Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 – Jessie Frye Warms Up the Crowd for Kitten

Tactics Productions had a great show going on at Club Dada this night. It offered a good way to get an early jump on the weekend, without being out too late; and more than a few people had opted to get a live music fix this hump day.

The only local opener on the bill was Dentons’ own Jessie Frye and her band; and I got the feeling the fates were against me seeing their set.

A traffic back-up while leaving the suburbs and another near the Good-Latimer exit on Highway 75 added ten minutes or so onto the trip, and the construction that’s going on, on Elm Street doesn’t make it too easy to maneuver through Deep Ellum, either.

All of that put me there several minutes after the scheduled eight-o’clock start time, but luckily, as most concerts do, they weren’t adhering to a strict schedule.

The four-piece took the stage at 8:16, and after they all shared a glance with one another, guitarist Jordan Martin started them off on “Like a Light”. “…Let the magic in your heart set you apart…” Jessie crooned on the chorus; and immediately after the first one, she asked how everyone was doing, getting a good reaction from the thirty-to-forty or so people who were already there. They didn’t have much room on stage, because the second bands’ gear was all setup behind them, though it was still ample space to allow Jessie to jump around, something she did more and more of the deeper they got into the track.

Chad Fords’ final drum beats resonated in the room, while the bass died down and Andrew O’Hearn stood there for a moment as Jordan made a seamless segue into another song from the “Fireworks Child” EP: “Fortune Teller”. It’s slightly steamier than that opener, and that was reflected in the way Jessie conducted herself on stage, and also in the way she somewhat shouted the word “twist” on the line, “…Wish I might find a lover to twist and turn to the heat of summer…”.

“Thank you so much for being here!” Jessie exclaimed afterwards, saying what an honor it was to be sharing the stage with Kitten — whom she happens to be a fan of. They had some slight technical difficulties now, revolving around the track they needed to use. It took a minute or two, but then it kicked on, and they got to some stuff from the Obsidian album. Keeping up with the sultry mood from the previous song, Jessie was often seen shaking her hips to the beat of “White Heat”. I still really like those older songs from the EP(s) she has released, but you can tell the difference from them and this newer batch of music. They just sound better in all regards, from more complex sounds (the guitar tones sound excellent on this number), to the lyrics, and even Jessies’ voice has grown exponentially over the few years in between records.

There wasn’t much down time between it and “Never Been To Paris”, and Andrew and Chad sounded fantastic on it, creating an impeccably tight rhythm section. “..We just released a video for this one…” Jesse mentioned, as Chad counted them into “Shape of a Boy”. I’d say it was their best song of the night, and the slick, roaring guitar solo Jordan knocked out caused all eyes to focus solely on him.

“Thank you.” Jessie said in hushed, slightly raspy tone once the song ended. “Prepared” was another oldie but goodie that found its way into the set, and Jessie personified the role of frontwoman even better on it than she had at any other time this night. There was a certain fierceness that came over her, and it resulted in an overpowering demeanor that was all too fun and engaging to watch.

“Dear Boy is up next.” she mentioned, shouting out the second band, adding that, that was one of the best band names she had ever heard of. With that, they ended with the uplifting “Brave The Night”. The rhythm section was again blasting on that one, and I could feel the bass shaking not just my feet, but also my chest cavity. Not a bad way to end.

I did catch their set at Edgefest in Frisco a few months back, but this was the first lengthy set I’ve seen from them in the better part of two years.

It was great hearing a few of the newer songs live (some for the first time), with a nice mix of older material. The rhythm section has also changed since I last saw them (excluding that April show), which has made the band even better. Like I said, both Chad and Andrew were tight, and all of them had good chemistry together.

Basically, they’re a more outstanding band then they’ve even been; and this night they had a perfect mixture of having fun but also being quite professional.

For the last few years, Jessie has been hailed as one of the best vocalists in North Texas. Probably not all of the early birds at this show knew that, but I doubt any who did catch their performance would argue that praise she’s received as a songstress.

They’ll be at the House of Blues in Dallas on August 2nd (the main room) and the 8th (the Cambridge Room, as part of Exit 380’s album release show). Catch one, or both. Be sure to check out their albums in iTUNES, too.

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 – Dear Boy Wins Over the Crowd in Dallas

Tactics Productions had a great show going on at Club Dada this night. It offered a good way to get an early jump on the weekend, without being out too late; and more than a few people had opted to get a live music fix this hump day.

Kitten wasn’t the only Los Angeles-based band on the bill this night, and just a couple days prior to this, Dear Boy had joined them on the remainder of their tour.

“…You got a little bluer before, where’s that shit?” asked singer and rhythm guitarist Ben Grey, speaking to the sound guy, who then adjusted the lights just right. The quartet seemed to love the shade of blue that was now cast over them and the ever-growing audience, and with that, they ripped into the lead track from their debut self-titled EP: “Come Along”.

It immediately became clear they were a very pop oriented group, with some British flare thrown in; and they captured a lot of people’s attention with the intro to that song, which saw Ben aggressively strumming his axe. “Would you like me if I was young? Would you hold me if I was wrong? Would you love me if I was gone? Then come along!” he belted on final chorus.

That song established a very lively mood the band kept up for the rest of their 34-minute long set. During the subsequent track from the EP, “Green Eyes”, Nils Bue jumped on ledge that has been added around the front of the stage — giving a place for the monitors to set — and brandished his bass for all to see. Both Ben and lead guitarist Austin Hayman produced some cool tones and catchy riffs on that slightly sweeter song. Drummer Keith Cooper provided a strong backbone, as well; and if only more people had been familiar with Dear Boy, then I think the chorus of “When there’s no place else to go, I will meet you down below. And when there’s no one left to find, we won’t need this place to hide.” could have easily been a sing-along part.

Upon finishing it, Ben mentioned this was the first time they had every played Dallas. “…Thanks for letting us in your home.” he said in a sincere voice, while a smile crept across his face. He then thanked Kitten for having them on part of this tour with them. “It’s very rare that you get to play with a band you actually listen to.” he said, noting it was an great experience. He went on to say they were going to do the newest song they had, and it was with it that they really hit their stride.

There came a point where both Austin and Ben leaned against each one another’s back, fiercely shredding on their guitars; and they wound it directly into another song, which had a vibrant, fun vibe to it.

The spectators were clearly enjoying Dear Boy; and their next song was one the most well crafted they did as far as the music bed was concerned. Ben started it, and it was performed solo at first, before Austin laced in his guitar at the second verse. A minute or so later it exploded into action with the bass and drums (Nils rocked out next to the kit, creating a pulse pounding rhythm section), and during a break from singing, Ben dropped to his knees, succumbing to the music.

“…We want to meet as many of you as possible!” Ben pointed out once they finished that song, also mentioning they’d be selling their record over at their merch table afterwards. They did another song from it now, called “Oh So Quiet”, which was a little more indie from some of their other stuff. That was nice, though, ‘cause it showed diversity. The song that followed was pretty heavy; and now Nils and Ben did a little more interacting with one another, standing back to back for a few moments.

“…It’s been a pleasure…” Ben said, as their show had sadly already come to an end. They closed with what would be safe to assume is the most high-strung song in their arsenal: “Funeral Waves”. Some elements of the song were completely dance inducing, while others made it a great song to bang your head to. Regardless of your preference, everyone was captivated by it, and the band was giving it their all. They were all outstanding musicians, and their chops highlighted best on this one. Ben even orchestrated a clap along moment at one point, ensuring it was a fun one to end with.

Man, these guys were all too impressive.

You could tell they were having fun up on the stage, but you could also see their work ethic, and it was clear this wasn’t just some band to them. It was a way of life.

They had more chemistry with one another than a lot of bands do, and they music they made was really extraordinary if you ask me. It was infectious and very radio friendly, but maintained originality. The songs also have a lot of lyrical depth, which is always one quality that gets my attention.

They seemed to make a lot of new fans this night, and as I headed out the door after Kitten had finished, I ended up making a pit stop by their merch table and picked up a copy of their EP, along with having a brief conversation with Ben, who was an incredibly nice guy.

I know one thing: I can’t wait for Dear Boy to get back to Dallas. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

The have a few shows left with Kitten through the end of this month, and then will be doing a show at The Troubadour in West Hollywood on August 12th. You can find their full tour schedule HERE; and check out their EP in iTUNES while you’re at it. They will also be dropping a new single on the same day as that Troubadour show.

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 – Kitten Shows Their Claws in Dallas

Tactics Productions had a great show going on at Club Dada this night. It offered a good way to get an early jump on the weekend, without being out too late; and more than a few people had opted to get a live music fix this hump day.

There’s no questioning that Kitten was the band nearly everyone was there to see. Fans had staked out spots in front of the stage early on this night. A handful of them even wore some headbands with cat ears on them. One guy even sported a hat with fuzzy cat ears on the sides, and the platform shoes he was wearing let him tower over everyone else in attendance.

By the time their 10:24 start time neared, there were at least a hundred people waiting anxiously for the band. In fact, they were so ecstatic some cheers even started minutes before they took the stage, prompting everyone to glance over at the door to the green room. No one had left it… Yet.

When it did come time to start, the four instrumentalists filed on stage, and vocalist Chloe Chaidez wasn’t far behind. The first portion of “Why I Wait” was almost inaudible, as she whispered just as it’s done on the recording. That changed once they hit the chorus, though, and the song packed quite a punch. Chaidez sauntered around for the first bit, before jumping onto the extended part of the stage — a ledge of sorts where the monitors sit. It was there where she spent much of her time this night, being able to better interact with the audience, and for now she was frequently banging her head and tossing her hair around.

Everyone applauded them, but the noise was drowned out by the start of “Japanese Eyes”. If Chaidez needed anytime at all to warm-up, all she required was that first song, and she was on fire now. They hit the first chorus and she turned her back to everyone, shaking her backside at the spectators, and got even more into the track when she grabbed a tambourine, using it and thrashing about as it came to an end. The quintet was quickly building up the intensity, and had already established a no holds barred, take no prisoners attitude, which was pushed to new heights with “Sensible”. The heavy electronic sounds and mighty percussion incited some dancing from nearly everyone, and at one point Chaidez leapt atop that ledge and began leading the crowd in a clap along, something they were all too eager to do.

They took their first break of the night after that. “We’re in Dallas, Texas!” Chaidez exclaimed, playing to the crowd just a bit, before mentioning she didn’t any more than ten people would have been here. She was way off on that assumption. “…Thank you.” she said quite humbly.

Both times the phrase “Just let me breathe” was repeated multiple times over on “Cut it Out”, she would bend down on more of the fans level, holding the mic out to them, allowing them to sing. When she wasn’t doing that, she was dancing wildly around the stage; and perhaps the best moment came near the end, when she again grabbed the tambourine and then raced over to the drum kit, jumping about the kick drum and leaned over the drummer.

“What a crowd you are! Damn!” she remarked afterwards, seeming truly surprised by how invested everyone was in this performance. With that, she asked if everyone was ready to dance, and right as the crowd answered, the track for “Like a Stranger” came on. If no one else was ready to, she was, and did a lot of dancing on that number. Everyone could see her pretty well on that ledge, and towards the end, she dropped the microphone and proceeded to flap and pump her arms in the air, leaving those watching in a state of awe. She was an ball of energy during that song, even more so than most of the others.

The party atmosphere continued as they wound it into the dreamy “G#”. Chaidez waved her arms from side to side at the start, and the fans picked up on the motion, and before you knew it the place had turned into a sea of arms swaying from side to side. The rhythm section sounded unbelievable on that song; and she pulled another good stunt towards the end, as she climbed atop some gear or something in the corner of the stage (my view was slightly obstructed), standing on it as she belted out, “…We’ll see you all again!”, which caused dozens of phones to go up and start snapping pictures.

The transition to a rendition of Berlins’ “Take My Breath Away” was seamless, and Kitten has just the right sound to pull that song off. Chaidez left at one point, right as the guitarist launched into a blistering solo that wowed everyone. She wasn’t gone long, though. Just long enough to let them have their moment.

“That was our new hit single. What did you think?” she joked once they finished it. They then got back to their original stuff with “I’ll Be Your Girl”, and shortly after starting it, Chaidez pulled a cat ears headband off of one fans head and put it on herself. She then made a fans night by pulling her on stage with her, something the fan almost seemed reluctant to do at first, because she was in shock it was actually happening. “I’ll be your protection, I’ll be yours for life…” the two sang, and the fan was working it hard enough she was almost giving Chaidez a run for her money. It was really hard to tell who enjoyed that more, because each of the young women were smiling from ear to ear as the song ended. Chaidez went so far as to say she thought she was her favorite girl she has ever gotten to help on that song, and even commented about how into the performance the girl had gotten.

All of a sudden, Chaidez was alone on stage, and she mentioned this next song was a sad one. She grabbed an acoustic guitar, and informed everyone this next one was titled “Apples and Cigarettes”. Stripped down like this, where there was nothing else for her voice to compete against, it was utterly astounding. Breathtaking even. She had everyone transfixed as she delivered that emotion filled song, and once it was done, she appeared to wipe some tears from her eyes, proving it was one she connects with on a very personal level.

Her band mates were back on stage now, and they were all ready for the next one. “This song you can dance to!” she said with a smile, as she resumed the active forntwoman role on “Sex Drive”, during which came another clap along moment.

Some of the best songs in the live format came from the Sunday School EP, and one of those was “Chinatown”. It provided one of the most raw moments of the entire night. They were all completely immersed in it; and there came a time when Chaidez grabbed the hand of the guy mentioned earlier who was wearing some platform shoes. He kissed her hand, and then she leaned out towards him and gave him a peck on the lips.

“This is overwhelmingly amazing for all of us!” she remarked once they finished, truly being blown away by all the love they were being shown. They began to wind down with “Cathedral”, after which she introduced her “boys”. Nick was on the guitar, Cameron behind the drums, Omar on the bass and Josh on the keys. They each got some noise made for them; and then they fired up the most wild song of the night: “Kitten with a Whip”. It whipped everyone (no pun intended) — band members and fans alike — into a frenzy, and despite Chaidez shaking her body almost constantly all night, this was the only song that seemed overtly sexual in some slight manner. They put every last ounce of energy they had into that one, and Chaidez even rolled across the stage at one point, before motioning to that guy in the platform shoes. She had him bend down so she could get on his shoulders, and it was from that perch she danced a bit (as much as she could), while everyone looked on in amazement.

After 66-minutes, and especially with an end like that, I don’t think anyone really expected an encore. I know I sure I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean no one hoped for one.

A couple minutes went by, but Chloe Chaidez reclaimed the stage, all by herself.

Apparently, some people haven’t gotten the memo that shouting “Freebird!” as an encore isn’t all that funny anymore, but she acted like she didn’t hear the request. Maybe she really didn’t.

The most beautiful moment of the night came in the form of “Kill the Light”, which was done acoustically. It was the way she enunciated the words and the emotion she poured into them. It was overpowering. I would have even been content with that as a closer, but they still had a little gas left in the tank. It appeared “Doubt” would be the final number, and once the last line had been sung, Chaidez once again thanked everyone, and then made her way through the crowd and back to the green room. The band gave the track a long instrumental finish, and one by one, they all disappeared, until only the drummer was left. Some hefty beats concluded it, but as he walked off the stage, the guitarist got back on.

He began to strum the axe, and all of a sudden, Chaidez appeared one last time, creating some more fanfare. The now duo played a cover of “Don’t Dream it’s Over” by Crowded House, and it was another song that really highlighted the gorgeous tone of her voice.

That put the show at nearly 90-minutes, and that really was it.

I was blown away. Honestly, I knew nothing about Kitten before this night. I just came to the show to see a show (plus I was a fan of the local opening act), but wow!

Kitten was dynamite from start to finish, and very unrelenting.

The entire band was excellent, but there can’t be any arguing that all eyes were focused almost exclusively on Chloe Chaidez. She has a persona that commands your attention, and left everything on stage; and despite using her assets at times, the main thing she relied on was her natural talent, which seemed limitless this night.

Everything was topnotch, and the showmanship was so very impressive. I’ve got to say, they earned a lot of respect in my book, because in terms of performance, this is what a band should be.

They have a few shows left on their current tour, and exact dates can be found HERE. Pick up their record in iTUNES, too.

Saturday, July 12th, 2014 – The Dirty River Boys Debut at Gas Monkey

Gas Monkey Bar and Grill has been in business for about a year now (give or take a little). The restaurant/concert venue took over the old Firewater location (it’s amazing that place has been out of business for about five years now. Crazy how time flies.)

For those not in the know, the Gas Monkey is owned by Richard Rawlings, star of Fast N’ Loud on the Discovery Network; and from the looks of it this night, having that name attached has made for booming business.

I was there for the concert (which was taking place on the outdoor stage), and arrived fairly late. It was about 9:40, yet plenty of people were pulling up in the parking lot and going into the restaurant section, presumably to get some grub and probably a drink. Some even had younger kids in tow. Yeah, the place was bustling.

The patio was no different. It seemed smaller than I remembered. Then again, it was only in Firewater’s last year of business that they strayed from their usual 21+ shows, meaning I could actually get in, and most of the shows I caught there were on the indoor stage.

Speaking of age, even being in my mid-twenties I felt like the youngest person there. A different feeling from the clubs of Deep Ellum I spend nearly every weekend at. By no means am I saying people were old, but instead of primarily twenty-somethings, the demographic at GMB&G was largely thirty-somethings. However, people from all walks of life were out there. Some were a few decades older than that; some people wore cowboy hats, fitting the country mood of the night; others were dressed more casually with shorts and flip-flops.

The patio was a melting pot; and there were also plenty of people taking selfies as they watched the band, or getting a group shot of them and their friends together.

Thieving Birds were on the stage, and while I only caught their last three or four songs of their set, they were quite impressive. I’ll have to try to catch them again sometime, and see what a full show is like.

Despite all the good shows Gas Monkey has had — from local to national ones — it seems like there has always been something else that appealed to me more whenever I might have come out this way. It took The Dirty River Boys playing here to finally get me to the Gas Monkey; and with a couple months having passed since I last saw the group, I was in need of a fix.

It was 10:31 when the quartet from Austin (by way of El Paso) stepped on stage. Singer and guitarist Nino Cooper held his mandolin up in the air, and bassist Colton James, fellow singer and guitarist Marco Gutierrez and drummer Travis Stearns filed on stage right behind him.

They had changed their set around a bit since I had last seen them, and they opened with a partial cover.

“Come along, little children come along. While the moon is shining bright…” they all crooned, showing off some rarer four-part harmonies on Buster Browns’ “Raise a Ruckus”. That seemed extra appropriate, considering it was a full moon this night. It also seemed like a sure setup for a particular original song, one that is usually reserved as the closer. Sure enough, they used that as an intro for the oh so rowdy, “Raise Some Hell”. Some people were singing along and others stomped their feet, while others danced about to the song that sounds very much like an Irish jig. It was strange hearing it right at the start, but at the time same time, lyrically (“…We’re gonna raise some hell tonight.”), it worked perfectly. It would seem it’s one of those songs that can fit either at the end or the beginning of shows.

Some fanfare erupted, but they were busy, and moved on to their next number, the first of many newer ones they did, and it was one that had Colton singing the lead. “How many of you have seen The Dirty River Boys before?!” Travis asked in his booming voice. Plenty of hands went up in the air and cheers were heard, letting him know that this wasn’t their first rodeo. Meanwhile, his band mates had kept the pace up, using a brief instrumental piece to bridge them into the next song, and Nino suddenly began to sing, “She was lusting for some wandering; he was lost in a paper filled room. She packed a suitcase; he sold his old place. They travelled on down a one-way road…” “Heart Like That” is one of their best if you ask me, especially live; and as they got to the final line, Nino put some extra emphasis on it. “What’s not to love about a Heart! Like! That!” he belted in a twangy tone, and the audience quickly burst into applause. “Thank you.” he responded, before counting them into one of the songs he and Marco shared the lead vocal duties on, “My Son”. “The only you could be found is through your footsteps in the cold, dead ground.” the two sang in harmony, before Nino tore off on a guitar solo, and despite being on his acoustic, it was a solo that could put many electric guitars to shame. They even showed off their four-part harmonies again at the end of the track.

Marco then reached for his neck rack and harmonica, playing a few notes to begin “Dried Up”, the lead track off their debut full-length record Science of Flight. “Come on, Dallas!” he yelled as they hit the first chorus and the song really took off. He addressed everyone once it was done, giving a proper hello to the hundred plus people who were there. “We’ve been playing a lot of old ones, so how about a new one? What do you think about that?” he asked. The crowd seemed game, especially once they began the track that is a full on assault on the ears. “That’s a little song about life on the road.” Nino stated once they had finished it. It was another that has usually come later in the set when I’ve seen them, but given its sheer intensity (it is easily their most rock sounding song) it fit even better towards the start.

No sooner had they finished then Travis stood up from his cajon and small drum kit, while Colton laid his upright bass down. “…This is what we like to call a Chinese fire drill.” Marco noted, before going back to the bass. Colton ended up on the banjo and Travis had the mandolin. He paced around the stage with it as they knocked out the short “Lookin’ for the Heart”, which got some movement going out in the crowd, as some people danced along to it.

“Make some noise for Thieving Birds! Keeping rock alive!” Marco yelled once they all got back to their normal positions. He then let everyone know they had another new song coming their way, adding it would be on their new album coming out sometime soon. “It’s called Thought I’d Let You Know.” he finished. The Dirty River Boys are as much a rock band as they are a country one, but that song especially had some more authentic country sounds to it. Similar to the stuff from their first two EP’s, and it was excellent.

Another new one followed, this time in the form of their newest single: “Desert Wind”. You could feel the excitement spike once people heard Nino start on the first chords. I dare say it’s a brilliant song, and one where you feel every single thread of emotion that’s woven into it. It ended with Travis adding some additional percussion, serving up some hard-hitting beats that made it all the more striking of a song. They were on a roll now, and kept on going with an instrumental piece, one that was clearly a lead in to “Draw”. It was pretty powerful, and Colton was slapping the strings of his bass with both hands, while Travis’s act of tossing a drumstick into the air and then catching it by sideswiping it with his right hand amazed much of the crowd. With that, the actual song began, and it was another one people were loving.

“Thank y’all so much!” Marco said in his thick Southern twang once the fanfare died down. He then mentioned this next song was one that Bob Dylan and The Band used to do “back in the day”. They often add a partial Dylan cover onto one of their original songs, but hearing them do a full song of his was something new to me. The song was “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, but they put a completely different spin on it from the original. It boasted some more harmonies from all of them; and Nino threw in a guitar solo for good measure. They definitely spruced it up to better fit their style; and after that spirited version of the song, they got the mood a little darker.

“Oooo.” They all crooned into their mics over some haunting melodies. It lasted at least half a minute, and after Travis beat on his cajon — working his way down the box he sat upon — Marco asked if everyone was still with them. He had to repeat it, because the response wasn’t that great the first time around, but yeah, the fans were still as much invested in this as the band was. “All of the darkness down at the bottom don’t look too dark from here. Keep your eyes on the brick wall, your foot on the throttle; get ready to feel no fear!” belted Marco on the chorus of “Letter to Whoever”. There came a point where the reins were handed over to Travis, who delivered a riveting drum solo on the kit, before shifting his focus back to the cajon. He perhaps hit it a little too hard, because after the song, he pulled the cover off, throwing to the side of the stage, and got a fresh one, one that could withstand several more blows.

In the meantime, Marco chatted with everyone, saying despite all coming from different musical influences, they could all always agree on some good ol’ punk rock. “And punk rock just lost a person…” he said somberly. He was speaking of the recent passing of Tommy Ramone, and dedicated this next one to him. They paid their respects by covering “Blitzkrieg Bop”, and doing a great rendition of it at that. “Rest in peace, Tommy.” Marco remarked after the song came to its abrupt end, and he gazed upwards at the sky.

It seemed like he had been doing a long stretch of singing, but he got a slight rest on “Riverbed Wildflowers”, at least for the first half of it. Perhaps the best part of the song came at the bridge, when Nino and Marco alternated on the vocals, and when Nino sang his lines, he was backed up by Colton and Travis. Fans didn’t even get a real chance to voice how much they loved that softer number, and Marco launched right into the following song on the set list, while Travis brought out his harmonica. It was the outlaw-esque “Six Riders”, which Marco later mentioned was off Science of Flight, saying their merch guy, Dugan, would hook anyone who wanted a copy up with a “phat deal”.

Their attention then turned to some more newer stuff, and Colton again took the lead vocals. “…Let me taste the blood from your mouth…” he sang with a slight drawl; and at one point, a man appeared on stage, interacting with them, doing air bass, guitar, etc. “Hey! There’s my Uncle Bubba!” Colton shouted. The band and the spectators appeared to enjoy the antics of Uncle Bubba, who was clearly having a ball himself.

“…It’s a full moon y’all are supposed to get crazy or something. That’s what they say…” Marco spoke during their next break, before they knocked out another song of theirs that has something to do with whiskey. Nino even swapped out to his shiny electric guitar for it.

They were nearing the end at this point, and Travis now asked the opposite of what he had earlier in the night, and that was how many people were seeing their first Dirty River Boys show. There were a few newcomers there, but not many. He mentioned what a wonderful venue the Gas Monkey was, and they were happy to be making their debut there. He then went back six years, when this band first began. “…From the beginning… this has been an amazing experience. God bless you…” he told everyone, before leading them in “prepping” their vocal chords. He made some sounds and had the crowd follow along, before they really put their voices to the test, helping sing the second round of the harmonies that happen on each verse of “Boomtown”. Nino was back on the mandolin for it, breaking a string later on, but he still powered through. Luckily they didn’t need it anymore this night.

“Have you had a good time so far?!” Travis roared. He added he hoped everyone had, had a good fourth the previous weekend and asked if anyone went to Willy’s picnic. No one here at Gas Monkey had made it. “The dude’s eighty-two! Go see him play!” Travis said, seeming a little stunned.

They slowed things down with the lovely, albeit poignant “So Long Elanie”; and then spoke of growing up in El Paso, crossing the river and going into Mexico for the day (or night). “…We started going to some of those bars at thirteen…” Nino reminisced. You can’t do that safely anymore, though, and they co-wrote a song with Ray Wylie Hubbard about all the violence on the border. It’s called “Down by the River”, and if I’m remembering correctly, one of the lines is “…The undertaker said if you cross that river you’ll never come back.” It seemed like that would be the end of the main set, especially given the powerhouse finish they gave it, which had Travis going ballistic on the drums. Then they suddenly broke into “She”. Nino again brought his electric axe out, as they concluded their 88-minute long set with that oldie from the “Train Station” EP. It’s arguably one of their best.

Chants of an encore started before they even stepped off stage, but everyone knew they were going to come back. They had to. After all, one of the staple songs had been surprisingly absent during the main portion.

After a couple minutes, Nino and Marco then retook the stage, just as a duo. Nino had a lengthy harmonica solo at first, before they did a more gentle sounding “Carnival Lights”. Well, at least for the first half. The rhythm section returned after the second chorus, and things then sprang to life. “Alright, Dallas, you think you know the words to this part?” Marco asked at the tail end of it, before the crowd sang along with him. They tacked on a bit of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” at the end, and Colton hung his cowboy hat on the headstock of the bass as they crooned on the more spiritual track.

Their 12-minute encore then came to a close with what has become a staple for them: their take on The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman”. Marco changed the lyrics slightly. “I laid a divorcee down in Dallas, Texas.” he sang on the second verse, and as the song peaked, Travis stood up for a drum solo, and then Marco followed it with a solo on his harmonica.

With that, they thanked everyone for coming out, and bid Dallas a farewell… For now.

For now, The Dirty River Boys are still just a regional band, though one that is quickly making a name for themselves. However, they’re every bit as professional as the biggest name acts are, and they deliver a show of that caliber, too.

They create a nice mix of rock and Texas country (the good kind of country), and they execute everything superbly. If you haven’t seen them yet, I promise you, you’re missing out.

As for their shows in North Texas, they’ll be in Fort Worth on June 24th at Panther Island Pavilion (that’s a free one); Hank’s in McKinney on August 1st; and Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth on October 10th. I wouldn’t be surprised if another show or two in the area creep in there over the next month or so. You can catch them all over the Lone Star State, though, and they’ll even be doing some hefty touring across the Mid-West in the coming months. Just check out their TOUR DATES for all the info. Check out their records in iTUNES, too, and be on the lookout for their new one, which will hopefully drop soon.

As for the Gas Monkey, I thought it was a great place. For four years, I periodically found myself wishing the old Firewater would get reopened one way or another, because it was a shame to think such amazing stages were being wasted.

They’re not now. They haven’t been for about a year, and it doesn’t look like the popularity of Gas Monkey Bar & Grill is going to die down anytime soon. As I said, the place was packed inside and out. I assume the food’s good. I’ll have to try it sometime. But I can say it’s a great spot to catch a show. Even on this warmer night, there was a nice breeze, so it was never hot; and the sound, the sound seemed better than what I remembered it being. Earplugs are a must for me, and even with them in, the music was still blaring, and I found myself constantly adjusting them to make sure they weren’t sliding out. I liked that.

I’m going to have to try to get out here a little more often. Like I said, they constantly have great shows going on, some of which are free. You can’t beat that. Actually, I think I’ll be back before the month ends.

Friday, July 11th, 2014 – Ishi Gears Up for a West Coast Run; Leaves Dallas with One Big, Sweaty Dance Party

This was a big night for Ishi. It was their last North Texas show for about a month, and just weeks later they would be heading out to tour the West Coast.

What better place to have their sendoff show than Trees: a venue they have packed to near or complete capacity on several occasions in the past, and it seemed certain to happen again this night.

As usual when they play Trees, the lineup was made up of acts from all over the place in terms of style, beginning with opener Jenny Robinson and Bearcub.

“Thanks to all ten of you for coming out to see us!” Jenny exclaimed after the curtain had opened. Sadly, that wasn’t much of an exaggeration, and there were only a dozen or more people scattered about the venue. She informed everyone they were a producer and rapper duo — using Timbaland and Missy Elliot as an example — and introduced the handful of spectators to her male counterpart, Bearcub, who had a sort of bear suit draped over him. Perhaps robe is the better word to use, as it hung down below his waist, while a friendly looking bear head covered his own.

“This is our ode to Missy Elliot.” Jenny added, as they started a song that I would guess was titled “Supa Dupa Fly”. I surely wasn’t the only one who had reservations when she first said they were a rap and producer act. Granted, I’m not too familiar with many rappers in the first place, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any white female ones (though I’m sure they’re out there). She quickly proved she has the skill set for it, though, and her rapping ability was off the charts. It was shocking at first, actually, ‘cause I don’t think anyone expected her to be spitting the words out at the speed she was; and Bearcub joined her, as they traded off here and there.

They may not have commanded a large audience, but they won over those who were watching with that first song, and their 28-minute long set continued as they went into another track. “I need some water.” Jenny stated afterwards, while Bearcub mentioned they’d take a quick intermission, and he readied the next track. It only lasted a few seconds, and once they were ready, he shouted, “For the next four-minutes, I’m gonna lose my goddamn mind!” He had shed his bear outfit by this point (I imagine it had gotten pretty warm with it on), and he did get really into the track; and handled much of the main vocals.

Jenny flashed her middle finger in the air for much of the following song, and as it ended, she asked everyone else to do the same. A few people then waved their middle fingers at her. The laughs then came when Bearcub said this next one was titled “Killing All These Hos” and as soon as he mentioned the title, he added, “Before you say anything else, we do not condone the killing of prostitutes. But if you’re a ho, watch out!” Jenny noted that they don’t discriminate, either, and it applied to both male and female hos. It wasn’t all that complex, but was quite catchy; and as Jenny said the last line, she tilted her head back and held the microphone above her mouth.

“Turnt up!” she shouted after another track, before Bearcub said this next song was dedicated to his ex-girlfriend. “Fuck you.” he said very matter-of-factly. In comparison to the others, it was a slower number, and Jenny showed off her singing skills a little, and she had a nice voice. Another cool part came at the end, when she wrapped the mic cord around her neck, then held the microphone up in the air, as if it were a noose.

Their set was almost over, and they had saved the best for last. Both of them flat-out killed it with their rapping, and at one point, Bearcub, who had once again donned his bear outfit, walked to the edge of the stage and just stepped off. The stage is probably a little more than four feet off the floor, but that didn’t faze him, and he began interacting with the crowd. He then climbed back on stage right about the time Jenny laid down on it, and began making some seductive moans.

“I’m Jenny Robinson, this is Bearcub. Together we are Jenny Robinson and Bearcub, and we love you!” she exclaimed with a smile on her face, making sure everyone who had been paying attention knew who they were before they left.

I’ll give anything a chance, but generally, I’m not a fan of rap music. This duo was awesome, though. They had the stage presence, the tracks were really good, and both of them were excellent rappers.

I really enjoyed it, and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again.

Another duo was up next, but one who mined a completely different vein than that of the first act.

They were called Night Drive, and they had a very British indie pop / synth pop style about them. Maybe even a little new wave, too. That became very evident with their first song, which I believe was “Drones”, the lead track from the “Position I” EP. All their music was incredibly catchy; and Rodney Connell was handling the vocals, while Brandon Duhon played a guitar for much of the first half of their set, but was constantly mixing in some keys or electronic drums, and he had a whole little station set up beside him.

“Dallas, how are you doing?” Rodney asked during the song. They had a few more eyes on them than what the opener had received, and after that question was posed, those watching let out some cheers and applause. Already they had won over the hearts of some Dallasites, and they kept working their magic, doing some songs from their five-song “Position I” EP, and others that were not. A couple tunes later, Rodneys’ mic came unplugged, something he fixed just in time for the next line, and he and Brandon harmonized some on it.

“Alright guys, come a little closer.’ Rodney asked as they segued things right into their next track. The new fans were happy to oblige; and as it started, Rodney joined everyone. A box had been placed directly in front of the stage, and he stood on that, still allowing everyone to see him, before eventually mingling more with the crowd, singing with people or trying to get them to dance a little. He rejoined Brandon for the last bit, and then came the semi-dark “Nocturnal” (no pun intended). It was downright irresistible; and they bridged it right into “After Dark”, which again saw Rodney getting out amongst the people.

“For fun, we’re going to do a Radiohead cover…” he said afterwards, mentioning they would actually be releasing it the following Tuesday. He then dedicated the song to everyone who was at the back of the venue, hanging out by the bar. “Come up to the fucking front!” he shouted. The song was “Where I End and You Begin”, and he wasn’t lying when he said they did it differently. The electronic sounds that filled their original music were also showcased on this track, ensuring they left their mark on it.

They had gathered a slightly larger crowd with that, and people raved after it was finished. They then unloaded another original on everyone’s ears, and before their final song, Rodney mentioned that they came from both Austin and Houston. “This song’s called Sea of Light.” he informed everyone. Two small globes set on either side of the stage and had been used periodically this night, emitting light as they spun around; and they were certainly appropriate for that last song of their 34-minute long set. Then, at the very end, each of them grabbed a couple of confetti sticks, launching said confetti onto the crowd right as they hit the final chorus, “Colors collide in the sea of light…”

Night Drive was a surprise to many who showed up early, ‘cause I don’t think anyone was expecting a band with British flare. It was an awesome surprise, though. After all, I think that’s one genre many music lovers enjoy — certainly those who were here this night did.

For the time they had it, they owned the stage, and had a very professional feel about them. You knew just by the way they conducted themselves on stage that they had done this a lot, and put a lot of time and effort into making sure they were entertaining.

And they were. Actually, they were my second favorite act of the night.

They have some Austin and Houston shows planned all the way through September, and you can find out all the details on those on their TOUR PAGE. You can also buy their EP (they also have some remixes of songs available) on either iTUNES or BANDCAMP.

The main support act for the show was the Dallas-based Dark Rooms; a band I’ve heard a lot about in the last year or so, but had never seen. So, I was looking forward to finally seeing what they were like.

“Hey everybody, how’s it going?” singer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Hart asked as soon as the curtain had revealed them. “We’re Dark Rooms.” he then added. He was wielding a violin for much of the first half of their 36-minute long set, and they gradually edged into their first song, which grew more climatic the further into it they got.

Daniel sang in a high falsetto tone a majority of the time, and it was absolutely breathtaking. Right from that first number they had everyone entranced, and more and more people felt compelled to come closer to the front and marvel at the group. However, much of my focus (especially on that one) went to drummer Bobby Lotfipour. He used to drum with Trebuchet (a band I saw more than a couple dozen times when they were still together); and it had been a little more than a year and a half since I last saw him in action behind a kit. I had forgotten what an impressive drummer he was, and he was killing in the latter part of that number, laying down the beats with ferocity, yet total ease.

Things got more lively when they wound that into “Give Up, Give In”. Rachel Ballard was playing a variety of instruments as well, from the keys to adding some additional percussion, while the violin soared higher than Casey Trelas’ guitar did on that beast of a song that had Rachel also mixing in some backing vocals.

They were living up to all the hype that surrounds them, and that violin sounded downright gorgeous on the following track. The instruments led them seamlessly from the end of that one into another, and the start was signified when Bobby began hammering away on the kick drum. Perhaps the best moment came when Casey and Rachel harmonized with Daniel, their combined voices having an ethereal quality.

That did it for the violin, and now Daniel placed it in a stand and grabbed his guitar, using it for the remainder of their 36-minute long set. One track they did had almost a jazzy, lounge feel at the start, and towards the end, Daniel, Rachel and Bobby all had the biggest smiles on their faces, obviously being happy by the fact that they were doing what they love.

They had been focused entirely on playing as much music as they could, but after another song, they stopped, and Daniel gave the standard speech for all bands, thanking Ishi for having them on the bill, and saying they did have some merch for sale at the back. Rachel was prepping the xylophone — making sure the mic was close enough to it. It was only used for a few moments of “Keep it Inside”, but gave a nice tone to it all. There were some electronic elements to that one, too, and live, it was utterly amazing and beautiful. I’ve listened to the recorded version since, and it sounds great, but it does not to the song justice.

Dark Rooms is certainly an interesting band. They’re a little rock, a little indie, a little pop, and thanks to the violin, there are even hints of classical found scattered about the songs (albeit in trace amounts).

They were dynamite this night, and caught the interest of many people who were somehow unfamiliar with them yet.

From Daniels’ unique voice, to the tight musicianship they all possess (Bobby really is an astounding drummer, and I’d swear he had only gotten better since I last saw him), it’s clear why they have built a good name for themselves in the area, and even beyond. However, the best thing was that they were simply having fun playing these songs for everyone. People picked up on that, and from the listeners perspective, it made them all the more enjoyable.

You can see them this week at Dan’s Silver Leaf in Denton on July 18th. They’ll also be making a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina on September 4th to play the Hopscotch Music Festival. As for their debut album, you can get it in either iTUNES or BANDCAMP.

I had started to wonder if Dallas really was going to come out and help send Ishi off on their West Coast tour, because all night long the crowd — in terms of numbers — had been lackluster. But towards the end of Dark Rooms’ set, people started making their way in. Hundreds of them, to the point that leaving the spot I had in front of the stage didn’t seem like a wise idea.

Of course, Dallas would let the electronic band down, and from front to back they had packed Trees out. Much of the audience even had their faces painted, something some fans do at nearly every show, but this night they were offering it free at the merch table. Nothing fancy, mainly just some lines on each side of a person’s face, maybe some dots, etc. Yeah, the Ishi nation is a diehard one.

“What’s up, Dallas?!” vocalist JT Mudd asked once the curtain opened. He was sporting one of his more eye-catching outfits, the one with long white cloth/robe that stretches down and covers most of his legs, while a separate piece covers his shoulders and much of his chest. It’s very futuristic and space looking; and, of course, he also had on the stunner shades that glowed in neon colors, along with a hat. “Let’s get this party started.” he said, a sentence people had been waiting all night to hear.

They kicked off their massive set with some classics, the first of which was “Our Time”. JT was grabbing his outfit and waving the cloth around in the air at first, before entering frontman mode as he proceeded to sing the first line, “Don’t let go of who you are…” They were joined by their latest female vocalist, Bettie, who lent her voice to various parts of the song before leaving, as they rolled it right into the next track on the “Through the Trees” record: “Come Closer”.

It had been a little over a year (their CD release show in May of 2013) since I last heard them perform it, and I was one of many people ecstatic about it this night. Jonathan Merla was laying down some nice beats throughout it, though he went unseen this night. A bar that formed a semi-circle stretched from one side of the stage to the other, and hanging from it were some balls (one on each side) that were flashing various colors, while several circles of different sizes filled the center, acting as a screen for the video they projected on it for much of the night. That was what prevented Jonathan from being seen.

Bettie returned, while JT called for the tracks to be boosted in the monitors, just as the one for “Mirror Ball Sky” fired up. “Mirror ball in the sky, heal us tonight.” JT sang, lunging forward as they hit the first chorus, casting his right arm out in front of him, as if to get everyone involved and having fun. Making it all the better was the small disco ball that hung from the ceiling of the stage, and the lights danced off it. They then bridged it right into the first of a handful of new songs, and it was another that heavily featured Bettie.

“…We’re about to hit the road and spread the word…” JT remarked during their first actual break, speaking of the West Coast tour they’d be leaving on in just a couple of weeks. Their timeout didn’t last long, though, and fans rejoiced as soon as they realized “Pastel Lights” was coming. It officially became a dance party with that lively, feel good number, especially towards the end. It was impossible not to notice the air cannons scattered about the stage. Two on either side of it and two more on both sides of the drum riser, and at the songs peak, confetti was shot into the air. It wasn’t large amounts, but still plenty to cover the crowd.

It was clear this was going to be one for the books.

JT then welcomed Becky Middleton to the stage. As far as I know, the last time she performed with them was at the Digital Wounds CD release show, and while she had been a mainstay with Ishi for awhile, she left to dedicate more time to her own music. It was good to see her back with them, even it was just for a night, and JT informed everyone in attendance they would be the first to hear this next song, called “Midnight Lightening”. It was a fantastic song. One of the best I’ve heard them do as far as their new songs are concerned; and Rocky threw in a sweet guitar solo, one that sounded pretty soulful. It neared the end, and JT started conversing with Becky (off mic). She was standing in front of one of the air cannons, and it scared her when it suddenly went off, causing her hair to whip around wildly, something she laughed off.

Suddenly, the track for “Moon Watcher” started, sending the people into a frenzy. It didn’t take long for that one to become a fan favorite, and peoples love for it has only grown within the last year. How could you not like it, though? It’s a beautiful love song, and apart from clapping along with JT and Becky, the crowd was also singing with him, “All the lives that I once knew never made sense till I found you…” “Let me hear you!” JT yelled in his softer voice at the final chorus, part of which was left entirely up to the audience. He took a bow at the end, placing the palms of his hands against one another to express his gratitude, before going back and grabbing a towel.

He hastily wiped the sweat from his face, then threw it out as their next song got underway, causing half a dozen or so hands to go up, hoping to get lucky enough to catch it. More confetti then spewed out of the cannons at the start, as this other new number was performed by the three core members of Ishi. Becky rejoined them for the dance inducing “Emotional Hard Drive”, and their latest single got folks quite rowdy, as many began jumping around. It was great, though, because their music is all about cutting loose. Between her and Rocky, they were adding some knockout backing vocals to it, too, which made it all the more extraordinary.

Bettie then returned to the stage, tackling the female vocals on “Touch The Future”, as well as another new one, which has the often repeated line, “Everybody wants to be a star…”. Confetti continued pouring down on people at different intervals throughout those two, and then the female vocalists once again swapped out. Becky still wasn’t safe from the blast of air, but it didn’t seem to catch her off guard as much now, and she continued shaking her tambourine to the beat of “Digital Wounds”.

They turned it into another clap along at times, and upon finishing it, JT left the stage, retreating to the green room. That put Becky in charge, and they dusted off what used to be a show staple: a cover of The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian”. She didn’t miss a beat, and now that she was the lead singer, her fiery stage persona really came out. The best part came at the final line, which she belted out with a passion.

JT then returned, having used that time for a costume change, and now was wearing a black shirt with a sort of floral pattern on it. They knocked out their final classic of the night, and when “Shake Your Dandelion” came to an end, he sang that last line, “Step into my world and I’ll satisfy you.”, and then pointed out at the spectators, who I think were feeling extremely satisfied at this point.

“How we doing, Dallas?!” he then asked, taking time out to chat for a moment, before they hit the final stretch of their 82-minute long set. Becky again walked on stage, showing off some dance moves on “Disco Queen”. “…Butter me up with your lovin’” sang JT, and as he did so, he took his left hand and ran it up his leg, eventually stopping when he reached his backside. “Rocky Ottley!” he shouted before again taking leave. That was Rocky’s cue to go all out, and ran to stage right and dropped to his knees as he started his guitar solo, before eventually falling to his back, shredding on his axe while he laid there.

Applause rang out, applause that quickly turned to cheers once “Mother Prism” began. JT walked back on stage. He now had his Native American headdress on, and as he approached the mic, he threw the vibrant red robe around him. He waited until the first break in the track to go back and get his shield, which, like the headdress, was illuminated in several different neon colors, which were constantly flashing on and off. He waved it around for a few moments, even using it to cover his face, before continuing, “It’s hard to rise above it all when everything is a pitfall…” As usual, the highlight came with the chant of “Aiyah, aiyay…”, which everyone was bursting at the seams to sing along with. It was as if he were a tribal leader, and the hundreds of fans who had gathered here were praising him. Jumping around also seemed mandatory for that one, and that pure delight everyone was experiencing quickly turned to sadness when JT said they had just one more.

“Let’s get funky.” he said; Bettie now standing to his right. The air cannons finished blowing their load during the lead in for “Slowly But Surely”, and JT suddenly had an idea. He raced over to one of them, propping his leg up on one of the monitors, appearing to be trying to achieve a Marilyn Monroe moment, but the air stopped right as he got up there. Bettie fully showed off her powerhouse voice when she sang one line; and as it got into the final minute or so, JT jumped off the stage. The crowd cleared room for him, letting him go where he pleased. He didn’t go far, though, and was just content standing amongst everyone, interacting with the fans as they all sang together.

Everyone had hopes that there would be more, but this is a band who very plainly says they don’t do encores. Extra songs, yes. However they don’t leave just to have a chant of their name started and then come back out. “…Can you handle one more?” JT asked, acknowledging that his band had left him. Rocky and Jonathan then returned.

“…We can’t tell you how much this means to us.” he remarked, before asking everyone to tell their West Coast friends that they were coming. Becky was back out there with them for their rendition of New Orders’ “Bizarre Love Triangle”. Singing along was highly encouraged, and it was easily one of the best moments of their set.

That fun jam would have been a fine way to end it, but the band showed no sign of moving. “Rocky wants to do one more.” JT said, before going back to the drums to help Jonathan find the track. They closed with one of the best songs from Digital Wounds, though one that has been worked out in favor over their newer material in recent months. Everyone was glad to hear “ISHI”, though, and considering this was their last hometown show before a tour, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to end with. Especially since one of the lines is, “We’re rolling on our dreams. I. S. H. I. is what mean…”. Quite a fitting way to close it out, and that pushed their set to just a little more than a hour and a half long.

Ishi always gives it their all. It be hard for them to be where they are now if they didn’t. But this night, they went above and beyond peoples normal expectations, which guaranteed this was a show that no one would soon forget.

Electronic music is something else I’m not always a fan off, but the music Ishi makes is undeniably wonderful. It demands you get into it and just have fun, and lyrically, the songs are either uplifting, or, as I said about the music, fun.

Add the always theatrical stage show to that mix, and you’re given a band who you can see countless times and still not be able to get enough. At least that’s how I am, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling.

Before going west, Ishi has shows in Houston and Austin. The former on July 18th at the Museum of Natural Science, and the latter will be at Empire Control Room on the 19th. Then, on July 24th, they’ll be in San Diego, California. They have a total of four shows around the state, and will also be hitting Washington state, Idaho, Colorado and Oklahoma, before doing a homecoming show at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth on August 15th. If you live in any of those areas, you can find more details on the shows HERE. Grab a copy of each of their LP’s, too. You can find them in iTUNES.

This was one helluva party this night, one that everyone enjoyed to the fullest extent possible. I imagine a lot of them will be doing it all over again in Fort Worth next month, too.

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 – Alexander Webb Packs Out Opening Bell Coffee; Annalisse Nutt Amazes

It had been eleven days since I had last been out to a concert. The last time I went more than a week without seeing a show was probably about six months ago.

Yeah, I was kinda jonesing for a fix; and Opening Bell Coffee seemed like a good place to go to get it this night.

I may not often go to the cozy coffee shop located on south Lamar Street in Dallas, but I make sure to keep an eye on the calendar; and all the acts playing this night sounded good, based on what I previewed online, at least.

It was probably around 7:50 when I walked in, making me pretty late given the seven-o’clock start time. So late, I actually got one of the last available chairs.

Opening Bell was packed! More so than I’ve ever seen it (granted, I’ve only been here on weeknights).

Alexander Webb was on the small stage that takes up a corner of the room, and the Dallas native had a bunch of friends and supporters out to catch him while he was town.

He was in the midst of his set, finishing one original when I walked in, and afterwards told the crowd he was going to do something that might be familiar to most ears. He finished tuning his guitar, then unleashed a spectacular rendition of The Beatles “Come Together”. His voice had a smooth, even soothing quality to it at times, though he belted that track out with a fury, earning him rave applause from the entire room once the song was finished.

“I used to… Well, I still am pretty opinionated…” Alexander stated, setting up his next song, before mentioning this was the second show of a Mid-West tour he and Annalissa Nutt were doing. He also informed the audience that this next song, “All I’ve Come to Know”, was the last one he completed before hitting the road just days earlier, so it was still very fresh. He used a harmonica at times throughout what will surely be a highlight track on his next record; and afterwards invited Annalissa Nutt on stage to help in singing the next number.

It was another cover, specifically “Bloodline” by Matt Morris. It was the best song of his set (at least what I caught of it); and he sang the first little portion on his own, before Annalisse began to add her voice to it, harmonizing with him, and the result was jaw-dropping. It’s a great song in the first place, but the way they did it, it was astounding.

She left, and Alexander chatted with the crowd as he got ready for his next song, saying he hoped everyone was ready for a song that sounded kinda hopeless, but then got really hopeful at the end. He was quite for a moment, as got the capo just right, before he gave a heartfelt thank you. “A lot of years have gone into this music, and being able to share it with you is very valuable to me.” he remarked before “Enough” — the final track from the “Up Ahead” EP. He was clearly a great singer, but now he got a chance to let his skills as a guitarist shine, using both hands to pluck the strings up on the guitars neck in a very intricate manner.

That spiritual song was rather lengthy (lasting a little over five minutes), yet it passed by quickly, and then he wrapped up his time on stage with another song from that EP, which I believe was the title track, “Up Ahead”.

I’m glad I got to see at least a portion of Alexander Webbs’ set, as he is a very talented singer/songwriter.

Apart from his voice, the emotion that was poured into his songs was also striking, and depending on the content, you could tell they were born out of a deep personal experience or something that he strongly believed in.

He has released four albums so far, and the way he talked this night, another one should be coming sooner rather than later. But for now, check out his past ones in iTUNES. Also, if you live anywhere in the Mid-West, check out his current show SCHEDULE. This tour will be lasting through early August, so he just might be coming to a town near you.

The Arkansas born Annalisse Nutt was next, and it didn’t take her long to fill the space Alexander had just vacated. “I’m gonna play some music for y’all!” she exclaimed with a smile on her face. Her 50-minute long set was a mix of old and newer material, as well as some covers, and I’m guessing it was one of those newer songs she opened with. “If these walls could talk, they’d speak in tongues…” she softly crooned on the first line.

She may have been lacking the strong fan base that Alexander had, but many of them had stuck around, and Annalisse quickly won them over with that tune. Following it was what I think was her first cover of the night. I don’t listen to much Rihanna, but what Annalisse sang at the beginning matched up with “Drunk On Love”, albeit a retooled version that was better suited for an acoustic setting. Regardless of what it was, though, it was with that track that she firmly established herself as a vocal powerhouse, one who had completely captivated everyone in the room.

“I played here a couple years ago.” she remarked, adding, “I love this spot.”, before informing everyone this next song was more of a spiritual one. She talked about how it was about there being about a place with God where nothing else matters, and also pointed out it was on her “7 Song Sampler” album she released a couple years back. It was titled “There’s a Place”, and on it she was able to show off an even wider vocal range, nailing some terrific higher notes at times, while a certain forcefulness and intensity was heard throughout.

“I played this at a friend’s wedding last year…” she told everyone of her next cover, saying the way she does it gets a little darker at the end. No one really knew what she was talking about, but I don’t imagine anyone would have guessed it was The Turtles’ “Happy Together”. Some semi-dark vibes were incorporated, but nothing too bad; and it was still a song about being with the one you love. A fitting follow-up to that self-described darker song was “Lavender-Magenta Praise”. She again spoke of her faith, saying that no matter how dark things got, be it physically or spiritually, “…the color always comes back…”. She then said that Alexander happened to send her a video of himself harmonizing to the song. “…And I loved it!” she finished, as she brought him back on stage to help her out. She gently plucked the strings of the guitar she was using, better allowing her voice and his to be the main focal points of the track.

The stage was then given back to her, and Annalisse did what was arguably the best song of her set. She mentioned that when she got back to Nashville, she was going to start working on a new record, and this one, “My Storm”, would be on it. The chord structure was often soft and haunting, and there were several occasions she hit some utterly gorgeous notes that sounded like they were in the soprano range. Everything about it was absolutely amazing.

“You’ll probably recognize this one, too.” She said after the applause and cheers subsided. She showed off her pop side by putting her spin on “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, managing to make it sound very catchy with just an acoustic guitar, and also in the way she sang it. It was engrossing. “Thank you kindly.” she said, seeming a little taken aback by the warm reactions she was getting. “…Is everybody having fun?” she asked, following that with, “Is everybody ready to get sad with this one?” There were no objections to it, and “I’m Sorry” was indeed a very poignant number.

Earlier in the night, she had pointed out that her parents were in attendance, and while she noted this next song was one she doesn’t do often, she wanted to this night, and dedicated it to her “mama”. There were some very powerful moments during it, when her voice surged, being very compelling.

“That about does it.” she said smiling once the song came to an end, leaving everyone a bit saddened by the abrupt end. “No, I got one more…” she then added, checking on time to make sure she was good. She moved over to the keyboard that was on stage, only using it for maybe the first half of this final song, before stopping. The last bit was sung a cappella, and it was absolutely beautiful, even moving.

Annalisse Nutt is an exceptional singer/songwriter, and this night she proved to be a pure, refined talent.

Her breathtaking voice was certainly her biggest charm, but she’s equally as good in the field of songwriting, and not a bad on the guitar or keys, either.

I’d highly suggest you check out her “7 Song Sampler” record on BANDCAMP, and if you have the opportunity, go see her live. She’ll be on this tour with Alexander Webb for the next few weeks; and she will not disappoint.

Rounding out the show was an actual band. A newer one at that; at least new to the performing side of the business.

The three members of Northern National got their stuff setup, ran through the sound check, and then lead singer and guitarist (he used an acoustic for the first part of the set) Michael Rossi introduced himself, and then band mates Michael Allen Wilson on the electric guitar and keyboardist Michael Kanne.

Rossi later mentioned they did a lot of love songs, something that was evident from the get go, what with lyrics centered around love, while the music was softer, more relaxing, fitting the tone of the tracks. He earned some cheers after that first number, when he mentioned he had been with the same girl for nine years, a reaction that made him grin. “I actually just got her pregnant, so we’re having a baby.” he told the audience, which had dwindled to a dozen or so people.

He went on to say their next song, the title track from their debut album due out this fall, was one he wrote about her. It was called “Young and in Love”, a sweet love song about being completed by the person you’re with. Kanne used his mic to chat with the onlookers during the next break, saying they had spent two years writing stuff for their album, and “You’re the One” was one he seemed quite fond of, saying it was more of a soulful tune.

It made great use of the group vocals they were capable of, and the instruments even mostly cut out at one moment to highlight that. A more acoustic based song came next, and Rossi joked that it was as close to country as Northern National got, saying it was about leaving the Lone Star State, and then wondering why you did that in the first place. They did manage to capture a slight country sound — in the Nashville vein of the genre — and it had a low-key vibe to it, something I liked.

Rossi got a break from playing on their next one, and while he sit his guitar down, Kanne continued the storyteller like atmosphere they were giving this show, saying that “I’ll be Okay (Crazy World)” was one of the last songs they wrote.

That was the last one I stuck around for, and after hearing they only had two left for the night, I decided to go ahead and duck out.

Not that I wasn’t enjoying it, although the music was a little more sappy for my tastes. I just wanted to go ahead and get home.

They’re really good at what they do, though, and for anyone who likes pop music, then Northern National is one you must check out. All three of ‘em are equipped with some very good voices, and they mix very well together.

Their album will be dropping on September 2nd, and they’ll no doubt be doing at least a few more shows between now and then. Actually, they’ll be back at Opening Bell on Friday, July 18th.

It was good to get back out and catch some live music, especially from some touring acts. As anyone would, I do tend to stick with seeing the same bands I know I like, so it was good to get acquainted with some of the other talent out there. Another plus? I was home shortly before eleven.

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.

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 – 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.

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.

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?

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.

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 – John’s Cancer Jam

imageIt’s seldom that any great concerts (at least ones that meet my definition of great) happen in Plano. One or two good venues are located in the city, but one I had not been to was the Courtyard Theater, located in the heart of downtown Plano; and this night was as good a night as any to go there.

A month or more prior, Hand Drawn Records announced they were organizing a benefit concert there, with proceeds going to a man named John — who had recently been diagnosed with cancer — and his family, to help out with expenses that would be incurred.

The venue itself was quite nice, elegant even. It had an upscale feel without making the patrons feel like they had to be dressed to the nine’s to set foot inside. However, the best part was the overall mood of the entire night. There was no sense of pity or sorrow, but hope and positivity radiated from everyone, and much of the crowd seemed to be friends or family of John.

Before the music ever got underway, an MC for the event walked out on stage, welcoming everyone to the show, and mentioning they had — just in ticket sales — raised almost five thousand dollars. He then apologized for perhaps putting anyone on the spot, but asked for any cancer survivors who might be in the crowd to stand up, and then asked for anyone who had, had a family member battle cancer and won to stand. There were plenty of people who had somehow been touched by the disease, and after bringing John and his family in, those people were again asked to stand, serving as proof that there is hope for him — and anyone.

The first act was then brought out, and it was quite strange seeing Brandon Callies walk on stage alone, and with an acoustic guitar no less. The whole night was acoustic, and primarily featured solo sets by the artists, and when chatting with the crowd, Brandon mentioned how lonely he felt on that stage, asking for people to go easy on him.
image“This ain’t a sunset, my dear. It’s always darkest before the dawn…” he crooned at the start of “This Ain’t a Sunset”, a song that sounded a bit strange without the multi-part harmonies his band mates usually add to it. It was no less beautiful, though, and given the situation of this night, the lyrics seemed to hold new meaning.

Already, the crowd was thoroughly enjoying Mr. Callies, who then asked if anyone had heard of musician Dustin Kensrue, best known for fronting Thrice. Silence fell across the theater. “Really?!? No one?!?” he said shocked. “Well, in that case I wrote this song.” he joked before doing a rendition of “Pistol”, a track that does sound like something he could have written, and it fits well with the semi-country style of music Brandon does. His next song was dedicated to his future stepson, and Brandon mentioned he doesn’t get to see him play live too often. He did the title track of the 2011 LP, “The Gunner”, which is one track I didn’t even think he would play, considering the loud rock elements it has. It sounded surprisingly good acoustic, though. Really, I was quite impressed by how it was still a knockout number, even toned down.
imageThe mood was scaled back with the balled “One Rainy Day on Congress Street”, a song about the beginning of what is a blossoming relationship, and Brandon locked eyes with his girlfriend for much of the song. “It’s Time to get dirty.” he said afterwards, to which the audience applauded. He reiterated that this was usually done with a full-band, and since he didn’t have that, he asked the crowd if they might want to help out, before teaching them the simple sing-along part. Folks did aid him one “Keep on Walking”, another song that sounded very good, even done all by his lonesome. “How’d we do?” one member of the crowd asked afterwards. “Y’all were great.” Brandon stated, adding he really wished he could bring everyone up there with him, so he could “feel more comfortable”.

He started wrapping things up with the catchy “Shoot You Down (My Love)”, before bringing some friends out on stage with him. Dustin Blocker and Jeremy Hutchison and Exit 380 stepped out on stage. The latter went for his mandolin, while the former stood in front of the stage left microphone, a harmonica in hand. They helped make “We’ll See Another Day” an even more beautiful song than it would have been just acoustic; and Blocker added the harmonica at just the right moments, and even supplied some backing vocals at one point, before Brandon gave it up to him for a harmonica solo.
imageNice way to end the set, and despite having been a fan of Brandon Callies for several years (and through a couple of projects), this was the first time I’d seen him perform as a solo artist. He fits the singer/songwriter mold well, and while the extra musicians do help make the songs sound so much better, and are an integral part of the music, he’s every bit as good solo. In some regards, I even liked him more in this setting.

You can buy hard copies of the albums on BANDCAMP; and he does have a show lined up in Austin on July 3rd at Strange Brew.

There was an intermission, and when the second portion of the night was about to get underway, another MC mentioned, among other things, that the city of Plano had donated the venue to them, and in all, they were only spending about $150 on this production.

Then, Andrew Tinker was brought to the stage, and he immediately had the crowd going as he started his 42-minute long set that shook the suburbs. The people were clapping along from the start of his first number, something that is often hard to get people to do in the first place, let alone people who aren’t really familiar with your music. It probably had something to do with the jovial personality Andrew had, smiling just about the whole time he was singing, not just on that specific track, but the whole set.
image“All I know is that we’re not alone in this journey. It takes a community, that’s what this one is about.” he said, before doing another number off the recently released “Upon the Ecliptic” album, “I Can’t Do it Alone”, which was yet another song that seemed to have an extra special meaning this night. The same could be said of “It Takes the World”, the title track from his 2009 debut record, and even by himself, armed only with an acoustic guitar, he managed to give that song a certain soul quality.

Much like those songs, “So Does a Season End” had a totally different vibe to it, like a semi-faster pace without the piano and collection of other instruments heard on the album. No less great, though, and it was packed full of emotion. “We’ve got the Steinway piano all tuned up. I might as well play a couple.” Andrew said, making the moment seem somewhat spontaneous. The piano had been sitting there all night, and now he put it to use with another older track, “Nothin’ Would Grow”. “It’s the darkness that makes the sunrise beautiful. It’s the heartbreak that makes love burn…” he belted on the chorus of that amazing and moving song, which has the basic message that with pleasure must come pain, and knowing that makes the sweet moments all the sweeter.
imageHe returned to his new album (which has proven so popular he had already sold out of hard copies, having none available this night) with “I’ll Come Around”, which brought with it a grand mood, and it seamlessly gave way into the gorgeous, “No Home”. It sounded more like something, say, Stevie Wonder might have written, and Andrew Tinker was just trying his hand at it. Of course, that’s not the case, though, and it was an original of his; and the most riveting point came at the end, when he sang the final few lines a cappella. Once the crowd was sure there was nothing left for him to sing, they broke into some roaring applause. It was by far the strongest reaction any artist got this night. He kept rolling with “I Will Rest”, and some more thunderous applause broke out right in the middle of that soulful number.

He left the piano after that, then got personal once he returned to the forefront of the stage, saying that his mother was a cancer survivor. “…So we know what that’s like. And sometimes, you just got to survive.” he said before breaking into another song, which left him just enough time to fit one more in. The crowd enjoyed this final song so much, they started clapping along to it, and at the end, when they were encouraged to sing along, which they did with glee.

I was truly blown away by Andrew Tinkers’ set.
imageI’ve been aware of him for at least a few years now, but had never seen a show, and even without a band to flesh out the songs, he did an extraordinary job of getting people into the music, all with little effort on his part.

Everything about him — his music, his persona, etc. — exuded happiness, and you could clearly tell he was enjoying being on this stage. As for the music, is what made it was so easy to get into and like it was simply how infectious it was.

He’s a phenomenal artist, and now I have an even stronger desire to see one of his full-band performances.

His next show is scheduled for June 14th at The Foundry in Dallas, and do check out his two albums in iTUNES.

The night was nearly over, and before the final act, patrons were told that, thanks to a generous donation from one company, proceeds had exceeded five thousand dollars. People were also informed that the only way the artists were getting paid this night was by a couple cases of beer back in the green room, as they, too, had donated their time and skills to be here.

With that, Exit 380 was introduced to everyone, and fitting with the tone of the other artists, they were doing this show acoustic.
imageSinger and multi-instrumentalist Dustin Blocker and lead (and for this night the only) guitarist Aaron Borden stepped on stage, each taking a seat on a stool. “Our names Exit 380, and we’re gonna play some music for you.” Blocker told those in the theater, as Aaron plucked the strings of his guitar, the first few notes of “Soul Burning Train” sounding even better acoustic than they do normally. It was like it just fit the song better, a song that they kept pretty low-key for the first bit. The Hutchison brothers, Jon “The Hutch” and Jeremy entered shortly after, the former grabbing his bass and taking a seat, while Jeremy (who usually is the second guitarist) was adding the percussion, striking a djembe.
imageBlocker added to the rhythm by shaking a tambourine, and once that first number was done, he gave a shout-out to Brandon Callies for getting the night started. “I’ll talk about Tinker later. Let’s keep rolling.” he told Aaron, who had asked him if he wanted to go ahead and do that, too.

That first song was one Aaron wrote, and now they went back in their extensive catalog and pulled out another, this one coming from 2006’s “Last Monday” record, “Closure”. It’s unquestionably one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever written, and making it even more extraordinary this night was how Blocker spaced out several words on the first verse, giving it more of a punch. “…Tell your heart and border guards, let me through.” goes the chorus of one of their songs that truly is better suited for the acoustic setting. Even then, The Hutchs’ bass riffs still proved very dominate.
imageDuring the next break was when Blocker took a second to thank Andrew Tinker for playing, as well as inviting him back out on stage to play piano for them on a couple of songs. “…He’s a fantastic producer…” Blocker said of Tinker, making people aware of a lesser known fact of the musicians. He went on to say he asked Andrew if he’d like to join them on this song when the recently recorded the track for the latest compilation record Hand Drawn Records put out. “…He said ‘yup’, with a ‘u’.” Blocker clarified, as they changed things up slightly with “The Love Sleeps”. When not singing, Blocker had his harmonica in full swing on that vibrant track. He dedicated it to his son, Jack, who was running around the theater at the time, and he put his son on the spot by asking him what he thought of that one. “He’s three, so he’s a little shy.” Blocker told the crowd after not getting a response from his kid. It was a cool moment, and out of all the times I’ve seen them, I can say I’ve never seen that happen in the clubs of Deep Ellum or Denton.
imageThey shifted gears after that, as they headed for some of their newest material, and Blocker noted that out of their fifteen-year existence, they have never recorded a song written by another artist, until now. Apparently, they’ve decided to try their hand at Townes van Zandts’ “Pancho and Lefty”, and they did a wonderful rendition of it. Given the new direction their music is headed in, it fits well with the themes, and the most stunning moment came on the last verse and chorus, when Aaron took the reins on the lead singing. It was one of my favorites songs of theirs this night, and once it was done Blocker did confirm it will be on “Photomaps”, which is due out in July, and apparently, it will only be available only on vinyl.

Tinker left, and Jeremy switched from the djembe to his mandolin for the Spanish sounding, “La Rosa Carlina”. Towards the end, Blocker’s sister, Christi, stepped out of the wings, and she provided some backing vocals on the last portion, “…Dance Carlina, you lovely thing. You are the best I have ever seen…”. She was formally introduced to the audience; and I have to say, anytime they make the band more of a family affair like this (which is rare), I can’t help but think back to the CD release show for “The Life and Death…” album, which featured several family members of all (at the time) four band members.
imageBut I digress. She stayed on through the next song, a “chill one” as Blocker put it, that they had written on their last album, but rarely get to play. He also paid his sister a compliment, saying she was an even better singer than he is. That could be debated, though she does have a lovely voice, and it’s nearly every bit as distinctive as her brothers’. She helped them out by singing on the choruses of “Where Do We Go From Here”, and some other points here and there, before leaving.
imageMy personal favorite song from the “Townies” album, “Missy Gardner”, came next, and it’s another one of those songs that’s built perfectly for the acoustic setting. However, they weren’t done with their special guests just yet.

Since Brandon Callies had, had them on stage with him, they returned the favor, but Blocker stated that singing on a song you don’t know is much harder than playing harmonica on one you don’t know. Brandon did have a “cheat sheet” with him, though I never really saw him use it on “Run For The Gold”. Blocker tucked the tambourine underneath his shoulder, striking it at steady intervals. The additional vocals on the song sounded great, but the ultimate moment came at the third verse, when Blocker, Borden and Callies all harmonized with one another, doing it more a cappella, as the instruments cut out for just a few moments.
image“I asked him in the dressing room if he’d sing with us, and he had a spot on harmony so I said, ‘You’re hired’.” Blocker joked as Brandon left the stage. They next did the chipper sounding “A Song About Us”, after which Blocker made clear that they weren’t going to wear out their welcome, and they had just one song left, and the closer of their 42-minute set was another gem from “Last Monday”, “2 Lie”. It’s such a catchy number, and brings an upbeat vibe with it. “…Don’t you ever lie to me!” Blocker belted in his deeper register at the end, cleaning the song up a bit (“ever” isn’t the usual word) for the young ears who were listening.

They’re not usually an acoustic act (and regular drummer Bobby “Shoes” Tucker was missed), but they’ve been doing this for so long, they have plenty of songs that can fit the style. It’s even better in some ways, because it better showcases the harmonies Blocker and Aaron do.
imageThey, too, will be playing The Foundry in Dallas on June 14th (that’s a free show by the way), and their album release shows will be happening on July 13th at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth and August 8th at the House of Blues in Dallas. And until “Photomaps” drops, head over to iTUNES and pick up their older material.

From start to finish this was a great night, and both attendees and the band members left knowing they had done a small bit of good, which is payment enough.

Friday, May 16th, 2014 - Waking Alice Rocks Arlington

Since opening, The Chuggin’ Monk has been making Arlington a sweet spot to go see live music. I enjoyed my first trip there a few months back, and since, it seems like they’ve stepped things up even more, and are pretty consistently having great talent grace the stage. This specific night was good proof of that, as Ghostlight Concerts was putting on quite the rock show.

I missed the opening band entirely (the young rockers of Paradigm), and got there while Zero was in the midst of their set.

The two guitarists of the Stephenville-based quartet, Waylon Glover and PJ Ramirez, also did the singing, and they alternated ever so often, giving their alt/rock sounds a little different style, depending on who was supplying the vocals. What I heard, they had a really good sound to them, and their performance was good enough to keep you watching.

I have to confess, I wasn’t familiar with any of the bands on this bill aside from Waking Alice, who had taken the eleven-o’clock slot and were up next.

It had been awhile since I had last seen the band (last November), and apart from playing a few shows during 2014, they’ve also been busy writing new music, which they recently tracked in the studio. That meant new songs were abundant this night, with the older favorites mixed in as well.
imageTheir 41-minute long set got going in a very different fashion than normal. Jonn Levey began an intro piece on the drums, before Brayton Bourque laid some bass lines over it, and shortly after Brandon Brewer joined the mix with his guitar. It was a low-key piece they cranked out, which sounded quite good, and was more or less the calm before the storm. Even when frontman Rus Chaney joined them on stage, nothing happened right away, and then Brandon, who was facing the back of the stage and had one foot resting on the drum riser, launched into the blistering riffs of “Treason”. That was more the Waking Alice everyone is used to, and they followed it with the only other track they did from the “Retribution” EP this night, “Scars”.

“I need everyone to take a step back. It’s getting too crazy up here.” Rus said once the song had ended. The sarcasm got a chuckle from those who were in front of the stage, all of whom took a few steps towards the band. After bantering with the crowd for a moment, they got into the new songs, though “Paper, Rock, Shotgun” is one that has been around for a little while at the live performances. It’s a softer track in comparison to what they had done thus far, and the spotlight fell on Brandon for a time, as he produced a rather technical looking (and sounding) solo.

Now that the fans and other patrons had been warmed up, it was time for one of their newest numbers. It was a bit different from anything else I’ve heard Waking Alice do before, and apparently, writing these new songs sparked some growth in them. It still had the semi-heavy parts, but it was balanced out by a tranquil guitar solo, and at a certain point, Rus retreated to the wings of stage left. Brayton, Brandon and Jonn had a killer instrumental break, and once Jonn slowed the drumming, Rus stepped back on stage. Things were amping up, sounding like it was about to roar back to life, and then Rus moved one of his hands across his throat to make the cutoff sign, as his band mates pulled back. There were a lot of layers to that one and a nice tone, all of which attributed to it having a great deal of depth.
imageAfterwards, they jumped to the other side of the spectrum, doing a song from “The Shaping” EP, which predates Rus’s time with the band. “Biggest Lie” is still a favorite, though, and Rus gives it his own twist, while the ever-changing guitar solos Brandon throws in on the song always leaves you wondering, “What is he going to do this time?” “That’s Brandon.” Rus said as he took a seat on the drum riser. The solo seemed a little shorter this time around (it seems like he’s shredded for three minutes or so in the past), but no less captivating than it always is. “That’s Jonn.” Rus told everyone, making his formal introductions of the band, though it was Brayton who took over with a bass solo. “Alright, now Jonn.” said Rus, when the drum solo came after the bass. The song ended, but Brayton wasn’t done, and kept riffing. “Your times over.” Rus joked with him, before informing the audience the next song was “Hostage”.

They were back in full rock swing rock mode with that fierce number; and while standing and leaning on Brandon, Rus motioned for him to play his guitar from the top side of the neck. So, Brandon moved his hand above it, making what he was doing look that much more impressive. The crowd applauded that wicked guitar solo he knocked out, and then they started to close things down with “November Burns”, which I personally thought was the best of the new songs. At least out of what they did this night. Like the other brand new on, there were plenty of layers to the track, though it maintained a real raw vibe throughout. “Handcuffs and Honeybees” wound up being the closer, and it got off to a rip-roaring start with a bass solo from Brayton, before Brandon strode over to stage right and the two jammed together.
imageAs always, it was a great show, filled with tasty riffs and a good deal of energy; and I have to say, I really like the new direction the band seems to be going in. Parts of those newest songs made them sound reminiscent of a lounge act, and surprisingly, they pulled it off well. It gives their music a freshness, while still retaining and sounding like what people expect from Waking Alice. The beauty in that is that it keeps you intrigued, so it’s hard to lose interest in it.

This new album is sure shaping up to be an interesting one, and I have a feeling it will represent a new direction for Waking Alice (in the right direction).

Their EP release show is set for July 18th at The Curtain Club in Dallas. If you don’t already have their most recent EP, head over to iTUNES to pick it up. It’ll get you warmed up for the new music to come.

Up next was another band out of Fort Worth, Head of Savage. They still had some time to kill before their set, but not knowing what else to do, they just decided to start a couple minutes early.

It was mentioned a few times during their set that they have a new album coming out soon, and I’m pretty confident all of their songs drew from it this night. “I could hardly hear myself…” singer and rhythm guitarist Lewis Wall told the sound guy after their opening song, as they took a moment to work out all the bugs. The vocals sounded good out in the crowd, though, and then he joked with everyone that he had probably been in the wrong key on all of that one. “What’s up pool sharks?  Working hard or hardly working?” he asked all the people gathered in the other section of the venue, some of whom were involved enough with their game that I don’t think they even knew a band was on stage.

“This song’s called Seven.” he informed those who were paying attention, before serving up another killer rock song. Then, after telling the meager crowd how grateful they were that they had stayed to watch them, they did one that I believe was called “For a Time”. Upon finishing it, mention was made of their first EP, which was available for free download, and Lewis told everyone they could Google the band’s name. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of it before?” he said, referring to that thing called Google, then he joked that if you were having trouble remembering their name, just think “Head of Cabbage”. “This next one’s a fun one.” he said, speaking of their next track. There were some very intricate parts from all of them on it, including bassist Ben Sutton and lead guitarist Carson Bullard, whose stage presence and energy was a cut above the rest (I mean that in general terms about most band members of any band.) He was thrashing around and just tore it up on his axe. That wasn’t the only time this night, either.
imageAnother new song was coming next, then Lewis stopped himself and acknowledged that he knew all of these were new to everyone in the first place. “We’ve only played this a couple of times.” Ben added, before a song that, if I heard correctly, was titled “Not Fortuitous”. In warming up, Lewis had done a lot of screaming, none of which had really been on display so far. It was on that song, though, and Carson and Ben helped him with some backing vocals on what was one of their most intense tracks of the night. “I’m so out of shape.” Lewis said aloud after the final notes, as it evidently took a little toll on him.

Unsure of how much time they had left, they checked with the sound guy. “Five hours?” Lewis joked with him, saying they had enough material for that. They did flub the start of their next number, and had to redo it, but that was the only real mistake I caught from them this night. A short discussion of how the rest of the set would play out came next, and drummer Ethan Stone could be heard saying there was one song he really wanted to do. “I don’t know why.” he told his band mates, it was just one he wanted to play. They had enough time for two more, and they concluded their show with “Thirsty”. “”If you’re thirsty, that’s what this song is.” Lewis said beforehand, prompting a reaction of “What?” from the onlookers, until he clarified it.

It’s always nice to see a band you’ve never heard of before, and then end up being impressed with how solid they are, and that was just the feeling I got after watching Head of Savage perform.

They rocked it, doing a good job of following up the act before them, and once more people started paying attention to them, they seemed taken aback with what a dynamic show the group was putting on.

They had a good presence about them, and the fact that they mixed some humor in-between their full throttle rock songs was something I enjoyed. Check ‘em out if you get a chance, you’ll be glad you did.

You can get their EP and another track potentially for free on their BANDCAMP PAGE, and keep an ear out for their new album, too.

There was one band left, and that was Fouled Out. This was the third straight night I had been out, though, and with tiredness starting to set in and knowing if I stayed for them it would be about three before I even got home, I decided to call it a night.

Awesome show, though, and it was well worth the trip to Arlington.

Thursday, May 15th, 2014 – Sam Morrow Makes Magic at Opening Bell Coffee

Every now and then, you get an email informing you of a band or musician that is new to your ears. That was how I discovered Sam Morrow, and I must give a shout-out to the good people at 1888 Media for making me aware of him.

The folk singer/songwriter grew up in Texas, before eventually relocating to California, but with a new album just released; he had to come back to his home state for a string of shows.

The Dallas date was taking place at Opening Bell Coffee, which provides the perfect intimate setting to see a singer/songwriter. I was a little late to the show. It started at eight, and it was probably ten minutes after when I got there, walking in just as Sam finished what I’m guessing was probably the second song of the night.
imageAs I grabbed a seat in the crowded little room, he introduced everyone to Matt Bradford, who gave the songs a more fleshed out sound via a pedal steel guitar and a lap steel (which he alternated between).

I at least made it in time to hear one of my favorites from the “Ephemeral” album, “Old Soul”. There’s no way you can even equate the recorded version of it (or any of the songs) to how they sounded live. As soon as his rich and at times booming voice made its appearance, you were transfixed (the people who were there for the show were, at least.) That doleful song was one of the best this night, and while he’s still a relatively young musician, he’s already very in tune with everything, like the times he raised the level of his voice, gradually stepping back from the microphone the louder he got.

“This next song’s called Gone.” Sam told the crowd, as they did another melancholy track, on which the pedal steel added a great tone to it. “What’s up, everyone?” he asked, getting a mixed response from the spectators, some of whom where there to see him, and others were so involved in their conversations I don’t think they even knew a musician was on the stage. The duo did one of the more upbeat tracks from the album, just don’t confuse that with happy. “…That whiskey and that heroin helped me grow my new skin…” sang Sam near the start of “14”, which is just one of the songs that offers some insight into his past life, which is one of the best connections a musician can make with their fans.

The cover portion of the set followed, and first up was a song that surprised me a little, as Sam put his spin on “Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr. Indeed, it was his own spin, and while it lacked the bluesy sound of the original, it seemed to have even more energy in it, which is saying something, considering he had no full band. However, his acoustic guitar and the lap steel that Matt had now switched out to were more than enough for an excellent rendition, especially when Sam played a brief solo, followed by Matt soloing on his lap steel.

“We got a lively crowd… Don’t get too crazy.” Sam joked after that song. At least he saw the humor in it and could joke about the situation. That first cover may have been one some people knew and others might not have, but now they moved on to one that everyone should know, Springsteens’ “Dancing in the Dark”. The Boss is one of those musicians that while countless bands may cover his music, few, if any, could ever do anything to improve on it. I’m not saying Sam improved on it, either, though he has crafted a version that does it justice, and the little nuances make it his. Nuances like stretching out the word “shoulders” on the line “I’ll shake this world off my shoulders.”, then pausing after it, to the changing of a line from the final chorus to, “You can’t start a fire, sitting around trying to mend a broken heart.”

“I just released a record, uh… Two weeks ago.” Sam informed the crowd after that number, though he did have to think a moment on how long that record had been out. He pointed to where he had his merch setup, telling people they could buy it there. “We just started accepting credit cards… We’re fancy.” he cracked, before giving everyone another highlight moment of the night, this time in the form of “Run”. After all those originals they had done, it was hard to believe the mood could get anymore woeful, though it was about to.

“This one is extra sad. I mean, they’re all sad, but this one’s even more sad.” he told everyone, speaking of the subsequent track from his album, “December”. There is more of a somber tone on that one than any other, and it was conveyed well this night. “Give a hand for Matt, who keeps switching back and forth.” Sam asked of everyone afterwards. He had been going between the lap and pedal steel quite a bit over those last few songs, then Sam quipped that he tries to make him switch as often as he possibly can. That earned him a laugh from the audience and a grin from his band mate.

Even though I walked in slightly late, I still got to see 44-minutes of the show; and now, with that time almost up, they did what I’m guessing was another cover, but maybe not. Either way, it was one I didn’t recognize, but sounded quite good. I did know the closer, however, which was “Sure Thing”, and while it continued the gloomy mood, it managed to end the set on a sort of positive note.

I genuinely love the singer/songwriter genre, and from my experience, it’s rare that you find one who really takes your breath away with their talent, but that was just what Sam Morrow did this night. At least that was the feeling I got, and I’m sure a few others, too.

I was told that live, Sam was even better than how the album sounded, and that doesn’t begin to cover it. His voice was utterly astounding, and the integrity his music has (especially lyrically) further made this into a true experience.

He’s definitely better live, and that way, you can also chat with him and see what an easy to talk to and down-to-earth guy he is.

If you ever get the chance, go see a Sam Morrow concert. It would be a good investment of your time (and money).

He has no shows booked at this moment, but whenever some pop up, you’ll be able to find them HERE. Be sure to pick up a copy of “Ephemeral”, too.

What a great way to spend a Thursday evening, and I’m already looking forward to Sam’s next Dallas show, whenever that may be.