Album Review: Mesocyclone by Nicholas Altobelli

imageNicholas Altobelli is a singer/songwriter through and through, perfectly embodying the genre.

One reason I say that is because just last year, in the earlier part of 2013, he released Without a Home to much critical acclaim, garnering praise from the smallest to the biggest media outlets in North Texas, and even from areas elsewhere. It was a different record for him, as he enlisted the help from several friends and fellow musicians, making it into a full-band effort, and in doing so left behind the solo, almost Americana/folk sound for some more poppy tracks.

Shortly after releasing it, though, he was already talking about a follow-up, even starting on songs for it. However, the year plus it has taken to create and release said follow-up wasn’t an easy one for Altobelli. His marriage came to an end during that time, and he also found himself going back to college to pursue a degree in history.

The result of that heartache is the 6-song Mesocyclone EP. The Gigawatts (his backing band) are again utilized, though they return to what Altobelli does best: folk/Americana songs. Poignant ones at that, and even though he’s known for writing more somber songs, this collection takes it to a new level.

The title of the EP isn’t the only weather reference on this album. Take for example the title of the lead track, “Thunderstorms”. While a full-band may be used, the most prominent elements of the music are still Nicholas’ voice and acoustic guitar, though the heavy use of the drums adds a nice kick to the song, while the pedal steel guitar creates some gorgeous moments, though you can hear that even those notes have a tinge of sadness to them. Various metaphors of wind and rain are weaved in as Altobelli croons about the beginning stages of a relationships demise, trying to put a positive spin on it. “…I just want you to know, thunderstorms don’t last.”

Each song tells the next line in the story, and for “Black or Blue”, that seems to be a line about how important communication is. “If I only understood, I could have been your king. If I only understood, you would have kept this ring…” Altobelli woefully sings. This is a contender for the saddest song on the album, and it’s one filled with what ifs, forever wondering if things had been different how they might have worked out. The saddest thing is, it’s hoping they still will [work out], as the chorus, “And I know that tomorrow you will see what’s been missing you…” suggests.

“I called your bluff and I called it hard. Now I’m left with a clotted scar…” goes the second verse of “Pretty Little Daffodil”, a track that finds Altobelli going back to his roots as a solo musician, armed with only an acoustic guitar. That format is behooving of the mood the song has, which is partly about how hard it is to say goodbye to someone you’ve come to know so much about and spent so much time with.  There’s also a soft and subtle sound of rain mixed into the track, helping intensify the mood.

“Memories” is a little more about acceptance of the situation, albeit reluctant acceptance. Altobelli is one of the best lyricists in the North Texas music scene and that talent is showcased exceedingly well on this track, especially on the final verse, “…Just like the love cherished, this too will perish. The memories we had are all that we’ll ever have…” The track exudes heartache, which shines through on every word. “Memories” also sees the return of The Gigawatts, and the piano is heavily featured, and it and the acoustic often complement one another. Quite well, I might add.

In making this EP, Altobelli also looked to the past, resurrecting a song from the Dog Years EP, “Summer Rain”. The fact that this version is so much more fleshed out with the drums, pedal steel, etc. makes it all the more impressive over the original version. It may have been written years prior, yet it fits the story arc of this record surprisingly well. It sounds desolate, and even with a band, that feeling is conveyed in the music. You’ll feel broken just by simply listening to it.

The delicate sound of rain falling is again heard behind the acoustic and Altobellis’ voice on “Odd Numbers”. It’s a fitting closing number, and despite being hurt, the core message is love is always worth it. “…I wouldn’t trade it in to ease the pain that I felt.” he softly sings as the first verse ends. It’s really a simple song in certain aspects, often repeating the chorus. But as I’ve said before about other bands: there’s beauty in simplicity. “…Yes, the darkness came, but the light sure gave a try…”. That’s such  a powerful line, and my take away from it is regardless how something ends, you should just be glad it happened in the first place. Be grateful you got to experience it for some amount of time, even if you’re left not understanding everything.

It’s sad that the most ardent music has to be born out of the most anguishing of circumstances. Yet in some cruel twist of fate, there’s also beauty in that.

I’m sure there are countless numbers of examples of that in music, and I can think of a few myself, where one album a band produces ends up being superior to anything else they have or perhaps even will do, because it’s so raw. Such is the case with Nicholas Altobelli and Mesocyclone.

The life changing events that he went through led to the best music he has done to date. Yes, it’s even better than Without a Home.

It’s so personal, and he has no trouble laying it all out there for the listener; and I imagine this was somewhat of a cathartic experience for him, too.

As I said, Nicholas Altobelli isn’t known for being the cheeriest songwriter there is, but Mesocyclone takes the sadness and despair often found in his music to a whole new level, completely immersing you in the breakup. It’s so rare you get a front row seat like that.

Don’t let that somber tone keep you from listening, though. This may not be an uplifting record, but it’s one you have to listen to. Savor how fluid these six songs are. How they gradually progress the tale. A tale that takes a mere 22-minutes to tell; and once it’s over, just be grateful you were given this glimpse into the life of Altobelli.

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES (you can pre-order it now. Official release date is August 5th.) / Amazon / CD / Bandcamp

Visit Nicholas Altobellis’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:
Saturday, August 2nd at House of Blues in Dallas / Friday, August 8th at All Good Café in Dallas
image(Photo credit: Sally Durrum)

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.

Album Review: “The Dark” by Waking Alice

imageWaking Alice has been around the North Texas music scene longer than most, though it wasn’t until mid-2012 when the current incarnation came to be.

With Rus Chaney as the new lead vocalist and Jonn Levey taking the role of the drummer, they got back into the performing circuit; and three singles came shortly after, allowing them to display the new lineup.

It’s hard to believe that’s already been nearly two years ago, and in those two years, the four-piece outfit has deepened their chemistry, which has resulted in even better material, which is showcased on their first legitimate EP (as this lineup).

The Dark starts with the two most recently written songs in the bands catalog, beginning with what is perhaps the best cut on the EP: “November Burns”. As the title of the EP suggests, these are darker songs, and topic wise, they are a bit different from their first three singles. This is a song about being betrayed by those close to you, offering a vivid account of it. “Waking now from this nightmare of mine; the sutures all but gone…” Rus sings in his unmistakable, slightly gruff tone of voice; and you can feel the raw emotion of it all. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Waking Alice tune without some sort of guitar solo, which Brandon Brewer adds at one point, before eventually easing back into the haunting chord progression of the verses that sticks with you. I’m also fond of the little false ending. A part where live you just might begin to clap, assuming the song is over, before the instrumentalists rip back into it.

“Bi-Polar Heart” is the longest track on the album — nearly five-and-a-half minutes — and the most epic, too. It’s more progressive than anything they’ve done in the past, taking a sudden turn into a very tranquil section that lasts for just a bit. That’s something Waking Alice doesn’t do often (show their soft side). It makes for an interesting change of pace for them, though, and it still retains all the elements that make Waking Alice who they are.

“The Dark” marks the midway point of the EP, which is something a little different for Waking Alice. It’s an instrumental song, which is something I don’t believe they’ve ever done before. They may have lengthy instrumental sections at times, but this is completely different. It’s a high-energy number that keeps the momentum from the first half of the record going, even expanding upon it. One of the best things about it is how each instrument as its own moment. Brayton Bourques’ bass is pretty dominant at the start, then sneaks in later on to accent the drums — which gets a couple of solos. It’s also a little surprising that the guitar is left waiting in the wings for the first half, though it works to the songs advantage, ‘cause when Brandon Brewer does strike with it, it hits fast and hard. At just under two-and-a-half minutes, it’s a perfect length for an instrumental track, letting them better highlight their prowess and instrumentalists, but not dragging on to the point it seems tedious.

“Paper Rock Shotgun” is one song Waking Alice fans have been hearing for quite awhile now, and it has finally been recorded. It’s the antithesis of the first half of the EP. Instead of dealing with backstabbing or the souring of a relationship, it focuses on the blossoming of a new one, one without all the deceit. It brings a hopeful aspect to everything, one that proves that even if you feel down and out, something good can always come along. The instrumental breakdown is also pretty slick, and it’s another track where they fool the listener into thinking it’s over before it roars back to life.

Despite having been recorded at a completely different time, “Hostage” fits perfectly with this collection of songs. For fans, if you look at it as the final piece of the puzzle of this EP, it honestly makes you look at the song in a new light. The nearly year-old track is about rising above whatever’s holding you down and no longer being a victim. “…Now I’m on my feet, I’m gonna kick some ass.” Rus belts on the chorus of what is the heaviest of the five songs.

Not many albums come full circle. That shouldn’t necessarily be a prerequisite for any, but it can be a nice touch. The Dark is one that does.

It starts out one way — with a fairly bleak perspective — and ends by realizing that with the bad, there must also be good; and also you need to take control of the situations around you.

These tracks offer a great look at what Waking Alice has grown into in these last two years, and just what a solid group they are. I’d say it’s the best thing the band has done in all their years together, and it leads you to wonder: If they’ve grown this much as musicians and writers in just two years, then what will the next batch of songs sound like?

Only time will tell, but for now, let’s just savor The Dark.

Waking Alice is:
Rus Chaney - Lead vocals
Brandon Brewer – Guitar and backing vocals
Jonn Levey - Drums
Brayton Bourque - Bass

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit Waking Alice’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter

Current Shows:
 Friday, August 22nd at Tomcats West in Fort Worth / Saturday, September 20th at The Grotto in Fort Worth / Saturday, September 27th at Shipping & Receiving in Fort Worth

image

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.

Single Review: “Man of Means” by The Screaming Thieves

imageMany people have probably been waiting a good long while for Brandon Callies to return to fronting a rock band. Black Tie Vendetta — the band that made him a staple of the North Texas music scene — hasn’t played regularly in years (though they say the band will never actually break up), and while his newest project, the Brandon Callies Band, has some rock elements, it’s equal parts country.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when people learned the other day that he has put yet another iron in the fire, and this one’s being called The Screaming Thieves (which just so happens to be made up of many of the members of the Brandon Callies Band).

They cite influences like Black Sabbath, Muddy Waters, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and MC5; a rather eclectic mix of groups whose styles are heard in The Screaming Thieves first track: “Man of Means”.

It’s a semi-bluesy rock number that is brimming with raw, unbridled rock sounds. The guitar tones and solos have a very magnetizing affect, and are completely pure. That’s to say, it’s just simple, good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. The drums provide a solid backbone for the track, and while the bass and keys are a little less prevalent, they do edge in here and there.

Aside from all that, you get further proof of Brandon Callies’ superb ability as a songwriter. Take for example the line, “…A burden breeds a stronger back to bear a heavy load…”. It’s not all that complex, yet is quite profound.

All of that is condensed into a little under three-minutes; and it sets up a band that is ready to take the Texas music scene by storm. The fact that they are already a part of the Hand Drawn Records family should give them a boost, too.

The Screaming Thieves is:
Brandon Callies – Lead vocals and guitar
Zach Arrington - Vocals and guitar
Omarr Escoffie’ - Vocals and bass
Jason Myers - Vocals and keys
Christina Comley - Drums

Listen to the song on:
Reverbnation

Visit The Screaming Thieves websites:
Facebook / Reverbnation
image

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, 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.

Album Review: “Ellis” by Loyal Sally

imageTwo years ago, just a year into the band, the Dallas folk/rock group Loyal Sally did something few bands manage to: they released two EP’s barely more than six months apart. The momentum that built wound up earning them a plaque on the Wall of Fame at the Curtain Club, and a dedicated fan base followed. Shortly after, both fans and the band began looking ahead to the next album.

Their third release has been talked about for a while now. It was sometime in the latter part of 2013 fans were informed it would be titled “Ellis”, and pictures from the recording studio whet peoples appetites as they anxiously awaited a release date.

The wait for that would take several more months, with the actual album release show being further away, but believe me when I say it was (or will be) a wait well worth it.

“Ellis” starts with one of the bands’ best songs (in my opinion), and the mesmerizing sounds of the acoustic guitar fed through some pedal effects (to the point you would never guess it’s a simple acoustic) start “Solar”. It feels somewhat like a lullaby, in the sense that it has a profoundly soothing quality to it, as singer and rhythm guitarist Michael “Bubba” Lindblom croons on the first few lines. Even once the drums (the drumming is dynamic on this song, by the way) and bass (which is heard well in the mix) come in, it still retains that vibe; and after a few listens through, this catchy number will have you singing right along to it. Also, I have to say I’m quite fond of the soupy backing vocals which are peppered around sparingly and thrown in at just the right moments.

The quartet gets more into the folk/rock sounds they’ve built their name on with “One For the Lost”, which displays both genres equally well. There are the times the folk elements are most prominent, and others where you would swear it was a rock number, while the track traverses feelings of slight despondence with some heartening moments (or rather lines) woven in.

“…In the middle of the night she said, ‘I want your soul.’…” Bubba sings on the chorus of the acoustic “Paradise”. At not quite a minute and a half long, it provides a break of sorts, while still being a song that conveys what it needs to and then ends. The little tune also gives Bubba a chance to display a softer side of his voice, which goes down very smoothly.

That lull then gives way to another highlight, not just of “Ellis”, but of the bands’ catalog in general.  For a primarily acoustic song, “Call Me Crazy” is a vehement one, with blistering riffs assaulting your ears at a near nonstop pace. “…It seems here lately the tides have turned my backs to the wind. I’m glad you came out to celebrate. I’m not sure what you’re celebrating, but good for you anyway.” goes the first line, a line that sets up the rest of the song in just the right manner. Trace amounts of disdain and even sorrow seep into the delivery of the lyrics at times, and a little of both can be heard on the chorus, “…Turn our backs on each other and leave one another for dead…” This is one track that’s sure to get put on repeat by most, simply because the music bed is so irresistible, and I like the way the drums and guitar seem to accent one another on it.

“Officer” is another short offering from the disc, which gets reflective at times, as heard on the second verse, “…When the suffering’s gone I’ll be fixed on this place that I call hell…” I’ll be honest, upon the initial listen, this was one song I didn’t care for in the least, but the more I listened, it started to grow on me. It has a cool little end, too, and the vocals are made to sound electronic, sounding like something you’d hear on a Daft Punk record.

Apart from the current material, the band also looks back, revisiting “Clouds” (a cut from their debut EP). It’s a slightly alternate version, with most of the differences being more subtle. That’s not to say they’re indistinguishable, though it’s not a massive reworking, either. More than anything, the song has gotten a few coats of polish applied to it, making the slow number sound even better than before.

“No I Won’t” starts to wind down “Ellis”, a low-key song that simply oozes a feel good vibe; before the band then takes a look at the future, and offers listeners a glimpse of the new sound they’re working on. I don’t foresee Loyal Sally ditching the folk/rock style that gave them their start, but with “Whiskey Woman”, they show off their chops as country musicians. It’s a raucous song, and with all the hollering and an array of other noises that can be heard in the background, you would think it was recorded live in a saloon back in the Old West. There are even some moments here and there where lead guitarist Michael Morgan harmonizes with Bubba on this rip-roaring number, and they sound great together.

You can’t argue that “Ellis” is Loyal Sally’s best release to date. I mean no disrespect to the previous two EP’s (which sound great), but this one has a better production quality to it, with everything (vocals, instruments) sounding so clear, and it’s noticeable on every song. From the fan perspective, it’s also nice to have a few of those songs you’ve been hearing at live shows for awhile now on a format where you can listen to them whenever you want.

Above all that, you don’t hear the same track ever repeated on this record. Sure, there’s a commonality that binds each song together, but you can’t say that song “A” and “D” are partly identical, or any other variation like that. Each song stands apart from the others, especially that curveball they throw at the end.

The road to making “Ellis” was a long one for Bubba, Michael, Lucas Weiss (bass) and Stacy Blankenship (drums), and the time and work those guys put into it shows on the final product, a product which fans will be indulging their ears with for some time to come.

Loyal Sally is:
Michael “Bubba” Lindblom – Vocals and guitar
Michael Morgan – Guitar and backing vocals
Lucas Weiss – Bass
Stacy Blankenship – Drums

Purchase the album on: iTUNES (CD release date is June 7th)

Visit Loyal Sallys’ websites: Official website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

image