Friday, July 11th, 2014 – Ishi Gears Up for a West Coast Run; Leaves Dallas with One Big, Sweaty Dance Party
This was a big night for Ishi. It was their last North Texas show for about a month, and just weeks later they would be heading out to tour the West Coast.
What better place to have their sendoff show than Trees: a venue they have packed to near or complete capacity on several occasions in the past, and it seemed certain to happen again this night.
As usual when they play Trees, the lineup was made up of acts from all over the place in terms of style, beginning with opener Jenny Robinson and Bearcub.
“Thanks to all ten of you for coming out to see us!” Jenny exclaimed after the curtain had opened. Sadly, that wasn’t much of an exaggeration, and there were only a dozen or more people scattered about the venue. She informed everyone they were a producer and rapper duo — using Timbaland and Missy Elliot as an example — and introduced the handful of spectators to her male counterpart, Bearcub, who had a sort of bear suit draped over him. Perhaps robe is the better word to use, as it hung down below his waist, while a friendly looking bear head covered his own.
“This is our ode to Missy Elliot.” Jenny added, as they started a song that I would guess was titled “Supa Dupa Fly”. I surely wasn’t the only one who had reservations when she first said they were a rap and producer act. Granted, I’m not too familiar with many rappers in the first place, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any white female ones (though I’m sure they’re out there). She quickly proved she has the skill set for it, though, and her rapping ability was off the charts. It was shocking at first, actually, ‘cause I don’t think anyone expected her to be spitting the words out at the speed she was; and Bearcub joined her, as they traded off here and there.
They may not have commanded a large audience, but they won over those who were watching with that first song, and their 28-minute long set continued as they went into another track. “I need some water.” Jenny stated afterwards, while Bearcub mentioned they’d take a quick intermission, and he readied the next track. It only lasted a few seconds, and once they were ready, he shouted, “For the next four-minutes, I’m gonna lose my goddamn mind!” He had shed his bear outfit by this point (I imagine it had gotten pretty warm with it on), and he did get really into the track; and handled much of the main vocals.
Jenny flashed her middle finger in the air for much of the following song, and as it ended, she asked everyone else to do the same. A few people then waved their middle fingers at her. The laughs then came when Bearcub said this next one was titled “Killing All These Hos” and as soon as he mentioned the title, he added, “Before you say anything else, we do not condone the killing of prostitutes. But if you’re a ho, watch out!” Jenny noted that they don’t discriminate, either, and it applied to both male and female hos. It wasn’t all that complex, but was quite catchy; and as Jenny said the last line, she tilted her head back and held the microphone above her mouth.
“Turnt up!” she shouted after another track, before Bearcub said this next song was dedicated to his ex-girlfriend. “Fuck you.” he said very matter-of-factly. In comparison to the others, it was a slower number, and Jenny showed off her singing skills a little, and she had a nice voice. Another cool part came at the end, when she wrapped the mic cord around her neck, then held the microphone up in the air, as if it were a noose.
Their set was almost over, and they had saved the best for last. Both of them flat-out killed it with their rapping, and at one point, Bearcub, who had once again donned his bear outfit, walked to the edge of the stage and just stepped off. The stage is probably a little more than four feet off the floor, but that didn’t faze him, and he began interacting with the crowd. He then climbed back on stage right about the time Jenny laid down on it, and began making some seductive moans.
“I’m Jenny Robinson, this is Bearcub. Together we are Jenny Robinson and Bearcub, and we love you!” she exclaimed with a smile on her face, making sure everyone who had been paying attention knew who they were before they left.
I’ll give anything a chance, but generally, I’m not a fan of rap music. This duo was awesome, though. They had the stage presence, the tracks were really good, and both of them were excellent rappers.
I really enjoyed it, and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again.
Another duo was up next, but one who mined a completely different vein than that of the first act.
They were called Night Drive, and they had a very British indie pop / synth pop style about them. Maybe even a little new wave, too. That became very evident with their first song, which I believe was “Drones”, the lead track from the “Position I” EP. All their music was incredibly catchy; and Rodney Connell was handling the vocals, while Brandon Duhon played a guitar for much of the first half of their set, but was constantly mixing in some keys or electronic drums, and he had a whole little station set up beside him.
“Dallas, how are you doing?” Rodney asked during the song. They had a few more eyes on them than what the opener had received, and after that question was posed, those watching let out some cheers and applause. Already they had won over the hearts of some Dallasites, and they kept working their magic, doing some songs from their five-song “Position I” EP, and others that were not. A couple tunes later, Rodneys’ mic came unplugged, something he fixed just in time for the next line, and he and Brandon harmonized some on it.
“Alright guys, come a little closer.’ Rodney asked as they segued things right into their next track. The new fans were happy to oblige; and as it started, Rodney joined everyone. A box had been placed directly in front of the stage, and he stood on that, still allowing everyone to see him, before eventually mingling more with the crowd, singing with people or trying to get them to dance a little. He rejoined Brandon for the last bit, and then came the semi-dark “Nocturnal” (no pun intended). It was downright irresistible; and they bridged it right into “After Dark”, which again saw Rodney getting out amongst the people.
“For fun, we’re going to do a Radiohead cover…” he said afterwards, mentioning they would actually be releasing it the following Tuesday. He then dedicated the song to everyone who was at the back of the venue, hanging out by the bar. “Come up to the fucking front!” he shouted. The song was “Where I End and You Begin”, and he wasn’t lying when he said they did it differently. The electronic sounds that filled their original music were also showcased on this track, ensuring they left their mark on it.
They had gathered a slightly larger crowd with that, and people raved after it was finished. They then unloaded another original on everyone’s ears, and before their final song, Rodney mentioned that they came from both Austin and Houston. “This song’s called Sea of Light.” he informed everyone. Two small globes set on either side of the stage and had been used periodically this night, emitting light as they spun around; and they were certainly appropriate for that last song of their 34-minute long set. Then, at the very end, each of them grabbed a couple of confetti sticks, launching said confetti onto the crowd right as they hit the final chorus, “Colors collide in the sea of light…”
Night Drive was a surprise to many who showed up early, ‘cause I don’t think anyone was expecting a band with British flare. It was an awesome surprise, though. After all, I think that’s one genre many music lovers enjoy — certainly those who were here this night did.
For the time they had it, they owned the stage, and had a very professional feel about them. You knew just by the way they conducted themselves on stage that they had done this a lot, and put a lot of time and effort into making sure they were entertaining.
And they were. Actually, they were my second favorite act of the night.
They have some Austin and Houston shows planned all the way through September, and you can find out all the details on those on their TOUR PAGE. You can also buy their EP (they also have some remixes of songs available) on either iTUNES or BANDCAMP.
The main support act for the show was the Dallas-based Dark Rooms; a band I’ve heard a lot about in the last year or so, but had never seen. So, I was looking forward to finally seeing what they were like.
“Hey everybody, how’s it going?” singer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Hart asked as soon as the curtain had revealed them. “We’re Dark Rooms.” he then added. He was wielding a violin for much of the first half of their 36-minute long set, and they gradually edged into their first song, which grew more climatic the further into it they got.
Daniel sang in a high falsetto tone a majority of the time, and it was absolutely breathtaking. Right from that first number they had everyone entranced, and more and more people felt compelled to come closer to the front and marvel at the group. However, much of my focus (especially on that one) went to drummer Bobby Lotfipour. He used to drum with Trebuchet (a band I saw more than a couple dozen times when they were still together); and it had been a little more than a year and a half since I last saw him in action behind a kit. I had forgotten what an impressive drummer he was, and he was killing in the latter part of that number, laying down the beats with ferocity, yet total ease.
Things got more lively when they wound that into “Give Up, Give In”. Rachel Ballard was playing a variety of instruments as well, from the keys to adding some additional percussion, while the violin soared higher than Casey Trelas’ guitar did on that beast of a song that had Rachel also mixing in some backing vocals.
They were living up to all the hype that surrounds them, and that violin sounded downright gorgeous on the following track. The instruments led them seamlessly from the end of that one into another, and the start was signified when Bobby began hammering away on the kick drum. Perhaps the best moment came when Casey and Rachel harmonized with Daniel, their combined voices having an ethereal quality.
That did it for the violin, and now Daniel placed it in a stand and grabbed his guitar, using it for the remainder of their 36-minute long set. One track they did had almost a jazzy, lounge feel at the start, and towards the end, Daniel, Rachel and Bobby all had the biggest smiles on their faces, obviously being happy by the fact that they were doing what they love.
They had been focused entirely on playing as much music as they could, but after another song, they stopped, and Daniel gave the standard speech for all bands, thanking Ishi for having them on the bill, and saying they did have some merch for sale at the back. Rachel was prepping the xylophone — making sure the mic was close enough to it. It was only used for a few moments of “Keep it Inside”, but gave a nice tone to it all. There were some electronic elements to that one, too, and live, it was utterly amazing and beautiful. I’ve listened to the recorded version since, and it sounds great, but it does not to the song justice.
Dark Rooms is certainly an interesting band. They’re a little rock, a little indie, a little pop, and thanks to the violin, there are even hints of classical found scattered about the songs (albeit in trace amounts).
They were dynamite this night, and caught the interest of many people who were somehow unfamiliar with them yet.
From Daniels’ unique voice, to the tight musicianship they all possess (Bobby really is an astounding drummer, and I’d swear he had only gotten better since I last saw him), it’s clear why they have built a good name for themselves in the area, and even beyond. However, the best thing was that they were simply having fun playing these songs for everyone. People picked up on that, and from the listeners perspective, it made them all the more enjoyable.
You can see them this week at Dan’s Silver Leaf in Denton on July 18th. They’ll also be making a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina on September 4th to play the Hopscotch Music Festival. As for their debut album, you can get it in either iTUNES or BANDCAMP.
I had started to wonder if Dallas really was going to come out and help send Ishi off on their West Coast tour, because all night long the crowd — in terms of numbers — had been lackluster. But towards the end of Dark Rooms’ set, people started making their way in. Hundreds of them, to the point that leaving the spot I had in front of the stage didn’t seem like a wise idea.
Of course, Dallas would let the electronic band down, and from front to back they had packed Trees out. Much of the audience even had their faces painted, something some fans do at nearly every show, but this night they were offering it free at the merch table. Nothing fancy, mainly just some lines on each side of a person’s face, maybe some dots, etc. Yeah, the Ishi nation is a diehard one.
“What’s up, Dallas?!” vocalist JT Mudd asked once the curtain opened. He was sporting one of his more eye-catching outfits, the one with long white cloth/robe that stretches down and covers most of his legs, while a separate piece covers his shoulders and much of his chest. It’s very futuristic and space looking; and, of course, he also had on the stunner shades that glowed in neon colors, along with a hat. “Let’s get this party started.” he said, a sentence people had been waiting all night to hear.
They kicked off their massive set with some classics, the first of which was “Our Time”. JT was grabbing his outfit and waving the cloth around in the air at first, before entering frontman mode as he proceeded to sing the first line, “Don’t let go of who you are…” They were joined by their latest female vocalist, Bettie, who lent her voice to various parts of the song before leaving, as they rolled it right into the next track on the “Through the Trees” record: “Come Closer”.
It had been a little over a year (their CD release show in May of 2013) since I last heard them perform it, and I was one of many people ecstatic about it this night. Jonathan Merla was laying down some nice beats throughout it, though he went unseen this night. A bar that formed a semi-circle stretched from one side of the stage to the other, and hanging from it were some balls (one on each side) that were flashing various colors, while several circles of different sizes filled the center, acting as a screen for the video they projected on it for much of the night. That was what prevented Jonathan from being seen.
Bettie returned, while JT called for the tracks to be boosted in the monitors, just as the one for “Mirror Ball Sky” fired up. “Mirror ball in the sky, heal us tonight.” JT sang, lunging forward as they hit the first chorus, casting his right arm out in front of him, as if to get everyone involved and having fun. Making it all the better was the small disco ball that hung from the ceiling of the stage, and the lights danced off it. They then bridged it right into the first of a handful of new songs, and it was another that heavily featured Bettie.
“…We’re about to hit the road and spread the word…” JT remarked during their first actual break, speaking of the West Coast tour they’d be leaving on in just a couple of weeks. Their timeout didn’t last long, though, and fans rejoiced as soon as they realized “Pastel Lights” was coming. It officially became a dance party with that lively, feel good number, especially towards the end. It was impossible not to notice the air cannons scattered about the stage. Two on either side of it and two more on both sides of the drum riser, and at the songs peak, confetti was shot into the air. It wasn’t large amounts, but still plenty to cover the crowd.
It was clear this was going to be one for the books.
JT then welcomed Becky Middleton to the stage. As far as I know, the last time she performed with them was at the Digital Wounds CD release show, and while she had been a mainstay with Ishi for awhile, she left to dedicate more time to her own music. It was good to see her back with them, even it was just for a night, and JT informed everyone in attendance they would be the first to hear this next song, called “Midnight Lightening”. It was a fantastic song. One of the best I’ve heard them do as far as their new songs are concerned; and Rocky threw in a sweet guitar solo, one that sounded pretty soulful. It neared the end, and JT started conversing with Becky (off mic). She was standing in front of one of the air cannons, and it scared her when it suddenly went off, causing her hair to whip around wildly, something she laughed off.
Suddenly, the track for “Moon Watcher” started, sending the people into a frenzy. It didn’t take long for that one to become a fan favorite, and peoples love for it has only grown within the last year. How could you not like it, though? It’s a beautiful love song, and apart from clapping along with JT and Becky, the crowd was also singing with him, “All the lives that I once knew never made sense till I found you…” “Let me hear you!” JT yelled in his softer voice at the final chorus, part of which was left entirely up to the audience. He took a bow at the end, placing the palms of his hands against one another to express his gratitude, before going back and grabbing a towel.
He hastily wiped the sweat from his face, then threw it out as their next song got underway, causing half a dozen or so hands to go up, hoping to get lucky enough to catch it. More confetti then spewed out of the cannons at the start, as this other new number was performed by the three core members of Ishi. Becky rejoined them for the dance inducing “Emotional Hard Drive”, and their latest single got folks quite rowdy, as many began jumping around. It was great, though, because their music is all about cutting loose. Between her and Rocky, they were adding some knockout backing vocals to it, too, which made it all the more extraordinary.
Bettie then returned to the stage, tackling the female vocals on “Touch The Future”, as well as another new one, which has the often repeated line, “Everybody wants to be a star…”. Confetti continued pouring down on people at different intervals throughout those two, and then the female vocalists once again swapped out. Becky still wasn’t safe from the blast of air, but it didn’t seem to catch her off guard as much now, and she continued shaking her tambourine to the beat of “Digital Wounds”.
They turned it into another clap along at times, and upon finishing it, JT left the stage, retreating to the green room. That put Becky in charge, and they dusted off what used to be a show staple: a cover of The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian”. She didn’t miss a beat, and now that she was the lead singer, her fiery stage persona really came out. The best part came at the final line, which she belted out with a passion.
JT then returned, having used that time for a costume change, and now was wearing a black shirt with a sort of floral pattern on it. They knocked out their final classic of the night, and when “Shake Your Dandelion” came to an end, he sang that last line, “Step into my world and I’ll satisfy you.”, and then pointed out at the spectators, who I think were feeling extremely satisfied at this point.
“How we doing, Dallas?!” he then asked, taking time out to chat for a moment, before they hit the final stretch of their 82-minute long set. Becky again walked on stage, showing off some dance moves on “Disco Queen”. “…Butter me up with your lovin’” sang JT, and as he did so, he took his left hand and ran it up his leg, eventually stopping when he reached his backside. “Rocky Ottley!” he shouted before again taking leave. That was Rocky’s cue to go all out, and ran to stage right and dropped to his knees as he started his guitar solo, before eventually falling to his back, shredding on his axe while he laid there.
Applause rang out, applause that quickly turned to cheers once “Mother Prism” began. JT walked back on stage. He now had his Native American headdress on, and as he approached the mic, he threw the vibrant red robe around him. He waited until the first break in the track to go back and get his shield, which, like the headdress, was illuminated in several different neon colors, which were constantly flashing on and off. He waved it around for a few moments, even using it to cover his face, before continuing, “It’s hard to rise above it all when everything is a pitfall…” As usual, the highlight came with the chant of “Aiyah, aiyay…”, which everyone was bursting at the seams to sing along with. It was as if he were a tribal leader, and the hundreds of fans who had gathered here were praising him. Jumping around also seemed mandatory for that one, and that pure delight everyone was experiencing quickly turned to sadness when JT said they had just one more.
“Let’s get funky.” he said; Bettie now standing to his right. The air cannons finished blowing their load during the lead in for “Slowly But Surely”, and JT suddenly had an idea. He raced over to one of them, propping his leg up on one of the monitors, appearing to be trying to achieve a Marilyn Monroe moment, but the air stopped right as he got up there. Bettie fully showed off her powerhouse voice when she sang one line; and as it got into the final minute or so, JT jumped off the stage. The crowd cleared room for him, letting him go where he pleased. He didn’t go far, though, and was just content standing amongst everyone, interacting with the fans as they all sang together.
Everyone had hopes that there would be more, but this is a band who very plainly says they don’t do encores. Extra songs, yes. However they don’t leave just to have a chant of their name started and then come back out. “…Can you handle one more?” JT asked, acknowledging that his band had left him. Rocky and Jonathan then returned.
“…We can’t tell you how much this means to us.” he remarked, before asking everyone to tell their West Coast friends that they were coming. Becky was back out there with them for their rendition of New Orders’ “Bizarre Love Triangle”. Singing along was highly encouraged, and it was easily one of the best moments of their set.
That fun jam would have been a fine way to end it, but the band showed no sign of moving. “Rocky wants to do one more.” JT said, before going back to the drums to help Jonathan find the track. They closed with one of the best songs from Digital Wounds, though one that has been worked out in favor over their newer material in recent months. Everyone was glad to hear “ISHI”, though, and considering this was their last hometown show before a tour, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to end with. Especially since one of the lines is, “We’re rolling on our dreams. I. S. H. I. is what mean…”. Quite a fitting way to close it out, and that pushed their set to just a little more than a hour and a half long.
Ishi always gives it their all. It be hard for them to be where they are now if they didn’t. But this night, they went above and beyond peoples normal expectations, which guaranteed this was a show that no one would soon forget.
Electronic music is something else I’m not always a fan off, but the music Ishi makes is undeniably wonderful. It demands you get into it and just have fun, and lyrically, the songs are either uplifting, or, as I said about the music, fun.
Add the always theatrical stage show to that mix, and you’re given a band who you can see countless times and still not be able to get enough. At least that’s how I am, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling.
Before going west, Ishi has shows in Houston and Austin. The former on July 18th at the Museum of Natural Science, and the latter will be at Empire Control Room on the 19th. Then, on July 24th, they’ll be in San Diego, California. They have a total of four shows around the state, and will also be hitting Washington state, Idaho, Colorado and Oklahoma, before doing a homecoming show at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth on August 15th. If you live in any of those areas, you can find more details on the shows HERE. Grab a copy of each of their LP’s, too. You can find them in iTUNES.
This was one helluva party this night, one that everyone enjoyed to the fullest extent possible. I imagine a lot of them will be doing it all over again in Fort Worth next month, too.