Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 – Local Brews, Local Grooves Becomes the Newest Festival on the Dallas Circuit
At four-thirty in the afternoon all three windows at the House of Blues box office had no less than fifty people in line. That was the first shock; the second was the throng of young teen girls who were lined up all along the wall that leads from the front of the venue to its entrance on the side, all of whom seemed giddy over whoever they were there to see.
There was a separate line, one for those going to the Local Brews, Local Grooves Festival that was taking over much of the venue this day. The couple in front of me asked a staff member about the young girls, who assured them they [the girls] would not be going to the beer festival. Besides, this was a rare time when the HoB was doing a 21+ only show.
The Music Hall, Crossroads (the restaurant) and The Foundation Room (which is usually VIP only) were each being used for this inaugural event that was highlighting several different local breweries. Dallas breweries were set up in the Music Hall; ones from Fort Worth in the restaurant; and The Foundation Room housed the suburbs.
This wasn’t just a beer festival, though, and upwards of a dozen local acts had been tapped to play the event, with different ones spread out across the three sections. That was why I was here; after all, I’m not much of a drinker. Plus, some bands offered free tickets to the event, so it was hard to turn down at that price.
Bethan had the first spot on the main stage, starting right around five-thirty. Compared to how I’m used to seeing this place during sold-out shows, it was nearly empty, and you could get all the way up to the guardrail that creates the photo pit if you wanted.
Some people ventured closer to the stage, while others hung back on the small tables that were scattered about, planning to enjoy it from afar, and still others just meandered about, going to get their fill of beer and food.
With their debut EP now two-years-old, Bethan focused more on newer material this night (at least the little portion I saw of them), and drummer Daniel Hall began the first song by reaching for his guitar and using it for a bit. His focus soon shifted back to the drums, as the rest of the band gradually joined in on the atmospheric indie sounds that are self-described as being Alternative Noir.
I liked it, however the second song was downright enchanting. Becki Howards’ violin sounded beautiful on the track, working well with the voice of frontwoman Jessi Hall, and each seemed to accent the other. “How about we raise a toast.” Jessi stated once they finished. One of the audience members then piped up, saying they should raise a toast to her friend, Amanda, who was apparently celebrating her birthday. So, Jessi made the toast partly for her, wishing her a happy birthday, and then told everyone the next song was called “I Have Nothing To Say”. It’s the final song off the Chapter 1 EP. It perfectly captures the more minimalist vibe they have, with the keys Kevin Howard was playing often being the most prominent instrument, while bassist Jesse Hopkins and Daniel made a forceful, though low-key rhythm section. “I’m the sand running through your fingertips…” Jessi sang at the end, holding her right arm up in the air and rubbing her fingers together, as if she did have a handful of sand she was slowly letting fall from her hand.
Daniel again used a guitar at the start of the next two songs, one of which was “Our Paris”, and the other began with just that guitar and Jessi singing over it, and it sounded gorgeous. “Is everyone having a good time at the beer fest?” she asked after they finished; and I used that break to duck out.
While I haven’t seen them much, I’ve liked Bethan since they began, but they just seemed different this night over how they were the last time. It’s like they’ve fully figured out who they are as a band, and it’s made them all the stronger. Really, they were even better than I remembered them being, and came across as a completely new band this afternoon.
You can find their EP in either iTUNES or BANDCAMP, and they’ll have a new release in the next few months.
If I could have, I would’ve stuck around for the whole set, but I had gotten a ticket from Nicholas Altobelli who was playing at six in the Foundation Room.
First, I had to find the Foundation Room, which required climbing to the balcony level of the Music Hall, where another door was that led there. That was the easy part, though. The hard part was navigating my way around in there. The food and beer tables had lines that wound so it appeared to be one massive line; and you could hear at least a dozen or more conversations all going on at once. I also heard something else, and that was the voice of Nicholas Altobelli, and apparently he and his musical companion Heather Kitzman had gotten off to a slightly earlier start. They were also kind enough to provide some background noise to all the chitchat that was going on.
They were a little ways into “Blackout” when I finally squeezed myself into a spot directly in front of the patch of floor they had. Heather added quite a bit of backing vocals on that one, while she gently played her pedal steel guitar. She turned to Nicholas when it was done. “Did you just fuck that up?!” she asked him in a shocked voice, and he confessed he had messed up some chords on the acoustic guitar. No one else knew, though, let alone actually cared he had flubbed it.
That was one song off 2013’s Without a Home, and they focused heavily on that LP, next doing “27 Stories”. “I don’t want to become something I’m running from…” sang Nicholas at the start of dreary, though personal and emotional song. “So, load in was interesting.” he remarked afterwards, while Heather nodded her head, silently confirming it was. “But it’s all good.” he added, putting a positive spin on it, while he placed a capo on his guitar. They moved on to the single from that record, and I had forgotten how catchy “The Lucky Ones” was. Even just in the two-piece setting like this, it was impossible not to sing along to it (if you knew it, that is), and I found myself mouthing the words to the chorus. “Thank you, fine folks in the front.” Nicholas told the crowd once they were done. Those up front were the only ones truly paying attention after all. He asked the woman working sound if he could get some more in the monitors (he later asked it to be turned up to eleven), and now sang, “Sounding in the monitor.” a few times as he performed a sound check. “This song goes out to us.” he said quite seriously. Heather left her pedal steel and stood up to sing the backing vocals on the chorus of “I Don’t Think Tonight is Going to be a Good Night”. She also provided some percussion by clapping her hands, and perhaps the best part of their set came when Nicholas told her to do a clapping solo, so she proceeded to it, moving her hands behind her back and all around the air, just having fun with it.
“She has no food in her system. She’s angry with the world right now.” said Nicholas, speaking of Heather, who was sitting back behind the pedal steel. You could tell it, too, what with the smile she was flashing. “…They gave me a pretzel…” she told him. With a new album only three days away from dropping, I was a little surprised they hadn’t done anything off it so far, but that was about to change. “This song’s about being mentally healthy…” Nicholas informed everyone, as they did “Memories” off the Mesocyclone EP.
It was during that song I felt the floor beneath me shaking something horrible, and thought to myself, “It’d be just my luck if the floor gave way right where I’m standing.” Well, apparently Nicholas was thinking the same thing, ‘cause afterwards he remarked that it sounded like the floor “was about to cave.” “Or a Wilco B-side.” he then quipped. They had done some slightly older stuff, and now they had a new song down, so it was time to look ahead to some songs he mentioned would be on an album out sometime next year. He told those who were paying attention that one was about his high school crush. “Whose name is not Sarah, but she had too many syllables in her name to fit the measure.”
Each was great and fit the mold Nicholas has cast for himself. It’s just a shame we fans will have to wait awhile before being able to listen to them whenever we want. He then welcomed a friend up to the “stage”, asking everyone to give it up for the “beautiful and talented Kim Nall.” She took over the secondary mic, while Nicholas mentioned this was one he had written “back in 1970 something, after a heavy night of drinking.” They did a rendition of Lionel Richies’ “Stuck On You”, and the difference between the original and the more folk style they gave it was as drastic as night and day. Don’t get me wrong, it was a stellar version, but sounded nothing like what Richie made famous. Kim just added some soft backing vocals at times, though it helped the tune immensely.
She then left, while Nicholas mentioned this next one was about Los Angeles. “Alright! L.A. Rain!” exclaimed one fan who was there. “It’s not a contest, but yeah, sure.” Nicholas joked with the guy; and he was almost ready to start it, before having to take a moment to tune for what he said was “another upbeat number”. Spoiler, it wasn’t. Though it was hilarious. The floor had continued to shake, and now he changed some of the lyrics at the end of the first verse. “I really hope I’m singing in key, ‘cause it’s like a Sonic Youth B-side downstairs.” It was brilliant, yet few people were paying enough attention to even get a laugh out of that.
“Here’s another uplifting song about feeling good.” stated Nicholas; while Heather left her pedal steel once more. They co-sang “Bluebonnet” — a track off 2011’s Radio Waves & Telephone Wire. “Where has my bluebonnet gone?” he pined at the start, proving it was not the “uplifting” song he jokingly made it out to be. “Heather Kitzman. The myth, the legend.” he announced as she took a seat, giving her a formal introduction.
“I’ve never played this one before.” Nicholas admitted, adding, “This seemed like a good place to do it.” It was, ‘cause all of these songs were probably new to most of the people in the first place, so there was at least no reason to worry if it didn’t go over well. It did seem well received by those who were paying attention, though, as was the next one, which was another new tune that Nicholas threw in just to fill time. He mentioned he had written it just a couple days before, and said he’d do it only if he could remember it. He did, and Heather continued to just watch her band mate and enjoyed the song in the same way the small audience was.
She didn’t stay silent much longer, though, and lent her talents on “Thunderstorms”, which was the final song of this 51-minute set.
It had been way too long since I had last seen Nicholas Altobelli. In fairness, he hasn’t been playing a ton of gigs of late anyway, but even when he has I wasn’t able to make it. So, it was great catching another show after so long.
They may have had problems hearing one another, but out in the crowd the levels were fine, even if they were almost outmatched by all the conversations. Still, I heard every note and every line quite clearly. The fact that humor was employed so much also made it quite entertaining. In fact, partly because of that, I’d say this was one of the best shows I’ve seen Nicholas do.
Whether it’s with his full-band or just he and Heather, he has no trouble entertaining. I’d even say Nicholas’ voice sounded stronger this night than I’ve ever heard it. He really is one of the best singer/songwriters in the area, and he’s apparently just getting better.
Mesocyclone is out now and it, as well as some of his past records, can be found on either iTUNES or BANDCAMP. Check out the official CD release show for Mesocyclone at All Good Café in Dallas on Friday, August 8th, too.
I then headed back to the Music Hall to wait out Jessie Frye and her bands 7:30 start time.
It was a totally different setting from where I had seen them just a few weeks before, at one of the venues in Deep Ellum where they had a backline on the stage (since it was a national show), giving Jessie and her band little room to move about. She made use of the ample space right from the start of their 34-minute long set this night, though, banging her head to some of heavier beats Chad Ford dished out on “Like a Light”. “How you doing?” she asked after the first chorus, getting a strong reaction from not just her section of fans, but also some of the other onlookers.
She was already proving herself to be a dynamo on stage, and actually, it reminded me of their set at Edgefest back in April, just in the energy and excitement they were putting into it; and now guitarist Jordan Martin rolled them into one of their most bewitching songs, “Fortune Teller”. “How are you enjoying your beer?” Jessie asked everyone once they were finished, getting a nice rise from the crowd. She mentioned how happy they were to be here before letting everyone know exactly who they were, and then she informed the crowd this next one was “White Heat” off the Obsidian album. They really started hitting their stride then; and Jessie was bouncing about at the start of the track, and at another point dropped to her knees when she belted out a line. The audience was getting more into it now, too, and there were a few couples who decided this was a good one to dance along to. You can’t often do that at the House of Blues, but there was plenty of floor space for it this night, and even from the audience perspective it was fun seeing. I should also point out Jessie didn’t hit the chorus “…Forget all of the roles you thought you should have played…” in as high a voice as what’s done on the recording. It was a relatively subtle difference, yet it made all the difference to the song. I actually liked it better with her keeping it all in the same tone, as it made it more fluid sounding.
“I love this song!” exclaimed one fan as Chad led them into the atmospheric pop number that is “Never Been to Paris”. They followed it with something special, but first, Jessie called out the “girl in sequined skirt” saying they were “kindred spirits”. “I saw you at the Tori Amos show…” Jessie told her, prompting the girl to nod that she had indeed been there. Getting back to the new song, it had been teased to Facebook fans and Instagram followers a few days before the show, and was titled “One in a Million”. With it, the Denton-based band started going a different direction from what they’ve done thus far. It was much closer to raw rock verses the sort of pop rock sounds Jessie and her band mates have established for themselves. It was a very vibrant track that had bassist Andrew O’Hearn laying down some more forceful riffs; and there came a point where Chad began to clap his hands along to the kick drum. He looked puzzled when no one joined him, and several people picked up on that, and then put their hands in the air to clap along. It may just be one song for now, but it will be interesting to see where the band goes from here, as they write more intense rock numbers along these lines.
They really got in the groove with that song, and this was easily the best stretch of the set, which continued with “Shape of a Boy”. Jessie was absolutely alluring in the way she handled herself while she sang the first verse, sauntering around the stage. “How you doing?” she asked one member of the audience whom she had seemed to be singing to, and it took him a couple seconds to muster a response. Jordans’ killer solo definitely got some attention; and before the final chorus, Jessie, who had again fallen to her knees while singing, banged her head in perfect synch to the drumbeat. It was quite epic.
They started winding down with another favorite from the Fireworks Child EP, “Prepared”. There were a few times that Jordan used the whammy bar on that one, adding a good tone to the track. They were about to start their final number, and then a fan/friend held up a sign. “Jessie, you rock. I’m gonna punch you tomorrow.” Jessie read aloud, and then laughed. “Oh, that’s my piano student…” she informed everyone, asking her if she had practiced her scales, and then told her why wait and just come punch her now. She threatened to do the same to her, too, then quickly stated she never hits anyone in the first place.
It was another fun moment; and then they got ready to end their show with “Brave The Night”. Right before hitting the first chorus, Chad flipped his drumstick in the air, giving it a very tight spin. He has some serious chops; and this uplifting song came to a powerful finish as Jessie dropped to her knees once more, crooning, “And everywhere we go, and all the things you say, I never felt so beautiful…”, getting more involved with each second, eventually raising her hand into the air. She looked like a bona fide rock star, with the swagger to back it up.
It’s amazing what having some space to roam about can do, and this was a completely different band from the one I saw just a few weeks back. The energy was still there at that club show, but it oozed out of all of them so much more freely this night. They were better able to express themselves, especially Jessie, who was able to be the potent and impressive frontwoman she’s oh, so capable of being.
It was an awesome set, too, and I think everyone was wishing it had lasted just a bit longer. As they finished, I found myself wondering, “How long before they’re headlining this stage?” The talent’s certainly there, and with the praise they’ve received from the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, it’s in the realm of possibility.
Their next show will be Friday, August 8th at the Cambridge Room of the House of Blues. They’ll be the main support for Exit 380, who’s doing their vinyl release show of their new album. Check out their music on either iTUNES or BANDCAMP, too.
There were some bands left in the Music Hall, while elsewhere things were winding down. Those left on the main stage were a tribute band to The Black Crowes and another cover act who tackled Dave Matthews. I’m sure they’re great at what they do, and I’ve seen a handful of cover bands, though I’ve never been a huge fan of that.
That said, I left shortly after Jessie Fryes’ set. The thought of getting home at nine sounded appealing; though it was quite strange, walking out to see the sun hadn’t set yet. Traffic going back north to the suburbs was also much heavier than it is at one or two something in the morning. I guess that early nights do have their drawbacks.