a thumbs up. The stage was so thick with smoke you could barely make any of the band members out, at least not until enough had drifted out towards the crowd. Ragus, along with guitarist Ryan Byrd and drummer Ryan Scherschell started things off with an instrumental intro, before frontman Cameron Taylor raced on stage, microphone in hand. Soon came the tranquil sounds that start off one of the bands heaviest tracks, “What Have You Done?”, with Ragus adding the low, booming “Hey!” throughout the choruses. Cameron beat his chest as the first chorus ended, before he continued to interact with the fans who had stuck around, pointing at them while singing, “…And they say you, ‘What have you done?’”

“Thanks for staying out late, goddammit!” he said, chatting with everyone for a moment before they moved on to “What You Became”, continuing to get the crowd engaged as he had everyone raise their arms in the air and move them to and fro during the lull. “It’s true, we like you better when you fail…”, some of fans sang along with him. He again thanked everyone for staying out late and continuing to stand, but after pointing out one guy who was there on crutches, Cameron stated no one else could have much to complain about. The bass was especially heavy at the start of “From Now On”, a song that Scherschell absolutely killed it on, fully displaying his prowess as a drummer. “Keep doing it!” a member of the crowd shouted afterwards. Cameron looked at him, “You keep doing what you’re doing, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.” he said, making it sound like a promise.

The newest song they did was the single they put out going on two years ago, “How Do You Feel?”. It’s downright infectious with its dance style vibes, which did indeed have Cameron busting out some moves on each chorus. “Let me share a little secret…” Cameron started once that song was over. No, it wasn’t the secret behind their name. He mentioned that while we, the audience, were watching them, they were watching us. “…I see people on their phones…” he said, listing off a few different things he had witnessed, such as friends talking amongst themselves, etc. “…You should all be proud to be in this room.” he then told everyone. “’Cause we’re about to push it!” Few bands, let alone rock bands, can pull off Salt-n-Pepa’s hit song, but SOB is one of them. Byrd owned it on his axe, and there came a point where Cameron left the stage to join the crowd, mingling and just standing with fans while he sang. Perhaps the best part of it came during the break they took, Scherschell rising from his stool, before they tore right back into the track, showing just what a tight outfit they are.

They surprised everyone by pulling “Virus” out mid-show (it’s often the closer), and, as is the norm, it became a clap and sing-along. There weren’t too many people there, but the shouts of “Where do we go from here?” were quite powerful. They continued focusing on their opus, “Your Ghost”, the track for “Falldown” beginning, before Scherschell laid into one of his cymbals. “People ask me all the time, ‘Is it hard to quit drinking?’” Cameron said once that one was finished. “No, I do it every night.” he said, making a joke that either went over everyone’s head or they just didn’t care for it, because it received next to no laughs.

He went on to say there was a birthday being celebrated this night, and when he asked where the person was, he got someone different than who he was talking about. “What’s your name?” he asked the woman, who answered, “Gaye.” The conversation that ensued made for a funny moment, which was followed by one song I had already given up hope of hearing this night: “Desert Blood”. The intense song that deals with the violence in border towns like Juarez sounded even better this night that usual, and the coordination each of them showed on the bridge — being in perfect synch with one another — was exceptional.

Not wanting to keep people out any later, they ended with “Retro”; they didn’t get too far in to it, though. “…I’m telling you now, kill the track!” Cameron said, his band mates looking at him with a slight look of shock, curious as to what he had planned. Throughout the night, he had made comments about everyone getting closer to the stage, though few had. So, now he went out in the crowd himself, telling people they could close out their tabs after, or get another drink or whatever they wanted to do, but for now, they needed to pay attention. He physically rounded up everyone, directing them to the stage, leaving no stragglers behind. Scherschell, Byrd and Ragus eventually began jamming to fill the silence, until their singer eventually returned to the stage and they took “Retro” from the top. It was even better the second time around, and there came a point where Ragus jumped atop his amp and rocked out for a few moments.

That was the end of a sensational 43-minute long set, and one of the best shows I’ve seen Secret of Boris do in a little while (which is saying something).

Granted, I hadn’t seen them since last October, but each time I’ve seen them in the last year or so, they’ve made leaps and bounds in further improving by the next time I’d catch them. They’re one of Dallas’ best and more unique sounding bands, and if you haven’t seen or heard of them yet, you’re missing out.

They, too, will be playing RBC in Dallas on August 10th, and be sure to check out their album on iTUNES.

This may have been a later night at Trees, but no one cared. The bands were more than worth it.

Thursday, June 5th, 2014 – Criminal Birds Decimate Dan’s Silver Leaf

I really don’t get up to Denton much anymore, but the last few times I have, my destination has been Dan’s Silver Leaf. It’s quite possibly the best venue in the city, and this night they were hosting another topnotch bill of local talent.

I was a little late getting there, but luckily, shows rarely get started at the time listed, and at 9:15, the Austin duo The Please, Please Me was just finishing with their sound check.
imageJessie Torrisi and Alissa McClure proved captivating right at the start of their 46-minute long set, using some sample tracks to provide the beats and some other sounds, fully fleshing out the guitar and cello that they played. “This next song’s for Sydney.” Jessie announced after their opening number, speaking to the frontwoman of Astro Cult, who had been front and center for their first tune. “They’re all for Sydney.” Alissa whispered into her mic. “It’s true, but she’s earned them.” Jessie responded, before serving up another indie pop song for everyone.

If anyone wanted a song dedicated to them, it was simple: you just had to scream as Sydney had. At least that was the stipulation Jessie gave, before doing a very vibrant track called “Can’t Stop the Music”. There were maybe a dozen or so people scattered about the venue (give or take a few), but The Please, Please Me was wanting to get them all involved in the show, specifically this song, which Jessi said anyone could sing along to if they wanted, and beforehand led them in the simple part. “Are y’all going to do this with us?!” she asked near the end, grabbing the mic and stepping closer to the edge of the stage. She even turned down the tracks a bit to better here the handful of folks who were singing along with them.

It was around this time she asked those who were giving them their full attention to take “three big steps” towards the stage, which the people gladly did. She then formally introduced Alissa on the cello. “Oh, wait, Alissa on the drums.” she said, as she had left her chair on stage left and made her way to the drum pad at center stage. The extra percussion only came at the start of “Hold My Heart”, before she returned to her cello (she was an excellent cellist by the way) for what was one of the best songs of their set. It was easy to get into, and just had a solid rock sound.

“Are you ready to get rowdy?” Jessie asked afterwards, getting a weak response. “That sounds like I’m ready to read poetry…” she chided, getting a louder response the second time around. “Does anyone like to dance?” she then asked, before saying this was the time to do so. She started out on the drum pad for just a smidge of “How Do You Like It?”, a song that later had her playing a floor tom that was set up on stage right, along with a rather large block of wood, which made the percussion all the more interesting.
image“I know I’ve got a bad reputation…” went an often repeated line from their following song, before Jessie asked everyone if they wanted to hear a happy song or a sexy one. Few people answered, but sexy was the overwhelming selection. “Alissa is looking at the setlist like, ‘Which one do you think is a sexy one? What are we playing next?’” she joked, as her band mate did indeed look a little perplexed. They quickly got on the same page, though, and after that “sexy” jam, they had only one more.

Jessie invited anyone who might want to, to join them on stage and dance along, but when there were no takers, she said she might just come out in the audience instead. She then took a moment to say she came from New York and Philadelphia, saying Texas was still “like a foreign fucking country” to her, but that Austin and Denton were two cities she always felt at home in. A push for their merch was then made, and after mentioning that along with stickers and CDs they also had panties, Alissa noted they had instructions on them. “They say, ‘Please, Please Me.’” she joked. With that, they closed things out with “All Danced Out”, which boasted a serious groove, all while being a killer rock song, and it solidified them as a group who likes to have fun just as much as they like to rock out.

They were a band who you liked when they first started, but the deeper they got into their show, the more they grew on you. Their music was nearly irresistible, and thanks to the cello, it often had some beautiful elements. Jessie made it an energetic show, too, moving around when she could, and her voice is superb.

Their debut EP is well worth checking out and it can be purchased in iTUNES. Check out their FACEBOOK PAGE for future show updates, too.

Following them was Astro Veil, who was one band I had been wanting to see since hearing of them sometime last year, and things were finally working out where I could make a show.

The sound check itself was entertaining, and it included Sydney Wright singing “On Top of Spaghetti” in its entirety while they got her vocal levels situated.
imageWhen it came time to start, though, they did get a little more serious, and the decent sized crowd of friends and fans alike that they commanded were giving them 100% of their attention. Both Saxon Lewis’ bass lines and playing were awesome and very easily heard, especially on the instrumental outro of their first song that he, guitarist John Dear and drummer Rich Sanchez did.

“Hi, we’re Astro Veil. We’re gonna play some songs.” Sydney told the crowd, as they moved on to “The Escape”, another song where all eyes focused on Saxon for a moment, as he dropped to his knees and bent backwards, waving his bass in the air while plucking away at the strings. Fans were loving that one, and their cheers afterwards were earsplitting. “Thanks guys! We did our best.” said Sydney humbly and with a smile stretching across her face. Rich and Saxon had already began a segue into their next number, and Sydney continued her role of energetic frontwoman, dancing and moving about the stage. In fact, the only real time she was perfectly still this entire night was when she sat down during that track, before scooting a little closer to the forefront of the stage. Even that didn’t last long, though.
imageFour shots now sit on stage, looking rather lonely, so after talking with her band mates, they all decided now was a good time for a shot break. As soon as they had been downed, though, they got back to business. “On the floor always seems like a good place to cry.” sang Sydney at the start of “Kaleidoscope”, her voice sounding even more gorgeous and remarkable on that song than it had thus far, and the music bed for the track was quite pretty itself. “You might recognize the, uh… The one after this.” she told the crowd, getting ahead of herself a bit until she looked at the setlist. “This one is called Good as Gold.” she added, a song her band mates had already started. It had a slightly more electronic sound, and coupled with the firm, steady beat, it gave it a real groove.

Now they got to their cover they had planned, which was “Friday, I’m in Love” by The Cure. Their rendition was nothing short of phenomenal, and their next original tune, “Hero”, seemed to be a fan favorite (especially to the fan it was dedicated to). It created a fun atmosphere (even more so than most of their other songs), and there was even a moment where Sydney and Saxon harmonized with each other for a line, sounding spectacular.

“I keep changing my hair…” Sydney remarked once the song had concluded. All throughout the night, she had been changing her appearance, letting it down, then a song or two later tying it back up. “It keeps getting hot and cold.” she added, before doing their next to last song, “Pulse”, which had a rather soothing quality to it. Once they got to their final song, the audience was visibly (and audibly) upset. They didn’t want their set to end, but the cries for more couldn’t extend their time on stage. Sydney tried to console everyone with the fact that Criminal Birds would be coming up next to rock the place, which did ease the pain a little. “…Thanks for being here.” she finished as they started into their final song. There came a point where this track reached a lull, then, at the instant Rich and the rest of the band kicked it back up, Saxon leapt into the air, even doing a swift kick before he landed, making for quite the end to their 42-minute long set.
imageTheir music was a little inventive on some levels, and I know the mix of rock/indie and/or electronic is nothing new, but the way Astro Veil does it, it does sound more original. Their stage show was incredibly fun to watch, and out of the four band members, at least one of them was always doing something that got your attention. Making that all the better was the chemistry they all had, especially Sydney with all of them. She was almost always interacting with them in some way or another, like during one song when she stood near John, then reached over and squeezed his chin, not unlike how you might do a baby. You could tell they were clicking on all levels; and let’s not forget the bubbly, fun demeanor Sydney endlessly oozed while performing.

You can download one of their songs for free on REVERBANTION, and purchase the rest if you want.

Another band I had been waiting quite some time to see was Criminal Birds, and finally the stars had aligned for me to experience their live show.

The quartets 29-minutes on stage were filled almost exclusively by new(er) songs, like the opener, which had lead guitarist Taylor Dondlinger harmonizing with singer/rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Reggie Hastings, the pairs voices sounding most excellent together. Even glued behind the mic stand, Reggie wound up being quite the frontman, making all sorts of gestures with his hands when he wasn’t strumming his axe, and he often bugged his eyes out, creating a semi-wild look.

Their crowd was larger than any other bands this night, and it was readily apparent why so many people had packed in, in front of the stage early: because the hometown indie/rock outfit was a knockout rock band. They moved on to what seemed like a little shorter song, which came to a rather abrupt end, throwing a nice curveball everyone’s way. Next came “Electric Love”, which found Reggie singing in a almost jazzy style of voice right at the start, and it sounded astounding. It then took off more when drummer Grahm Robinson and bassist Gunnar Ebeling got more into it; and Taylor had a very slick solo, hitting some sweet notes as he used a slide.

Reggie dabbled on the keys for their next number, which had a very rhythmic vibe, while the following song had what I thought was the overall catchiest music bed of anything they did this night. It left fans roaring, and at the end, Taylor mouthed, “Thank you.” to all who were watching. Before their next one (which I believe was “Speak Louder”), Reggie mentioned they would soon be working with some talented people to make a music video for the new jam. Gunner swayed from side to side for a portion of the track, before getting really into later on.

“Now we will play you old things.” Reggie informed the crowd, before clarifying that “old things” meant one old song. They wrapped the show up with the slightly more ambient sounding (at least at the start) “Chill Out”, which had quite a few people singing along. On the few breaks Reggie took, when he was just singing, he shot some aggressive looks at the crowd, clearly being caught up in it all, and making their show that much more entertaining.

It was shame it had to end there, but they had owned it while up on that stage.

Taylor’s a very skilled guitarist, demonstrating his prowess throughout the night, and live, Reggies’ voice sounds exactly like it does on their EP, and he has a tone that is completely unique to him. From where I stood, my view was a bit obstructed, and I really couldn’t see Grahm at all, and even Gunner was often out of sight for me, though the rhythm they gave the songs was definitely heard (and felt).

They were better than I even thought they would be, and hopefully I won’t spend another year or so trying to catch a second Criminal Birds show.

So far, they only have one EP available, and you can get it for free on BANDCAMP. As for shows, their next one listed is another Denton show on September 20th, but I wouldn’t be surprises if they do some more before that.

Biographies were headlining the show, and like the opener, they were one band I knew nothing about.

They were a large group, six members in all, an apart from the usual bass, drums and guitars (there were three of those), there was also a keyboardist/female vocalist, Katie Slusarski.

The three guitars never sounded like overkill, and their songs sounded amazing, with a lot of textures and depth to music, each one telling its own story. However, I was never able to get into Chance Maggards’ voice, who spoke the lyrics more than singing them. I stuck around for four songs, giving them a chance, but the music alone wasn’t enough to keep me listening.

If you want to check them out, though, you can get their album on their BANDCAMP PAGE.

‘Twas a great night, and it was refreshing to see some bands I hadn’t before.