Thursday, August 1st, 2013 – The Debut of Overseas

It’s not often anyone gets to witness a birth of a band, and far more rare is the chance of anyone actually caring about, sans some close friends and family of the band members who go to the show more out of necessity. That wasn’t quite the case this night at Dan’s Silver Leaf, though, because it was no mere bar band making their live debut. This night was seeing the birth of a newer super group by the name Overseas, who was known to most fans of the Texas music scene as being a new side project from Will Johnson (the singer of Centro-matic).

While the collaboration began a few years ago, there was nothing tangible until this past June when they released their debut record, making the next step these rare clusters of live shows. Rare due to the fact that the four members are spread out across the country, hailing from Texas, New York and Washington state.

Joining them on their Texas jaunt was the Austin based Monahans, a band I had not seen in a few years, and I was glad to see they had been tapped as the opening act.

Their set was mainly comprised of songs from their 2013 releases, and they opened with “The Meadow”, singer and rhythm guitarist Greg Vanderpools’ smooth, vibrant voice cutting the serene intro, going hand in hand with the music. That quality alone seemed to entrance everyone, even calling in more people from the patio, interested in what was going on, and despite the technical difficulties Britton Beisenherz had with his guitar during the song, the applause was still roaring.

As he and the sound guy worked to fix things, Greg made some small talk with the audience, mentioning how “thrilled” they were to be playing with Overseas. Shortly after things were back in working order, though Britton laid his guitar down, instead focusing on his keyboard, starting them on the quick paced “Forward/Reverse”, which was a highlight of their set. Roberto Sanchez was killing on the drum kit, rapidly firing off the solid, strong beats, and making them even tighter was Joshua Zarbo’s bass lines, and later into it Britton did abandon his keyboards to throw his guitar back in the mix.

Some more banter followed that song, and it was good sarcastic wit at that, with Greg saying, “…August in Texas can only mean one thing; pack all your friends in a club, put on your favorite long sleeve shirt and see what happens.” On this 100+ degree day, it was hard not to laugh at that, and before getting into their next song, Joshua took over Brittons’ guitar, allowing him to focus exclusively on the keys. They then did a 180°, slowing things down drastically with the beautiful “The Loss of Feeling”, and while it was less energetic than the first few songs, it was no less captivating.

There was a bit of time to kill after that one, too, but Greg freely admitted he had ran out of things to say. Joshua picked up the slack, though. “I haven’t ran out of things to say…” he said, mentioning that he used to live in Denton, even saying they “…were some of the best years of my life…”, a statement everyone readily applauded. “…This song’s off our newest album…” Greg soon said, referring to the “Leveler” record. “It’s called Diamonds.” They completed that song, and then Roberto set them right off onto their next number, “Awakened”, which again found Britton predominantly playing the keys. Both songs meshed well together, giving the vibe that this one was an extension of the last, and the fact that “Awakened” was largely an instrumental song was nice too. It allowed the onlookers to really take notice of their musicianship, which was impeccable, and each member of the quartet has a very fluid style of playing, but can throw down, too.

The relaxing vibes continued with “Echoes”, but things soon escalated back to a serious rock vibe with “Beat of a Thousand Drums”, which had a rather epic sound to it, and it was followed by another awesome number. That led them to the final song of their 42-minute long set, and when speaking of it, Greg said it was one he found depressing for a very long time. They then eased into a rendition of The Smith’s song “Death of a Disco Dancer”. It was a spot on cover of it, and they also managed to make it their own, putting a little more of a rock twist on it, and it was a splendid way to end their show.

Before this night, I couldn’t have told you much of what I remembered about Monahans, aside from knowing I liked their music, but after seeing them again, man…

They killed it this night, and even came close to upstaging Overseas, without trying to, of course. Their music is a nice blend of rock and indie, focusing more on the former, though taking some of the dreamy qualities from the latter. It’s a constant intriguing bombardment of the senses, while the lyrics are near genius, and if you listen to their recorded stuff, expect their live show to sound just like that… Probably even a hair better

Speaking of their records, you can find them all in iTUNES, and keep tabs on their OFFICIAL WEBSITE for updates on any future shows they’ll have.

They were a great appetizer, but of course, everyone was most anxious for Overseas, and shortly after Monahans cleared their gear off stage than the crowd began to from at the front of the stage, as fans eagerly awaited the headliner. By the time their 11:15 start time rolled around, it was hard to even move, with a gap at the back just big enough for one person to traverse at a time. No one seemed to mind, though. They were more focused on seeing this debut show than caring that their personal space was being slightly invaded.

The tranquil melody of “Here (Wish You Were)” filled the room, and as soon as he opened his mouth to sing the first line, David Bazans’ voice took a strong hold on everyone. Having no prior knowledge of him meant I didn’t know what to expect, but instantly he sounded exactly as portrayed on the album (a quality so few bands achieve these days), his rich, rather booming voice proving entrancing as he crooned the words of this rather somber song. He was also the bassist in the group, and the other part of the rhythm section was comprised of Will Johnson on the drums, a microphone right next to his kit. It was a chilling moment when he joined in after the first couple verses, harmonizing perfectly with David, their voices mixing gorgeously. It was a moment of sheer bliss, and truly met the definition of beauty.

They stepped things up ever so slightly with the lead track from their self-titled album, “Ghost to Be”, one of the many songs that Will sang while softly pounding out the beats. That short track was followed by the subsequent song on the album, the mostly instrumental “Redback Strike”. It was really the first full-fledged rock song they did, with brothers and guitarist Matt and Bubba Kadane doing some sweet riffs, though it was hard to see them doing their work, as they had their backs to the crowd for almost the entire show. I’m guessing they were watching for cues and making sure they were in time with everything, but still, it wasn’t too conducive of the typical concert atmosphere. Upon finishing that track, Will welcomed everyone to their first ever concert, and they kicked things into high gear.

Will got to cut loose on “Old Love”, and while I knew he had been a drummer at various times in his decades long adventures with different bands, I’ve only seen him act as a guitarist. But man, he tore into his kit with a passion on this song and was unrelenting. He’s a beast, no doubt, and it was good getting to see another side to this fantastic musician, and a side that isn’t seen much anymore, no less. All the while, David was belting out his catchy song, which tells an actual story and is quite deep at that. “I’m thinking back to a sensual act I enjoyed with a girl in my teens…” it starts, before taking an insightful look at a relationship. They marched on with another track from David, “Hellp”, continuing to play a portion of the songs exactly as they appear on their record, but before the next song, they had to do a game of musical chairs.

David seated himself behind the kit, while Will filled what had thus far been empty air at center stage, acoustic guitar in hand, while I believe it was Bubba who picked up bass duties. Evidently, Will isn’t the only multi-talented individual in the group, and in this format they offered up the first of four new songs. Their first batch of songs might be a fairly old now, but the fact remains that the album itself is still brand new, but it’s nice to see that their creative juices are already flowing again, allowing them to make new music. It gives hope that this side project does have a future, and for the record, this song sounded incredible. The Kadane brothers traded spots after that track, The mellow mood continued with “Lights Are Gonna Fall”, after which David reclaimed his bass, and Matt took over the drums, and while that was going on, Will was plugging in his electric axe. “…We’ve had fun over the last forty-eight hours figuring out how to b a band…” he said, after again thanking everyone for coming out. Much of the crowd laughed, and while it was meant as a dose of humor, but he showed he was serious, too, adding, “Seriously, we’ve been up a lot…” They then gave everyone another taste of what album two may sound like, then tapped another song from “Overseas”, “The Sound of Giving Way”, before everyone returned to their starting posts.

At this point, David first made mention of their new record, saying they were indeed working on one and would be playing some songs from it. “…A few of which you’ve already heard…” he said. But before doing any more new songs, they did the more leisurely paced “Came with the Frame”, which saw David again retaking the role of lead vocalist, and it was matched well by the next song, which also had a softer vibe. Will counted them in on the next song, one last new one, and it was one of my favorites, not just out of the new batch, but the whole show in general.

“Down Below” was the final strong push of the night, allowing Bubba and Matt to amp things up on their guitars, and the song that’s one of the best on their record was also a highlight of the show. Shortly after knocking out the final beats, Will left his kit, again grabbing that acoustic guitar, and this time no one took his place. They concluded their 54-minute long with the hushed “All Your Own”, which Will sang in a slightly gruff murmur, his distinctive voice being on full display for the few lines he had to sing.

And just like that it was over. The band waved goodbye, again thanking everyone for coming out. Everyone seemed fully satisfied with what they had heard and seen, not only witnessing a small piece of history as Overseas got their first live gig under their belt, but also hearing their entire record performed live, and then some. That’s a feat that I doubt will be done much, especially once they do release another album, when some of the songs from their debut will be relegated to deep cuts.

At times, you could tell they were a new band. Like I mentioned earlier, Matt and Bubba rarely faced the crowd, and I don’t mean to imply that, that was a hindrance to their show, rather than it just made them seem a little less personable as a group. It wasn’t just that, though, as there were times you’d catch small, ultimately insignificant things that reminded you they were a new band, however, the experience and professionalism each one has counterbalanced all that.

In those two days spent rehearsing they were able to get a lot done, and that’s the part that deserves more focus. They were still surprisingly cohesive, and there was never a moment of, “How are we going to start this song?” or “What’s next?”, as they rolled through their set very smoothly and fluidly, with Will, David, Matt and Bubba coming across as if they had played these songs hundreds of times.

Then you have the interesting dynamics. Sure, it’s nothing new for a band to utilize two vocalists, but Will and David aren’t mere singers with jaw-dropping voices. They’re also extraordinary storytellers, a quality that bled out of every single song they performed this night.

They may not be a band that will play live shows all the time, but that just creates more reason to see them when they do perform a show near you, and based on this night, I’d say the career of Overseas is getting off to a nice start.

They do have shows in New York lined up for mid August, playing the Mercury Lounge in New York on the 19th, then the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on the 20th. They’ll then have a break until October, with a small string of shows along the West Coast, begging with Neumo’s in Seattle, Washington on October 11th. They’ll be in Portland, Oregon at Doug Fir on the 12th, before traveling to California for shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The first will be hosted at Bottom of the Hill on the 14th, while the LA date will be on the 16th at Satellite. And don’t forget, you can also find their album in iTUNES.

It was a fun night in Denton, and it was also proof that smart rock music, music that can actually make you stop and think, is still alive.

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…