Thursday, January 31st, 2013 – Part I: Centro-Matic

I don’t get up to Denton too often these days, but there’s at least one night a month when there’s a show up there I want to see. And for this was the night for this month.

There were actually a couple of shows I wanted to see here this night, but the one at Dan’s Silverleaf took priority in my opinion. Centro-matic was doing a rarer string of shows in Texas this weekend, and it began with a hometown gig at that fine venue, which was presented by Spune Productions.

The only opening act was Tony Ferraro & the Satans of Soft Rock, who also reside in Denton, and are a collective effort of several notable area musicians, led by, of course, Tony Ferraro.

Beginning their 38-minute long set was a song, “Children In Fur Coats”, from their first official EP, “Friend of Man and Beast Alike”. It definitely held true to the “soft rock” portion of the band’s name, at least for the most part. It was rock music, but nothing too intense, at least not until the end, when Justin Collins drumming picked up, becoming something you could really bang your head to. Afterwards, Tony stated what an honor it was to be on this bill. “…Up next are the people… The people who I can’t say enough nice things about without saying too many nice things…” he said, obviously filled with glee that he was opening for the iconic, Centro-matic. They did another couple, one of which I think was “I Am The Engine”, which was a very catchy number, and stands out as my favorite from their set. The song titles got a little more creative with their next one, “Assemble the Bitch Wolves”. It was a slower one, a bit somber is some ways, and featured an outstanding guitar riff/solo from lead guitarist, Ryan Becker. Mr. Becker is certainly one of the most prolific musicians in D/FW scene, and while the bands he fronts are some of the best around, it’s also something to see him as just a guitar player. Not having to do all the singing means he can focus all of his attention to playing the guitar. It’s something to marvel at, you quickly realize, as an instrumentalist, he is one of the best. Not just in the local scene here, either, but in general. They kept the final notes of the song going, while Tony, Ryan and Justin presumably discussed how to go into the next song, which Justin soon transitioned them into with some beats, while bassist, David Howard, laid down some heavy riffs, too. That segued them into “Diaspora”, an incredible song that made great use of the keyboard, which was manned by Chris Gomez. Four more songs came next in the setlist, none of which I knew, and on the first of those Tony and Ryan pulled off some gorgeous harmonies as they crooned. After that slew of songs, they were left with enough time to do one more. In case you don’t know, Tony plays bass in one of Ryan Becker’s bands, Last Joke, and the EP that band has released features one of Tony’s songs, “No, We Can’t Be Friends”. That was the one that brought this show to a close, and again found both Tony and Ryan doing some co-singing.

I expected I’d enjoy their show, but not to the extent that I did. Tony has several recordings available to download, many of which are more demo quality, and it’s hard to gauge how a band will sound based on that. That’s not to say I hadn’t enjoyed said recordings, though. They [the songs] sounded so much more impressive live and took the Satans from being a band I had never seen live, to one I’d like to see many times over.

The few glimpses I’ve caught of Tony’s voice, I’ve enjoyed it, and this night I was shown that he definitely has the chops to front a band. There’s a real folk quality to his singing voice, which sounds excellent on the slower songs, but he’s able to push it enough to where it also works on their more rock numbers.

They were very polished, and it was evident that they had put in a lot of work in rehearsing for this show, making them a worthy act to open for Centro-matic. As far as Satans’ shows go, I don’t think they play too terribly often. But to keep up to date with everything, just keep a check on their FACEBOOK PAGE. You can also check out all of their recordings on their BANDCAMP page, all of which are FREE to download (though you can pay for them if you want.)

It was only barely after ten, and already the members of Centro-matic were setting up their gear. It made me think that this may indeed be an earlier night, which would be great, because it would allow me to squeeze in one last band while here in Denton.

A little after 10:30, Will Johnson, Mark Hedman, Matt Pence and Scott Danbom stepped on stage. They hadn’t sold the place out like I thought they might, but there was a very healthy crowd there for a Thursday night, and everyone packed in tight around the stage, as they guys set to work…

“Flashes & Cables” opened up their set, as Will began softly singing the first few lines of it, “If we found the time, if we found the merriment. If we found the words, we’d scratch them in new cement…” They found their footing once they hit the chorus, when it swelled to a powerful rock number, due largely to the driving beats Matt was banging out. Upon finishing it, Will took a moment to thank Tony Ferraro. “…I salute your golden souls…” he said, speaking of the band. He genuinely seemed taken by their talent, and went on to say that they would take them to their next two gigs the following nights in Austin and Fort Worth, “…Somehow…”, Will added. After swooning over them for a few minutes, they continued on with the show. “…This next one is Fountains of Fire…” Will stated, as they tackled the song from 2001’s, “Distance and Clime” album. It seemed a bit too slow to me, at least too slow for so early on in the set. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, though, and plenty of people seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. The fans really didn’t get a chance to applaud that one, though, as Will played some notes on his guitar, winding it right into “Against the Line”. It was one of a few they did from their current record, “Candidate Waltz”, and it shows the unique knack Mr. Johnson has for penning songs, as there is no real chorus to it, yet it stands out as one of the strongest in both their catalog and live show. A brief break occurred afterwards, which lightened the mood as Will proceeded to talk about the “fun” they had been having in Denton earlier in the day. He mentioned that they had been hanging out, I believe on the east side of the square, where the “…Swords, gas masks and helmets…” were. The conversation lasted for a few minutes, and he mentioned how “exotic” the shop was. “…The trick is trying to figure out to write off swords, gas masks and helmets on your taxes…” he finished, before moving on, saying the next song was called “Iso-Residue”. That made for two of their most recent songs getting played back-to-back, and threw one more in there, segueing it into “All the Talkers”. I think they extended the break that happens about halfway through, to the point it made you think the song was over, before they started building it back up. That finished up the “Candidate Waltz” record, at least for the time being, but the band had another trick up their sleeve. Will casually mentioned that they had started working on a new record within the last month. He even dropped the title of it, which will be “Take Pride in Your Long Odds”, and they cranked out a tune that will appear on it. It sounded quite good, and now has me very intrigued about this forthcoming album. Sometime during the song, it hit a lull, during which Scott stood up from the keyboards he had been manning, walked over to center stage and got the bass from Mark, who in turn went and grabbed his guitar, giving them a fuller rock sound as they closed out that new track. (At least I assume that was all part of the same song.) Getting all that new stuff out of the way now meant it was time for the “hits”, or perhaps fan favorites is a better word to use, like “The Mighty Midshipman”, which Matt started them off on. Some more small talk was made once they finished it, and Will pointed out the unusual “…balance of people by the bar…” There was a cluster of them over in that direction, while the stage right section of the audience was pretty bare. “…There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said, “It’s just different…” He also set up the next song, another from the same album as their previous one, “Argonne Limit Co”. “…It’s about deep, dark holes… Lined with crystals…” he said. It was another softer one, but this far into the set, they had already established their rock dominance, so it was nice hearing them switch it up a bit. “Calling Thermatico” followed, which was a fitting one, as it brought things back up a little bit, but still had a similar flow as the one they had just done. Perhaps the best part of that song was near the end, when Will began clapping his hands rather rapidly, as he repeatedly crooned into the mic, “Oooooohh…”. They had something else in store from the nearly seven-year-old “Fort Recovery”, and it was my personal favorite Centro-matic song, “Patience For The Ride”. “…You can’t touch the forces of our hurricane, the forces of our hurricane hearts…” sang Will, changing up the first verse slightly from how it is on the recording, while Scott occasionally added some backing vocals to the mix. They raced through the barely over a minute-long, “The Connections Not so Civilized”, before getting to “Mandatory On the Attack”, which is off their earliest album. Its fast paced beats, and quick plucking of the strings on the guitars and bass, make it an insanely catchy tune. Well, that and the fact that Will manages to keep up with it all effortlessly, with the lyrics spewing from his mouth with ease. Upon finishing it, Scott relinquished his bass duties, giving it back to Mark, while he returned to the keys. That took them into “Huge In Every City”, where the keys were very prevalent, and one of the best things about the song. With the exception of the lengthy instrumental outro, where all four of them really let their musicianship take over, showing what pros they really are. At one point during all of that, Will even proceeded to jump up and down. Next, they cranked out “Rock And Roll Eyes”, which is one of their truest rock songs, and I’m glad it’s still a mainstay in their live sets, despite it being one of their oldest songs. Matt/patched the end of it right into the next song, which was the only other one I didn’t know this night. It sounded quite good, though. They took another break, while they welcomed an additional guitarist on stage, giving him time to set up. “Brent Best, everybody!” Will exclaimed, as the man walked on stage. He stuck around for their last few songs, which included the first single from “Candidate Waltz”, “Only In My Double Mind”. The beats at the beginning were very rhythmic, to the point of being hypnotic, and you knew right away you were about to hear something special. They really cut loose during the instrumental break in the middle of it, showing that Brent brought a lot to the table, and, if only for a few songs, helped elevate the bands performance to an even higher level than before (who knew that was possible.) It was Will who really rocked out, though, dropping to his knees as he just shred on his guitar for a bit. That could have been an excellent note to end on, but they had one last thing planned, and that was the shorter, “Fidgeting Wildly”, which capped off a 71-minute long set.

You would think an encore would be imminent, but after a minute or so passed, I started to wonder. After all, that had been quite a show, and anything they might have had left would be icing on the cake. Then, just when I was about to give up and leave, the four guys walked back on the stage, Will sans his guitar.

I had no clue what to expect, and Will prefaced it by saying it was going to be a love song. It was indeed, and a damn fine one at that. It was called “Love Has Found Me Somehow”, and was a sweet love song, without being too mushy, and Will even got almost everyone in the crowd to join him on a whistling part, which was a pretty cool moment, but not the best. First off, let me say that the beard Mr. Johnson was sporting makes him appear rather prophetic, like he could be some spiritual guru who could tell what the meaning of life is. Hell, the music he writes is so smart it kind of attests to that, and all of that served to make what happened next that much funnier in my opinion. Scott, Matt and Mark lightened the music, as Will announced he had invented a new dance. “…It might not be good,” he warned, “but it’s new…” He had dubbed it the “Belgian Waffle Maker”, saying it came from the free breakfast that the Hampton Inn offers, where you can make your own waffles. Catch is, it ends at ten in the morning. “…Now, ten’s a little too early. But okay, I’ll be there…” he said, and that joke received lots of laughs. He was very detailed with it all, saying when you get to the breakfast bar, there’s a line, “…of every single other person who waited until nine fifty-one to get up…”. Here’s where the dance came in, as he was talking about having to watch everyone make their waffle, and flip it over and over and over again. While he was talking about flipping them, he mimicked the motion with his hands, which he had pressed together, flipping from one side to the other. You really had to be there to fully get it, and it was damn near one of the funniest things I’ve seen at a show. But best of all, that wasn’t the only new dance he had created, and he said he had also done one with his daughter a few days before. I think he said something like, “I’m not sure if it traumatized her or not…”, before he began randomly placing his hands all over his body, then moved them elsewhere, and he picked up speed the longer he did it. By the time that ended, I was near tears from laughing so hard, so it was a good thing they resumed the song and closed it out. That wasn’t the end of the show, though. No, they had one final song for everybody, and closing out their 11-minute encore was “Tied to the Trailer”, during which they again enlisted some help from Brent Best.

I haven’t seen many concerts so far this year, but this was the best one yet. And I have a strong feeling it’ll be one of the best ones I see all year.

Very few bands make it to see their sixteenth year, and all the time they’ve spent together is obvious at their live show. Despite the fact that they all live in different cities now, and they don’t play too often, they are still tighter than most bands could ever hope to be, and while they are seasoned veterans, they can give even the youngest, most energetic bands a run for their money in terms of performance.

Centro-matic really is an institution when it comes to Texas music, and are hands down one of the best acts in the state. I just hate that I didn’t really come across them until late 2011.

They have a bounty of records you can buy, all of which can be purchased HERE. And while they don’t have any shows at the moment, they will no doubt be back out sometime later in the year. Hopefully they’ll get back to the Dallas area for another gig before they release the record they’re currently working on, too.

That may have been the end of this show, but my night in Denton wasn’t quite over with yet…