Nicholas 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.
Key players in making the record were:
Nicholas Altobelli: acoustic guitars
Heather Kitzman: pedal steel
Trey Carmichael: drums
Daniel Markham: bass
Tony Whitlock: electric guitar
Rahim Quazi: piano
Salim Nourallah: electric guitar, backing vocals
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
Saturday, August 2nd at House of Blues in Dallas / Friday, August 8th at All Good Café in Dallas
(Photo credit: Sally Durrum)
Nicholas Altobelli is a singer/songwriter through and through, perfectly embodying the genre.
Last time Memphis native Myla Smith came through Dallas (which was only about four months prior to this), I ended up missing it. Luckily, I didn’t end up suddenly feeling under the weather this night, so I was able make the show at Opening Bell Coffee.
This was the fifth stop of a ten city tour she was doing with Chris Milam and Heather Batchelor, and this Dallas date happened to coincide with OBC’s weekly songwriters in the round series, which was bound to make the night a little more interesting.
I got there a bit after the scheduled 7:30 start time, walking in on the end of what I believe was Myla’s first song, which also ended the first cycle of the round.
“I want to write a song like that.” Heather told her after she had finished, commenting on the rather abrupt end it. “…Just start at the end.” Myla joked, as Heather got ready for her next song, informing the early birds that it was the same one she had done during soundcheck. “…But it has lyrics now.” she stated
She played one of the tracks off the three-day-old “Unraveled” EP, “Something to You”, which carried a catchy tune with it, and told a good story in the four minutes or so it took to play it. While she sang, both Chris and Myla gave her their full attention, and afterwards the ladies turned their attention to Chris, who said there were a lot of good things about being from Memphis. One example he gave was “the rich music history”, though he was quick to point out there were some downsides to it, too. He then shared a couple stories with the audience, one of which was about spending sixteen hours renovating a house, which led to the downside of “…hearing five hundred blues songs on the radio…” That helped act as a catalyst for him to write what he said was his first blues song, and if I heard the title correctly, it was “Tell Me Something”. There were some blues elements mixed in with the country and pop vibes; and it was one of my favorite songs he did this night.
Myla finished out the round with a song that she noted was one of the first ones she wrote for her latest album, “Hiding Places”. “There’s no cure for what I’ve got, call it the human condition.” she sang, while lightly plucking the stings of her guitar as she began “Human Condition”. That hushed intro didn’t last, though, and even with just an acoustic guitar she made the song into a mighty number, and belted out the chorus with a passion.
Attention then shifted back to Heather, who informed the crowd of a little over a dozen that she was going to get a little bluesy. “If that’s okay.” She added, prompting a small amount of cheers from the audience, with Chris chiming in, too. She took things down a few notches with “You’ve Got a Way”, a track that really highlighted her vocal range, from the more tender side, to nailing some deep, powerful notes, that left you thinking, “Wow!”
“Are there any kids hiding behind the pillar?” Chris asked when his turn rolled around, pointing to the big column in the center of the room. Some folks checked and informed him there was not. “It’s okay if there, but I’m gonna get a little PG-13 with this one.” he stated, before knocking out another newer song of his. When it got back to Myla, she proceeded to tell everyone a story behind her next track. “In two thousand and ten I took on took big projects…” she said, before stopping. “I dropped my pick.” she remarked, causing Heather to joke, “Oh, no. The world is lost.”, while Myla reached down and picked it up.
She got back to her story by saying those two undertakings were a new album and getting married, a feat she did not recommend anyone do, saying both are hard enough in their own right. “I had three separate breakdowns.” she said, being able to laugh about it now. On that note, she added that she had to inform multiple family members that the song she was about to do was not about her now husband. “Take your stuff, take your sorries, I’ve heard enough. Wrap them up with a big red bow, give ‘em to the woman you used to know…” went the chorus of “Big Red Bow”, which had Myla tapping a little more into her folk side.
Upon finishing it, she mentioned their wedding day was also the day that album (2010’s “White/Gold”) was released, and they gave copies out to all those who attended said wedding. “Please tell me you wrapped the albums in a big red bow?” Heather asked her. They did not, though Myla did say that on the cover art for the album she was wearing her mothers’ wedding dress. Heather then said something about a “ringbearer”, before correcting it to “ringbear”, making a How I Met Your Mother reference. Fitting, since the shows series finale was airing that night.
She then busted out the infectious lead track from her new EP, “Chicago”, which was one the onlookers really seemed to enjoy. Before his next song, Chris told everyone how thankful he was that they were there watching them. Thus far, he said he had only been eating Fruit Roll-Ups, and Heather was quick to nod her head, affirming that he wasn’t lying. “…I’m running on your fuel…” he said to the crowd, being completely genuine with the remark.
He offered up another newer track, while Myla backed him up at different points throughout it. Those backing vocals sounded lovely, and when it was over, she said she’s really wanting her and Chris to start a duo called “Milam and Myla”. They even talked about combining their names, much like is done with celebrity couples these days, and calling themselves something like, “Mylam”.
All of that fun and at times off-the-wall banter served to make the show all the more entertaining.
She cranked out her next song, and when things got back to Heather, she mentioned this next one was one she co-wrote with a friend and fellow musician, Taylor Dukes. “…From Nashville, Texas.” she said, when talking about her friend. She realized her mistake as soon as she made it. “Wait… That’s not a place.” She said, and you could tell she was still trying to figure out exactly how that had slipped out. “…You all know Taylor, the Duke of Nashville?” said Chris, adding his commentary to it all.
The laughs (from both the crowd and the musicians) subsided, and Heather got back on track, saying when they sit down to work on a song, Taylor told her she felt like writing about “wild hearts”. So, fittingly, the track is called “Wild”. It’s great as is, and was only made better with the additional vocals Myla added to it, which was something Heather pointed out they had worked on during their time in the car, which was slightly surprising, because it sounded as if they had been doing it much longer than just practicing it that day.
“Are there any Springsteen fans here?” Chris asked, which got people really excited. “This isn’t one he wrote…” he informed everyone, though he did say it had some “Boss elements”, and after mentioning that there were religious layers to it (at least that’s what he said he tells his mother), he confided that it was really inspired by a high school reunion. The song he spoke of was one from the “Young Avenue” EP, called “Dark in the Garden”.
Like his other songs, it told an honest story; and after it, they got into a story from their trek on the road. Namely, how the rental car company gave them a Cadillac Escalade. It was at this point they pointed out the tip jar the staff of OBC had passed around a time or two already, and Chris said it, of course, took the most expensive gas. They also had trouble with the seat warmers, and hadn’t been able to turn them off so far. Sure, that would have been fine a few months ago, but not now.
Myla then set up her next song, which came from the “Drugs” EP. “It’s not what you’re thinking…” she clarified, saying the inspiration behind came from “baptized drugs”, which, as she pointed out for herself, was this: work and playing music. The song was the first one from that EP, “Slow Down”, which she noted she could probably stand to do at times. That’s not necessarily what the song’s about, though. Instead, it carries a message of chasing after what you want, and putting everything you have into it.
Heather got ready for her next track by saying that when she had time, she used to take naps. “I don’t anymore.” She stated. She then asked if anyone there was a fan of rainstorms, as in they found the sound soothing. A couple of people fit that category, and she was pretty fired up when she made her next remark. “I’m, like, ‘Yeah, bring it on!” she said, before finishing that, that was sort of what this next song was based on.
She performed the stellar, “Let it Rain”; and when things rolled back around to Chris, he asked if everyone would indulge him while he told a story. A few years back, he said he was called into a record executive’s office, who liked what he was doing and asked him to play a song. He did one, then another, saying he was feeling pretty good at that point, and his confidence only grew with the third song, which he was stopped in the middle of. The executive then offered his critique, which was that he was playing “New York country” and not “Nashville country”. Chris said he was given a homework assignment, and told to write a Nashville country song. “So, I searched my heart…” he said, making some funny remark, that was something like he wrote a song about New York girls who were from Tennessee. Honestly, I didn’t catch all of that, but regardless, the song that spawned was “Memphis Queen”, which is found on his debut album from 2005, and it was one of his strongest songs of the night.
Myla didn’t waste any time getting into her next song, which was the ever so catchy, “Bad Boys”. “All the bad boys are looking for a good time. I catch ‘em looking my way…” goes the start of the chorus, which, once it was over, led Chris to say he was sensing a theme between it and what he had done before. They then looked at Heather, who said she didn’t have a song to fit that pattern. However, she did have one that was about a “makeup, breakup and everything in between.
Once she finished, Chris reached down a harmonica and neck rack. “He’s getting the harmonica. He’s such an overachiever.” Heather stated, giving him a hard time. I believe the song was titled “All of Our Ghosts”, and was an amazing one. Myla kept with the newly established slower vibe, by doing a song she pointed out was rather special to her right now, because it was a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition. Heather then piped up. “That means it good.” she said, bragging on Myla. The song was “Sparks”. If you listen to it and pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll understand why it has made it so far in the competition, and the song deals with never letting the spark in a relationship burn out.
For Heather’s next song, she did the title track from her first EP, “Fine Line”. Chris followed it with another one of his, and for Myla’s turn, she did “Love in Black and White”. There’s a point in the song that sounds like the end, and the crowd raised their hands, but remained hesitant to applaud, clearly not certain if it was over yet or not. However, when Chris led the applause, everyone followed. The look on his was priceless after it subsided a bit and Myla continued on with the final verse. Meanwhile, Heather just shook her head and grinned.
It was about 9:15 at this point, so they had been on stage for nearly two hours already, and now they asked everyone if they wanted a couple more rounds. Everyone was game, and this next to last one they (minus Myla) had decided would be a cover round. “Are we really doing covers?” asked Myla, who was down for it, but just wanted to make sure they were indeed doing that.
Chris even joked that they were all three going to do “Freebird”. “…And we’ll all be here till next Tuesday.” he said, while Myla added she wanted to do the last solo by mimicking the sound with her mouth, and even demonstrated it.
Heather’s song was one by Maroon 5. “Really old” Maroon 5, which she noted was her favorite. It’s been years (and then some) since I’ve listened to the “Songs About Jane” album (which, I might add, is the only Maroon 5 album I own), so I didn’t catch the flubbed line she made on the second verse of “Sunday Morning”. However, she readily pointed it out when she finished, saying she was “ashamed” of it. Still, I think that little mistake could easily be overlooked, given how she killed it on the final chorus, and the vocal delivery was outstanding.
Chris treated everyone to an awesome rendition of The White Stripes “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”, with just a hint of country flare added to it. Before her turn, Myla mentioned just a few days before someone had told her that there was “no good music written in the eighties.” She said was a bit taken aback by the comment, and responded to the person with, “Well, how about this song?” With that, she immediately started “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, which I definitely think qualifies as at least one good song that came out of that decade.
Since they were on the topic of covers, Heather mentioned she wanted to do a more acoustic rendition of “Love is a Battlefield”, saying she thought that would sound cool. “It’s been done on Idol.” Myla told her, crushing her hopes. “Well, if it’s been done on Idol then I can’t do it.” She remarked, before again thanking everyone for sticking around, because most of the people who still were here, at been there since the show began.
Her closer was “Fool Again”, and it was a great note to end on. Before his last number, Chris thanked Opening Bell Coffee for playing host to them, then started “Shine”. It sounded great to begin with, and was only made better by the assistance he got from his touring companions, as they all three harmonized on the choruses, their voices sounding absolutely incredible all combined like that.
It fell to Myla to end the night, and she concluded it all with the title track from her still fairly new record, “Hiding Places”, which was a nice conclusion to an unforgettable night.
All three are extraordinary singers and songwriters, and seeing them in this Songwriters in the Round setting made for a one-of-a-kind experience. I mean, hearing them play their songs would have been just fine, but having them tell stories pertaining to some of the tracks, along with the banter and teasing they periodically did was fun to hear. And no, it did not seem like this was a two plus hour show, and that old saying, “time flies when you’re having fun”, would be an appropriate one to us about this night.
Regarding Myla, she’s playing Memphis every week in the month of April, and just a few shows in other states are also planned for May. Her full calendar can be viewed HERE. Be sure to check out her albums in iTUNES, too.
Chris has a gig at Downtown Rooftop in Memphis on May 9th, and go HERE for any updates on his show calendar. He also told me it’ll probably (hopefully) be fall at the latest when he’ll get back to Dallas, so keep that in mind and be sure to check him out whenever he does get back this way. And, of course, check out his albums in iTUNES.
Heather has her records up on either iTUNES or BANDCAMP, and while she has nothing on the books at the moment, here’s her TOUR PAGE.
Oh, they’re all super nice people, too.
Great way to end the month of March, especially since I began it with a songwriters in the round show that featured four Texas musicians, and then ended it more or less the same way with some acts from the only other state whose name begins with a T. That might almost qualify as being poetic.
I must admit, I was partially expecting Hayes Carll’s show at The Kessler Theater this night to be a full band performance.
Sure, I knew these series of shows he was doing around Texas were acoustic duo shows, but in the announcement regarding them, there was also mention that there would be some full band gigs sprinkled in certain places. Then take into account that this was his fifth and final straight night in D/FW. This was also his second sold out Dallas show of the week (the first had been Wednesday at the Double Wide), and he had also played Denton, plus made a two-night stand in Fort Worth (and if those shows weren’t totally sold out, I’d bet they were close to it.)
There aren’t many musicians who can play the same area that much so close together and still bring people out; which was why I thought this might be a full band show, because after four nights in the metroplex, I figured he’d be doing something bigger to still get the fans out.
Upon walking into the showroom after the lone opening act started it was obvious there would be no band. The stage was barren of all the amps and instruments that are typically set up, and that had me very intrigued.
After all, how good a musician really is all comes down to what they are capable of in a stripped down environment.
Sure, Hayes Carll may mine an Americana genre of music, but he has plenty of loud rock songs that hold the crowd’s attention with ease. Would he still be able to do that basically all on his lonesome? I honestly didn’t know, though I would soon find out just how good of a singer/songwriter an all-around musician he really was (or wasn’t).
The opening artist was Scott Nolan, who was on his first song when I walked in, and at first, I could have cared less for him.
That opening tune didn’t do much for me, though the night would get better; and this guy was a storyteller through and through.
I believe it was after that first song that he mentioned he had made a long drive from his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He mentioned he drove about two hours, while his girlfriend drove sixteen or so. He joked about that and several other things, including saying he had cleaned up his appearance a bit, getting a haircut and trimming his beard (which was still fairly long) after hibernating for the winter, saying he figured he should look a little more decent to try to get by customs.
As soon as he stopped the on-sided conversation, he began his next song, which was “Shake it Loose”. The bluesy number still wasn’t my favorite of his, but it certainly had my attention, especially when he softened his guitar playing and almost dryly gasp into the mic, “Shake it loose. Come on baby, shake it loose…”
He told as many if not more songs than he did play songs; which I enjoyed. It’s always nice getting some back-story to songs, and even if you don’t know them, it allows them to connect with you more. For example, a lengthy story he shared about his late tour manager, who he said had been the tour manager for a few other bands before he and Scott crossed paths. Those few other bands (at least the ones mentioned) were The Guess Who and BTO.
“…Then he ended up with me, and you see how that turned out…” said Scott, who playfully joked that he has often thought he was the man who (unintentionally) killed Ernie Blackburn. He went on to tell everyone that Ernie owned a backline company, clarifying for those who might not know that, that was company for “lazy musicians” who wanted to rent gear instead of haul their own around. The motto he had for the company was “You Rock, We Roll”.
Since he left this world, Scott said he had played this song every time he did a show, and always did it for his dear friend. I think you can figure out what it was called.
“’Cause you rock, we roll. That’s what you told me, brother. We can do it together, you can’t have one without the other…” he sang on that incredible song, which was the one that won me over. Considering it was just him, his guitar and harmonica, it was loud and it was rocking; and knowing that story behind it made it pretty deep.
Another story he told was about Folsom Prison, where he was invited to a singer/songwriter workshop a few years back. He mentioned his cousin spent most of the last twenty years of his life in that prison, and he was the first person/inmate to mix all of the cultures of the inmates into one room, finding a common ground in music.
Scott noted what a really amazing thing it was, seeing Bloods, Crips, members of the Mexican Mafia, white supremacists and others co-existing together and getting along while they played music. It goes to show what true power music does have, and even now you could tell Scott was humbled and amazed by his experience there.
That may have been the neatest story he shared, but the best one came when he said he came home one day to his girlfriend and one of her friends drinking red wine. They had been doing that for awhile, and shortly after switched to something else (tequila maybe? I don’t remember for sure.) “So I did what any sensible man would do.” he said, “I joined in.”
His girlfriend’s friend brought up the game of Twister, which he pointed out was apparently responsible for a lot of the divorcees in the 70’s, “Including my own parents.” he said, making it hard to tell if he was being serious or perhaps joking.
To make a Twister board he got several albums and placed them on the floor, while a corkscrew acted as the spinner. I don’t remember what the albums were, though he said he put a lot of thought into it, naming some of them and even where he placed them.
One was an album by Bobby Bare, and Scott mentioned he had made friends with Bobby Bare Jr., whom he told this story to. “…And eventually I got a note from Bobby Bare (Sr.) that just said, ‘You’re welcome, kid.”
Aptly, the song was titled “Twister”, and it was as hilarious as you would expect. “For my Christian neighbors, I pull the curtains tight. If this is wrong, I don’t want to be right…” he crooned on the short track.
I might not have been sure at first, but Scott Nolan was a great singer/songwriter, and his 36-minutes on stage seemed to pass by too quickly.
If you get a chance, go see one of his shows. He’s highly entertaining, and in more aspects than just being a talented musician. At the very least, check out his music in iTUNES (also HERE). You’ll be glad you did, especially if you’re a fan of the singer/songwriter genre.
With his set being done, all that was left now was to wait for Hayes Carll to take the stage, which happened about half an hour later.
It was 9:06 when the lights dimmed and Scott Nolan returned to the stage; this time to backup his friend Hayes Carll. All the fanfare went to Hayes Carll, of course. A lot of it may have been because the room at The Kessler is more intimate, but the noise level earsplitting. I mean, I had been to a show a couple nights before this at a venue and a crowd that was much larger than this, and that specific band didn’t even get near the reaction Mr. Carll did this night.
Like I said, part of that surely has to do with the size of the room, but on the other hand, he is just that loved.
It was anyone’s guess as to what would come first, either a song or a story. It wound up being the former, as he picked up his acoustic guitar and lightly plucked the strings, eventually starting the chords for “Beaumont”, which was greeted with almost as much applause as Hayes had gotten.
“The night was feelin’ lucky, so I asked you to dance, and the way you looked up at me made me think I had a chance. When I put my arms around you, I knew you weren’t given in. I hope it will be different if I pass this way again.” he sang on the second verse of this tale of semi-heartache, while the fans acted as his backing vocalists, singing every word along with him. It was never overpowering of what he was doing, but more just added a nice echo effect to it all.
“Welcome to The Kessler…” he said once that classic had concluded. His talk quickly turned to Scott Nolan, who sit on the seat he had earlier, with a guitar in hand and keyboard at his side. “I’m sure Scott already told y’all about the long drive he made…” Hayes said, before the conversation took another turn, this time to Winnipeg. “…The last time I was there, it was forty-two degrees below…” said Hayes, which made me shiver just hearing about temperatures that cold.
“When you have to go, you have to question the safety of it…” he added, putting his own unique perspective on things, reminding everyone that even in when it gets cold in Texas, that’s never a real concern. “I mean, there are lots of guys walking around as eunuchs up there, and you’re like, ‘Well, what happened?’ and they say, ‘Well, I had to take piss and it took longer than expected.”
A few minutes was all it took for the comedy portion of the show to get into full swing, and there was still plenty of it to come.
“So, this is night ten of my Pub Crawl Tour…” said Hayes, joking in his dry sense of humor that he was just “getting lazy” since he was doing these as acoustic duo gigs. “Basically, I just pick one town and then play five shows there.” he quipped, pointing out he had done five shows down in Austin, before bringing it up here to North Texas.
He then mentioned his Double Wide gig, specifically speaking about the venue when he said it was “similar” to The Kessler. That other venue is great, and it’s the best of the best as far as dive bars go, and I was curious how he was going to draw a comparison between it and the elegant listening room that is The Kessler. He paused for a second after saying it was “similar”, then carried on, “In almost no way at all.”
He had already been talking longer than he had played music thus far (not that anyone minded it), but he was due for another song now, and busted out another from 2008’s “Trouble In Mind”, “Wild as a Turkey”.
Afterwards, came a block of new songs. In fact, the only new songs he did were all strung together here, and Hayes made clear that the first of these new ones “wasn’t for everyone”. “Actually, I don’t know if it’s for anyone.” He added, saying he could handle any criticisms people might have.
“I used to want to get with you.” he sang at the start; taking a strategic pause to let the crowd react. Nearly everyone was cheering over the subject matter, and then he continued with the next line, “But now I want to get with your daugh-ter.” he crooned, again pausing afterwards. Some people still hollered back at him, liking the lyrics even more now that he had said that, while others quietly laughed and shook their heads. “Yeah, that’s usually where I lose people…” he remarked, his dry sense of humor again coming in handy.
It was classic Hayes, having moments like that where you couldn’t help but laugh, and others that were flat-out honest. I’m sure I’m paraphrasing this, but part of the chorus was something like, “Maybe you should just stop asking questions to things you don’t want to know.”
The next new song was about his ten-year-old son. “He’s a magician. Not a musician, a magician…” Hayes pointed out, making sure everyone heard him correctly, saying it’s kind of hard as a parent when your child tells you they want to be a magician. “He’s also into cake decorating.” he said, as if to say it only got worse.
He talked about when his son first started trying all the tricks that he would quickly call him out on it and tell him he could see what he was doing. “He has tiny hands.” he suddenly said, sending the audience into a roaring fit of laughter, which only intensified when he thought about it for a second and admitted, “…I was a dick about it.”
There’s a silver lining to the story, though, and it’s that his son stuck it out, never paying attention to any discouraging words, and has gotten pretty good at it. So good in fact, that he got asked to join the Austin Association of Magicians (or something like that). The audience applauded that feat. “Oh, you’ve heard of them?” Hayes answered surprisingly. “They’re an ancient, mystic society that meets every other Monday at the International House of Pancakes.”
The song is called “Magic Kid”, and not only is a lovely song that a father wrote for his son, but it’s also an uplifting song for anyone, with a core message of just being yourself, finding something you like and enjoy and sticking with it, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.
With those two out of the way, Hayes mentioned that these new songs were going in the “reverse order of life”. The first one being about when your older, while “Magic Kid” was about a young kid. Now, the focus was going to shift to something a little more serious, and Hayes set up the next one as being a song about “losing your significant other to someone else”.
“I don’t know all the words, but we’ll get as far as we can.” he mentioned right before starting the track that sounded like it be another classic Hayes Carll song. It was, but not in the way everyone had first thought.
The first line of the second verse was something like, “Things have changed since he moved in…”, and he continued singing, “…He poots, you think it’s cute. I poot, you leave the room…”
Are you getting this yet? Yes, Hayes Carll has again proved his songwriting genius by crafting a track about losing one’s wife to the child y’all had together. “My baby took my baby away…” went a line from the chorus.
I was in near tears on that one from laughing so hard and I think more than a few people were in the same boat, because bursts of laughter could be heard all throughout the song, while he sang it with a straight face. I’m being dead serious when I say that song was genius (it’s on the same level as that old hit “She Left Me for Jesus”), and if it doesn’t make the cut on his next album I’ll be very upset, because it’s one of the greatest things that has ever been written, and not just by him.
“I’m realizing three of these songs won’t be popular with ladies.” he confessed after that one. “I have songs for ladies…” he continued, but noted those were more for the guys, or any woman who might have a sense of humor for situations like that. (That’s possible for two of those songs, though I don’t imagine many, if any woman would find a song about wanting to basically “upgrade” from her to her daughter funny. Maybe I’m wrong, though.)
So, now that those three stage of live had been covered there was only one left: conception.
Hayes mentioned that subject matter of this next song was something that has never happened to him “I’ve played this song one hundred and seventy-four times…” he said, making a point as to how rare an event this is.
I already knew what song this had to be, and I was excited, because the only other time I had heard him do it was the first show of his I ever say, almost two years ago at the Homegrown Music Festival in Dallas. He then mentioned the name of the song which was “One Bed, Two Girls, Three Bottles of Wine”.
Apparently, he didn’t want Scott Nolan being the only guy who did a song about having a threesome.
“…I’ll be your boy, your toy to torture, touch and teach me. So, Sandra tied me up as Sally laid me down…” he sang, before getting to the brilliant chorus, “…While I’m kissing hers, the others loving mine. If the devil is watching, he thinks I’m doing fine…” It only got better on the second verse “…Whoo-wee, someone’s chewing on my knee… Oh flip, they’re playing with my…” he stepped back from the mic at that last part, leaving it up to the audience to infer what the next word would have been.
Things slowed down on the instrumental break, as Hayes stated he kept hoping that “life will imitate art”. He then elaborated on that. “I write songs about beer. People bring me beer. I write songs about drugs. People will sometimes slip me drugs. I write a song about a three-way. Nothing.” he said, acting perplexed by it all.
As funny as the song is though, the best part is the realistic approach it takes, with the hero of the story more or less cracking under the pressure. “…For five minutes I was king of all I see, and then the end came sooner than expected…” Hayes sang, going on to mention he wished he had paid more attention to adult movies during his teen years, so he’d know how to handle such a “unique and surprisingly complicated situation”, and which point he’s left to watch as the girls continued without him.
Man, that was great. I have to say, I liked the way the show started, but I was still on the fence as to how it might play out, but those new tracks squashed the doubt I had.
After those few fun(ny) songs, it was time to bring the mood back down, and “Chances Are” was the perfect song to do that. “…Every heart has got a story, mine just has a few more scars. But they could heal if you would hold me and tell me what my chances are.” sang Hayes on the somber tune, a tune that bleeds heartache with every word and every note, which is precisely what makes it so good.
It was time for another story now, as Hayes mentioned that it was Scott Nolan who wrote this next song, a staple of his. “…I try to give credit where credit is due whenever I can…” Hayes said, as he went on to relay a story Scott had told him about some of his more recent shows where he opened up with this song that he wrote, and later had people from the crowd come up to him and ask, “Why did you open with a Hayes Carll song?”
“And you shouldn’t. You should never open with a Hayes Carll song.” joked Hayes. The conversation than took a different turn, when he went into a little tale about being up in Canada with a friend (I don’t remember who he said he was with) and his friend got invited to the “Canadian equivalent of the White House”. Hayes tagged along with him, and mentioned there were all these intimidating armed guards outside the place, when he happened to realize he had forgotten his passport.
“…So I grabbed one of my CD’s and was like, ‘This has my picture on it. This is me…” he said, as he attempted to get them to let him in. He said they stared at for just a second, then looked at him, said “Okay. Go on.” and motioned him in.
“Canadians.” Hayes simply said, sounding amazed by their kind and trusting nature.
By that time, I had almost forgotten they had even talked about a song that Scott had written. Apparently, I owe Mr. Scott Nolan a big thank you, because he wrote what is my favorite Hayes Carll song.
Hayes played some notes on his harmonica and plucked at his guitar, before singing, “Arkansas; my head hurts. I’d love to stick around and maybe make it worse. I’ve got a girl out in Henrietta, and her love is like tornado weather…” Hays sang on the slowed down version of “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart”. “Indian summer: Oklahoma sunset. If there’s a nicer place I haven’t been there yet…” sang Scott, who handled the second verse of his song. The added a nice dynamic to it, especially since Scott has such a standout and unique sound to his voice. The fans then took it upon to help out on the last verse, lightly singing along with Hayes who had taken back over. “…Doesn’t anybody care about truth anymore? I guess maybe that’s what songs are for. You’re the wind, and I’m on fire. In this line of work no one retires. Come in clean, leave torn apart. A bad liver and a broken heart…” everyone sang.
Little did the fans know, they weren’t done singing along just yet. “Drunken Poet’s Dream” is another fan favorite, and the crowd got a little riled up upon hearing. Hayes even added a few extra lines to the start of the second verse, one of which was “…She tastes like pills and cheap cologne…”
That’s one song he co-wrote with his friend and Texas music legend Ray Wylie Hubbard, whom he spoke of now, mention what a huge admirer he is of Mr. Hubbard and followed him around quite a bit in his younger days before befriending him.
For their first co-write together Hayes said he got to Ray’s place and asked him what he had been writing about lately. “Farm animals.” Hubbard answered. Hayes noted that, that was an “unexplored” style of songwriting for him. “…I usually write about drugs and alcoholism…” he said, rattling off several other topics that his music has covered, none of which had been farm animals.
“And Ray Wylie Hubbard was just killing it with farm animal songs. Let’s see, he’s got songs about goats, cows, pigs…” he said, listing off a whole menagerie of creatures. He even mentioned Ray’s song “Snake Farm” and sang a line or two from it.
“…Now, you can call me a sellout… but I’m paying my bills…” said Hayes, talking about all the companies that used that song.
Well, none of that actually happened (the being rich part at least). With that, he and Scott started the final track from his “Little Rock” album, “Chickens”, which was the only song he did from that record this night. Scott stole show during it, tearing into an incredible guitar solo that left everyone’s mouth agape, while they cheered his prowess as a guitarist.
Afterwards, Hayes went even further back than that 2005 album. He mentioned that this next song was one of the first he ever wrote, and it was the first one of his songs that someone ever covered.
The band he said that covered it was a duo with a female singer, while the guy played a flute; making them sound like they were an interesting act to say the least. Also, to stick with “artistic integrity”, the woman sang the song from a “lesbian perspective”.
He then started the tune and the fans cheered with glee. “I have another song that starts like this.” Hayes quickly stated. That’s a line I’ve heard the last three times I’ve seen him, and he always plays the song that everyone new and was expecting. Tonight, it was a different story.
He did the title track from his debut album, “Flowers and Liquor”. It has held up well against his other, newer music, and one line, “…I’m getting excited, I hope I’m invited. I want to spend the night with you.” is still pure Hayes, even twelve years after that debut album dropped.
He rolled the end of that one right into the title track from his current LP, “KMAG YOYO”. It’s a song you would think would sound good acoustic, but surprisingly, it did. Actually, it was great in this format. Lyrically it’s closer to being a rap (really) and given the fact that he was setting his own pace on it this time, Hayes seemed to do it just a hair quicker than it’s performed at the full band shows.
He made a switch to an electric guitar for the next couple of songs; playing some notes as the fans wondered what was coming next. He played a brief lead in to the song, before finally getting to the all too recognizable notes of “I Got a Gig”, a song that chronicles his adventures of starting out as a musician and all the dive bars you have to play while paying your dues.
Upon finishing it, Hayes pointed out it had been something like five years since he and Scott had played together like they were at the moment, and he congratulated him for being so great “on the fly”. Now that impressed me, because I figured there had been some type of rehearsal done. Nope, he was just winging it, and you never would have guessed it.
“…Drinking beers is about the only thing I can do anymore without practice…” Hayes said, again using his deadpan delivery of humor. But to make sure Scott didn’t feel signaled out by that, Hayes told everyone he was going to put himself in similar shows and do a song he seldom plays.
“Don’t Let Me Fall” was the song he did, which is a solid little track from “Trouble In Mind”, and I enjoyed getting to hear it live.
After switching back to his acoustic guitar, Hayes announced he was going to do a song by his friend. Everyone already knew what was coming, but Hayes confirmed it by saying it was a song about why it’s a good idea for traveling musicians to carry a Bible on their dashboard. Aptly, the song is called “Bible On the Dash”, and it tells a very entertaining story about how you can get out any trouble you might run into (i.e. police officers, border stops, etc.) by simply having a copy of the good book with you.
How good the night get any better than that? Well, there was still the greatest duet ever written to do, though I skeptical how this might turn out.
Hayes said at some of these shows he had done both the male and female parts, but opted to start bringing fans on stage to sing with him to give it more of a vibe. When he did this is Dallas for his Holiday Hangover Tour, it was a disaster (see HERE), hence why I was skeptical as to how this might go.
He then went into a story about one of the Fort Worth shows he had played a night or two before, where there were “five thousand people” out in the crowd. He asked for a volunteer, and one woman was almost “falling over the barricade” as he put it, trying to be picked.
“…Will you put your lips to the microphone and sing clearly?” was one of the questions he asked her, and she said yes to all of them.
“…Minutes are going by. I mean I have a cigarette and a beer in my hand just waiting. Five thousand people there, all waiting for her to get up on stage. So, she gets up there… and her name’s like, Sally or something like that. So I’m, ‘Sally, are you ready?” “Ready for what?” she responded. “To sing!” Hayes said he told her. “We just talked about when you were right out there!” “Oh, I’m not gonna sing or nothing.” she answered.
Granted, some of that was probably slightly embellished, but it made for one helluva story. So, when Hayes did chose a woman to join him, he made sure to tell her that if this didn’t go well he’d have to ask that she ;eave the show without a refund. “No pressure or anything.” he added.
It seemed like it was going to be a disaster when she got on stage and was in a slight state of disbelief when she realized she didn’t even get the lyrics “like at karaoke”. “This song’s about the great political divide in America.” Hayes said, still starting “Another Like You” regardless of what direction this might go.
He, of course, nailed his part, while the moment of truth came when it got to the first female part of the song, and the woman (whose name I sadly don’t remember) looked pretty sheepish up there. “You were falling like the Alamo. Drinking fast and talking slow…” she sang; instantly sending the sold out crowd into a deafening roar as they let her know how much they liked it.
I’m assuming she is by no means a professional singer, and given that, she had an astounding voice. I mean, wow! She sang it all very well too, and I think there were maybe just a few words at one point she forgot, but sung something else that still fit before getting back on track.
They even had a good chemistry going on the back and forth part as Hayes and her looked at one another. “Well, you’re probably a democrat.” she sang, as he remarked while they kept alternating, “Well, what the hell is wrong with that?” “Nothing if you’re Taliban.” “Well, I bet you slept with half the south.” “Oh, don’t you ever shut your mouth?”
This was redemption for that other Dallas show I mentioned, and she sang the song flawlessly.
Soon after she left the stage, Hayes started another song that was nearly unrecognizable as an acoustic song, and that was the closer for his 88-minute long set, “Stomp And Holler”. It still had a nice kick to it, though, and was still a fitting final song. “…From all I’ve seen, you only get one shot at what you’re gonna do in this life…” he sang, before getting to the line that was on the shirt I happened to be wearing, “I’m like James Brown only white and taller…”, which is followed with, “And all I wanna do is stomp and holler.”
The fans were taking the song title to heart, stomping and hollering right along with him, before some of those who were seated gave him a standing ovation as he and Scott left the stage.
That couldn’t be it, though; surely not. Okay, there were some songs that he probably wouldn’t do this night because they wouldn’t best fit the acoustic vibe, but I could think of at least one more he had to play.
He wasn’t gone anytime when he returned to the stage. “I say this every night. I would do this every night if people showed up or not, but it’s a helluva lot more fun when people do.” He told his fans, being truly humbled that this many people had come out to see him this night.
He was alone for this one, and soon began the 7-minute long encore portion with a song I was expecting, “Grateful For Christmas”.
Sure, he had sung plenty of gloomy songs this night about unrequited love or having your heart broken by one circumstance or another, but the most poignant song of the night was this one.
It still has that certain Hayes Carll charm, like in the line, “Lord, what I’d give for one good looking cousin.” but it’s far from being a happy song. Instead, it goes through all the stages of Christmas you have in your life. When you’re a kid, the holiday is (usually) a big family affair, probably traveling somewhere (in this case Waco) where your grandparents live, surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins galore. Then you lose a grandparent, and the get together gets a little smaller; more with your immediate family.
“Hey mom, how you doing? Yeah, I miss him too…” he sang on the final verse, which deals with the loss of a parent, along with having to share the holiday between your family and your spouses.
It really brought a little tear to your eye, and while I don’t listen to it often on the record, it is a song that cuts right to the bone. It’s a good thing, though, because it’s a song that reaffirms a way of thinking I’ve had for many years now: savor the small things in life and enjoy every second you spend with anyone you care for. Be it family, friends or whatever, because they won’t always be there, and just because something has been one way for most of your life (like Christmas), doesn’t mean it always will be. Point is, there is a lesson in this song, and it’s one that should be taken to heart.
So, after killing the happy mood with that one, it was time to end on a positive note.
Scott rejoined him for this last number, which again had fans ecstatic when they heard the opening chords. Remember that song earlier where I said Hayes mentioned he has two songs that start the same way. Well, “Girl Downtown” is the one that everybody knows and loves (and the one he typically plays). It created another sing-along moment, and the fun, happy song about love was a wonderful way to wrap-up the night.
Yeah, I had my doubts about how god this show might be, but Hayes Carll proved just what an excellent musician he is this night.
“Beaumont” ensnared the fans from the get go, and by the time he got to those brand new songs I was enthralled, while he finished strong with the last several tracks of the main set.
If I had to pick, I’d still say the full band shows are better overall, but the band isn’t necessary to him putting on a memorable show.
His witty banter is one part that ensures that, while the songs still sounded fantastic, even if they lacked the punch they usually have.
Basically, Hayes Carll is a true entertainer, because he can hold your attention and keep you invested in what he’s doing no matter what the setting is.
I’ll finish by saying this: this was the fourth straight night I had been out at concerts for the week. I had seen some great local rock bands, a killer national touring electronic/pop band from Detroit, and one of the best rising stars in the Texas music scene. However, this show, this acoustic show by one of the most prolific (and underrated on a national scale) singer/songwriters who’s currently in the game was the best show out of those four.
If you haven’t heard of Hayes Carll, you’re really missing out, and you remedy that by going over to iTUNES right this instant and checking out his music. (Don’t use, “Oh, but he’s an Americana musician and I don’t like Americana.” as an excuse, because his music is as much rock as anything.)
By now, the Pub Crawl Tour is over, but he still has some shows coming up here and there. His full schedule can be viewed HERE.
It was a phenomenal night here at The Kessler, and in just six days it would all be repeated (well, with different bands, at least.)
“If you’re lucky nuff to be at Hank’s, you’re lucky nuff.”
That was what a sign above the stage at Hank’s Texas Grill in McKinney had written on it, and I have to say, after going to the venue, that’s a fitting statement.
It’s not just a concert venue, it’s also a restaurant and bar, and a nice one at that. It’s far more spacious than I would have guessed, stretching back quite a ways. At the back is where the stage is located, and it’s comparable to many venues in Dallas, Denton or Fort Worth. It’s cozy looking on stage, but not too bad; the stage is elevated enough to allow everyone a good view of the band playing; and the room’s small enough to be conducive to an intimate feeling between the fans and the band.
It should be noted this is a country venue, and they bring a variety of acts, even big-ticket ones, up here to the suburbs (just the night before Texas legend Ray Wylie Hubbard graced the stage).
This night, Hank’s was hosting The Dirty River Boys, who had spent the last week up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the Steamboat MusicFest, and before returning home to Austin, these El Paso natives were going to treat their North Texas fans to a show.
At ten on the dot the Nino Cooper, Colton James, Travis Stearns and Marco Gutierrez emerged from backstage, and were greeted with a bunch of fanfare. They may not be a hugely successful band yet, by they definitely have a following, and their fans were out in full force this night.
“How’s it going Hank’s?” Marco asked the crowd while he and his band mates settled into their spots. A few songs in they mentioned it had been about three years since the last time they were here, and noted they were happy to be back.
They cut right to the chase, however, starting their epic show with the lead and title track from their 2011 EP, “Train Station”. Nino added some subtle backing vocals to Marco’s singing, as the two softly plucked the strings of their respective acoustic guitars. It had a little more kick to it than even what comes across on the record, with the highlight moment being when Marco belted out the line, “…My heart’s a broken record, the needle’s singing out here name.”
The crowd loved it, and made it known with some deafening cheers and applause, while they marched on with their next song, which found Nino taking over the lead singing responsibilities, amidst the amazing four-part harmonies they all contributed to. He changed part of the chorus of “My Son”, from “How you gonna find your way back home? The maps you drew and burned and gone…” to, “…The roads you knew are paved and gone…” It was a nice artistic change, and on another note, Travis absolutely owned his cajon during this track. For those unfamiliar with the instrument, it’s a boxlike percussion instrument, and for him it also serves as his stool. He went to town on it, slapping it wildly and forcefully, and it was really something else to watch.
They moved to some more recent material, doing the outlaw country sounding song, “Lungs”. Now that they had done a few that their fans were familiar with, it was time to give everyone a taste of what their forthcoming record will be like. They did plenty of other new songs during this show, and this was one of a few that found Colton doing the singing. He’s got a great voice, and the fact that neither he, Nino or Marco sound anything alike adds an incredible mix of diversity to their music, though there’s still that common thread that binds everything together.
“That was a new song. This one’s an old one.” Marco informed the audience. Most of their songs didn’t have a seamless transition, though for the most part, they smoothly rolled from one song into the next, as was the case here. Marco pulled out his harmonica for “Dried Up”, a beautiful song with some nice hints of rock thrown in, and it’s a song that really shows off what a precise band they are. For instance, there are times when Marco lays into his harmonica in perfect time with one of Travis’s drum beats. Just shows the kind of accuracy you can get when you play shows at a near constant pace.
They even added a fun little touch to it, ending with Marco tacking on a portion of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”. “…She makes love just like a woman. She aches just like a woman.” He sang, flashing a grin at the crowd before he sang the final line, “But she breaks just like a little girl.”
It’s little touches like that, that can make a great song absolutely unforgettable, as was the case this night. They followed it with another new song they’ve cooked up, and afterwards did an old fan favorite with a new twist. They kept “Carnival Lights” pretty slow and entirely acoustic through the first chorus, with only Marco playing it. “…So she stays lonely, with her poison inside medicine bottle, filled with nothing but her own shortcomings. She leans her head back, she puts ‘em down and they taste alright. Please, just try to stay conscious tonight.” sang Marco on the chorus of this emotionally heavy song, and then asked everyone a question. “Y’all still with us, Hank’s?” The crowd hollered at him to signify they were, and that was when they kicked the song into high gear with the full band. That soft start wasn’t the only change they made to the song this night either, and at the end they all four harmonized on the line, “Please, just try to stay conscious tonight.”
They got into more of a rock mode with their next song, another new one, which required Colton to swap from his upright bass to a standard electric one, before going switching back for their next one. “Y’all feel like singing with us?!” Travis shouted at everyone, standing up from his drum kit and waving his hands in the air to pump everyone up. He led them in what to sing while Nino walked over to stage left and took the mandolin out of its stand on top of one of the amps. The song that required some audience participation was “Boomtown”, and the fans were eager to join in. “Y’all take the second round.” Marco instructed early on, as Nino did the main singing, with Colton and Marco coming in at different intervals, harmonizing with him. The fans were more than willing to help out, especially on the chorus, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! There’s a boomtown on the rise.” They kept it pretty fun, too, with Colton spinning his bass around at one point, the feathers and raccoon pelt that adorn it twirling right along with it.
No sooner had the song finished, then Marco set things up for the next one. “This is what we call a Chinese fire drill.” he stated, as the lot of them switched instruments. Nino went back to his acoustic guitar, while Travis took the mandolin from him. Colton brought out a banjo, which left Marco with the upright bass. They did a brief jam, just making some noise before stopping and counting themselves in on one of their most fun tracks, “Lookin’ for the Heart”. It really was one of the most fun songs of their show this night, and not just because you could tell they were having so much fun doing it.
There was one moment when Travis, who was pacing around a bit, turned and ran into one of the support columns on the stage. What followed looked like something out of a cartoon, and was very humorous, as he looked bewildered at the column. He proceeded to flip it his middle finger, than pretended to kick it, looking like he was about to get a bar fight with the thing.
Upon finishing it, they all returned to their normal roles. “…This is a country song about punk rock…” Marco told everyone. It was another tune from their new batch of music, and it really is about punk rock, and even has some tinges of the genre mixed in with their alternative/country/rock sound. The mood was brought down a bit as Nino started playing some notes on his harmonica, getting “Union Painter”, which is another one of their songs that tells a real story, underway.
They weren’t done with the storyteller songs, either. “This song’s about life on the road.” Nino told everyone. I was expecting one of the songs off their “Science of Flight” record, which has a title that fits that description. That wasn’t it, though. Instead, it was another new one, and Colton had to bring his electric bass back out for it.
I don’t say this often about music, so there should be quite a bit of merit in the following statement; the song was absolutely mind blowing. Seriously, not only during it, but also for the duration of their set I was thinking to myself, “Holy. Shit.” It was a roaring rock number, and was not only the most intense thing The Dirty River Boys have done, it was one of the most intense songs I’ve ever heard. It was beast of a song, and these guys really made something special with this song that had Nino singing about all the experiences of a touring band, from loading in and out of clubs and all sorts of other stuff. And fitting with the pace of the song, there was a point in the song where Travis threw his drum stick in the air, as high as he could, and caught it perfectly.
“You can bet your sweet ass that’s going on next album.” said Marco, while Travis set up the beat for their next tune, another new one that Colton was able to show off his chops on. The electric bass was back out for that one, as well as the next one, which was their most recent single.
Travis pointed this, saying that some of the people in attendance may have heard it on one of the local radio stations, and if no one had, they could call and request it. Marco started in with the chord progression of the track, leading in to it, before his guitar fell silent. Attention then turned towards Nino, who was looking up with his eyes closed, presumably counting himself in for “Desert Wind”. He and his band mates all came in at the same moment, launching into the gorgeous and moving powerhouse of a song.
“We haven’t done this one in a little while.” Marco remarked when things quieted down, seeming like he was talking to himself more than the audience. The song he was referring to was “Six Riders”, which had a few people gleefully singing along to it, and even if they hadn’t done it in awhile, you sure couldn’t tell it.
Once it was over, Travis interrupted the show, going ahead and apologizing to his band mates, acknowledging that he knew what he was about to do was highly unprofessional. Apparently, he had forgotten to bring a pack of cigarettes on stage with him, and now asked if anyone had one they would be willing to spare. “I can’t breathe. I need a cigarette.” he told everyone, before one fan dug a cigarette out and tossed it to him.
“Riverbed Wildflowers” came next in the set, and for a slower song, it packs quite a punch, and it may well even strike an emotional chord in you. They livened things back up with another new song, which Nino dedicated to everyone who was drinking whiskey this night. That was what the song was about, and started with all four of them harmonizing on the first line or so, before exploding into a rowdy rock song. It got the people moving, as did the next song, which was one they co-wrote with Ray Wylie Hubbard. They explained it was written about the violence in their hometown of El Paso, as well as the border city of Juarez. If anything can give that amazing rock song from earlier in the night a run for its money, it’s this one. It boasts a vigorous music bed, and Travis did some vicious drumming on it, rocking out to the point that the trucker hat he had been wearing finally went sailing off at one point as he thrust his head back.
The next number was done almost primarily by Nino, and that was the pretty and delicate, “So Long, Elanie”. People seemed to like (I, for one, did), but after finishing it he promised they were going to bring things back up, then looked at the other three guys to make sure they were ready. They created a haunting intro for “Letter to Whoever”, with some spooky music and eerie crooning into the mics, before busting into the short, quick paced song. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Travis Stearns!” Marco shouted before he got a short drum solo during the instrumental break.
A few songs back they had pointed out they only had a couple left, and now, the night was about to come to an end.
“How many of y’all have seen us before?!” Travis asked, again rising up from his kit to get a good view of everyone. Quite a few hands shot up in the air, while others shouted they had. “So, y’all know how we like to do it then!” Travis roared, continuing to rile everyone up, while Nino retrieved the mandolin. They were ending their 93-minute set with “Raise Some Hell”, which musically resembles a Irish jig, and is arguably their most fun song. It certainly got the audience in a boisterous mood, many of whom seemed to take one of the lines from the song as a command, and stomped their feet against the ground. It also became a fun sing-along for nearly everyone, as the fans shouted right along with the band, “…Boys, we’re gonna raise some hell tonight!”
If that was their mission this night, it was one they accomplished, and they left everyone in a frenzied state as they retreated to the backstage area.
No one thought it was over yet, though, and a small group of people began chanting for “one more song”.
At most a minute passed before Marco peaked his head out from the door, then walked back onto the stage.
“It’s been a long week in Colorado.” he remarked as he got back behind the mic. He began the 11-minute encore portion all on his lonesome, having a little moment where all eyes were fixated on him.
“…I let you down, well, I fell through, but by and by I’ll get through to you. Just let me in again when it feels right…” he crooned on the oh so lovely and poignant song, “Another Night”, which is about a “stupid, drunken night” and seeking forgiveness. Nino joined him fairly early on in the song, adding another guitar part to it, and shortly after that first chorus was when Colton and Travis rejoined them, kicking things up a few notches. There’s also what I think is a pretty profound line towards the end, and that is, “…Lips, they’re only lips if they have no meaning.”
That was the last original song they did for the night, and Travis wound them into their final number. I’d guess it was something they worked up for their time in Colorado, and it was a pretty awesome way to close things out with.
They covered a classic from The Rolling Stones, and that was “Honky Tonk Woman”.
I know this will be considered sacrilege by many, but their version was superior to the Stones. They sped it up more from the original version, which made it harder hitting, and even mixed some very light country sounds into what was otherwise a sensational rock song. I guess the point is they made it their own, and once they finished it, Travis stood up from his drum kit and jabbed one of the sticks into one of the drums (I believe it was the snare, though I couldn’t see too well), signifying that they were indeed done.
I do an annual Best Of list on this blog, running down my favorite albums and concerts from the past year. When putting that list together late last month, out of the 120+ concerts I saw last year, I ranked one of The Dirty River Boys shows I saw second. This night, I was reminded why they placed so high on my list.
They’re aren’t many bands like this out there, at least not that I’m aware of. I’m not just talking about all their obvious qualities, either.
Yes, the fact that they have four very capable singers, each with their own unique tone is fantastic, and it’s only made better by how they’re incorporating more of that into their new music. Not only that, but they’re just skilled musicians in general, being right at home on any of the instruments they spend time on. As for their live show, I’d say it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen from almost any band, being extremely energetic and fun. It’s not even any of that, that makes them so astounding, though.
Is what makes them so astounding is the sheer fun they so clearly have while on stage, which in turn translates to the audience, allowing you as a spectator to enjoy what you’re seeing even more. It’s the raw emotion that’s found in their music and the passion they put into singing and performing the songs that make their shows such an experience.
You just don’t often find bands that put that kind of feeling into their music, and that’s what sets these guys apart from most bands.
This quartet recently went into the studio and laid down the songs for their next record, which will be coming out sometime this year. In the meantime, they have an LP and two EP’s, as well as a single of “Desert Wind” all available in iTUNES.
As for shows, their next one will be on January 31st at Cheatham Street in San Marcos. They also have a show in Helotes at the Floore’s Country Store on February 8th and a gig at The Office Sports Bar in Lubbock on the 28th. And on February 21st, they’ll be back in North Texas, with a Fort Worth gig where they’ll headline Billy Bob’s Texas. And for those like me, who live about an hour away from Fort Worth, I promise, their show would be well worth the drive. And after that, it looks like their next North Texas show won’t be until April 25th, when they play the Granada Theater.
Thus ended a wonderful night in the suburbs. I doubt Hank’s will be a venue I frequent, mainly since I’m not a very avid listener of country music, but I look forward to hopefully seeing another show there sometime. And one of the best things about this concert was that it was over relatively early, and the drive home was a little shorter than it is coming back from Dallas.
The Prophet Bar was hosting a very unique show this night. Free Dominguez, best known as the frontwoman of Kidneythieves, was performing this night, and this final show of an only two-show tour of Texas was more of an intimate party than just your typical concert.
This Dallas date was billed as a “private event”, with buying tickets in advance being the only way to get in, as no tickets were sold at the door, giving it an exclusive feel, to an extent.
On top of that, Free had organized the lineup, with her cousin Jordi Baizan and fellow Los Angeles based singer Sierra Swan opening for her. (Dallas locals At Night were also scheduled to perform, though their van broke down on the way back from their Houston show).
However, since this was such an early show (starting about 6PM), both openers had finished by the time I was able to get there, though I heard good things about both.
Still, everyone was most excited for Free Dominguez, who had been over at the merch table meeting people and signing stuff for most of the evening (from what I heard), only leaving shortly before her and her bands 8:40 start time in order to get ready for the show.
Much of their 67-minute long set was comprised of material from “Volcano and the Sea”, an album that at one point during the night Free said she had been wanting to make for ten years, sounding elated that it had finally happened.
They kicked things off exactly how the record does, with the beautifully serene yet roaring rock number, “Calling”. She informed the decent size crowd on the title after they finished it, chatting with everyone briefly. “This is going to be our last song.” Free joked before they launched into “Beautiful”, which was just one of many songs this night that guitarist Static was able to shred on.
Drummer Beak Wing counted them in on the mesmerizing “Line in the Sand”, which was the last song they did in order as is heard on the record, and afterwards Free again spoke with the crowd, creating a real rapport with everybody. One thing she did was point out a couple who had drove all the way from St. Louis to see this show, a feat that earned them a round of applause. “…It’s stuff like that that keeps me doing what I’m doing…” remarked Free, being genuinely humbled by that, as well as all the fans in general who had come out to show their support.
“Make me a simple life before I die…” Free crooned as they started “Simple Life”, which somewhat deals with materialism, and wound up being a highlight of their show. At least I thought so. Upon finishing it, she pointed out one of the lines from it, for those who might not have caught it, and that was, “…Things that are forever are forever changing…” She commented on how that’s more or less a mantra for her, and it is probably one of the most true lyrics from a song. Talk then led to the next song, which Free noted was the first song she and Static wrote that wound up leading to “Volcano and the Sea”. “…He was screwing around on Skype…” she said, saying she liked what he was doing on his guitar and asked him to continue.
They then slowed things down with the dark and gorgeous “Corridors”, with Free hitting some utterly beautiful notes with her voice. “That’s always a fun one to do. It’s always different.” she stated, referring to Static as “the feral one”, adding that he always keeps them on their toes while performing it. And while they had toned things down with that song, they were about to scale back even more as Beak Wing and bassist Matt McJunkins left the stage. Free told everyone that for this next segment, she let Static pick the songs they were going to play, ones she hadn’t prepared for and was going to be as surprised as the audience. “…I might even forget the lyrics, like I did last night in Houston.” she said laughing.
This portion of the show saw them doing some stripped down covers of Kidneythieves songs, and the first one was the lead track from “Zerospace”, “Before I’m Dead”. They may have sounded a little different, but it was these songs that everyone seemed to love, and much of the audience was even singing along to them, especially “Jude (Be Somebody)”, which everyone seemed ecstatic to hear, and it did even catch Free off guard. “I don’t know what it is.” she said after Static’s first riff on the guitar, reiterating that after the second, before realizing. And no, she didn’t flub the words to either of those tracks.
As the rhythm section returned, Free took a few moments to discuss another project she and Static are working on, which will be a hip-hop collaboration. She expressed her love of the genre, even saying they recently got word from the label that they will be able to get who they want to collaborate with for what I believe she said would be an EP that would most likely be released in the first half of next year. She sounded very excited about it, and it will no doubt be an interesting record to hear once it’s finished.
As they got back to her solo material, they did some revamped renditions of a couple songs from “(.Unearth.)”, the addition of Matt and Beak Wing really helping flesh out the songs from how they are on the album, helping transform “ Darkest Rivers” into a beast of a song, and one they could all really throw down on. “…Enjoy it…” said Free, urging everyone to get the most out of it, adding, “…’Cause I don’t know when we’ll be back…” Following it was “Questions + Lies”, which helped wind the evening down, but they still had a couple songs left to do.
But before playing any more, Free pointed out that a special guest was in attendance, and that was someone who had backed their Kickstarter campaign, picking the reward option of having her write a song about him. In order to get to know him she said they had talked online many times, and she also had him keep a dream journal for a while, which he then gave to her. She was excited about the song, saying how good it was sounding and that she has had to fight the urge to share even a snippet with him, because she wants him to be surprised when he hears the full song, which she said would be titled “Mr. Goodnight”.
They got back to it with “Hearts Like Parachutes”, which made them appear as if they were still getting warmed up, with the whole band really loosing up, especially Matt, who thrashed about to the beat. Then, before their final song, Free pointed out someone else who was in attendance. It was a young girl who was at her first ever concert, and Free said she was glad the child had been in the bathroom earlier when she said the “f-word”. “…I’m sensitive about that stuff…” she clarified, shortly before encouraging everyone to support their favorite band by buying their music, then bashing a streaming service with, “Fuck Spotify!”. It was “Wolf” that brought their show to a close, though even after a little more than an hour, no one was ready for it to come to an end, letting it be known when it was said that would be the last song. “Do you not want me to enjoy this shot?” Free said jokingly, having gotten one early on in the night, but only drank a portion of so it didn’t “fuck up” her voice as she put it. A respectable ting to do I might add, since so many musicians these days don’t seem to think twice about how it might affect their singing.
As the band retreated back stage, the DJ they had at the event began to spin some more music as everyone started to mingle a bit, thinking it was over. It wasn’t.
Static and Free returned to the state after a minute or so, performing over the track the DJ had going, giving everyone one little bonus track.
It was truly an incredible show, and making it all the better was the intimate feel it had. The Prophet Bar is a smaller venue, and all four members were fairly cozy on stage, having just enough room to do a little moving around. That didn’t keep them from putting on one helluva show, though.
There’s no question that Static is a phenomenal guitarist, stealing the spotlight at times as you watch in wonder at his mastery of the instrument. Beak Wing and Matt are also experts at their craft, while Free Dominguez is amazing in all aspects. Often this night she could be seem conducting her body very fluidly to the music, moving her hands and arms about in perfect time to what her band was playing. On top of that, she has a stellar voice, which was no doubt the main tool that left everyone in awe this night.
Honestly, the first time I ever heard any Kidneythieves songs was the covers they did this night, it has prompted me to listen to their records. And while it may be a departure from the group that made her famous, Free’s solo music is every bit as great, albeit in a different way, but in the end, it’s all riveting music that will pull you in and make the trip an experience.
If you haven’t yet heard her solo stuff, check it out in either iTUNES or Bandcamp.
I’m glad I wound up going to this show, as it was well worth it, and I definitely won’t miss out on the next one… Whenever that may be.
It seemed like it had been a little while since I had caught a show at the Doublewide, but with the one the venue was hosting this night, it was impossible to pass up.
Here Holy Spain was headlining, doing their first show since releasing their latest EP at the end of July, and they had a couple of other Dallas acts opening up for them.
Dead Mockingbirds was first up (despite being listed as second on the Doublewide’s website), and this trio got the night off to an excellent start.
They crammed quite a few songs into their 41-minute long set, and their fifth one in was one of my favorites, just being a killer song that singer and guitarist Kenneth Everette Pritchard shredded on, and the bass intro that Trinidad Diaz started it off with was very enticing. Upon finishing it, Kenneth thanked the people who had made their way into the showroom. “…It’s one of the new ones…” he stated.
They weren’t all about rock music, though, throwing in some humor here and there, like after their next song when Kenneth thanked the sound guy, referring to him as their new best friend. “…He doesn’t know it yet, but we’re going to go hang out at his house after this…” he joked, before assuring the sound guy they weren’t going to do that.
They knocked out a couple more, and near the end of one Kenneth dropped to his knees at the center of the stage, fiercely and quickly plucking the strings on his ax for a knockout solo. Matthew Crain then got his turn at a solo, banging about on his kit as they fired up another song. After that one that proceeded it, Kenneth announced it was about “schizophrenia”, which made sense, since it was a pretty wild and crazy sounding number.
They then headed for the end, cranking out four more tracks, including one of the cuts from their recently released 45 record.
I was pretty impressed by these guys, who threw down with the best of them, being very forceful in their performance.
With that, the live show is definitely where it is at for this cohesive trio, who were obviously there to entertain and had fun doing it.
I did have a little trouble hearing Kenneths’ voice at times this night, though I’m not sure if that because the mic volume could have stood to be turned up or what. Still, that was far from being a strike against them.
If you go to the bands REVERBNATION PAGE, you can download some of their songs for FREE, and also keep an eye on that page for future show updates.
Sandwiched in between the opener and headliner was Plissken, and with a name like that, I was interested to hear what they were like.
Personally, they were way too heavy for my tastes, what with the throaty screaming their singer did, and because of that I zoned out on them.
It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but if that’s something you enjoy, check ‘em out.
A little after midnight Here Holy Spain was ready to go, and they had a set planned that would traverse their entire career, from old to current, and even some new material.
A sampling of that newer stuff began their show, kicking off an onslaught of songs. It was titled “Boss Level” (according to the set list), which they quickly sailed through, bleeding it seamlessly into the title track from their 2009 LP, “Manic”. Drummer Scott Brayfield and bassist Erica Guagliardi created a tight knit and quick rhythm section on that one, which eventually gave way into one of their other new ones, “Warning Signs”.
They didn’t stop there, Scott transitioning them right into the next song, before singer and guitarist Wes Todd fired up the first notes of “Drive Out West”, one of the instant classics from the newly released “Under the Undertow” EP. Now only “Division” remained untouched, and they fixed that quickly with the lead track from that full-length, “No Love”. Most of the tracks from that album are filled with a lot of bitterness and anger, which Wes harnesses well, as the raw emotions seep out into his singing. They had a couple more offerings from that record, too, continuing with “Waiting, Wearing Your Skin”.
It only took 15-minutes for them to work through those six songs, and while some of them are shorter, that still speaks to how efficient the members of Here Holy Spain are. As they paused to tune, Ben could be overheard confirming with Wes what the next song was, which was “Can’t Control”. “…They just can’t control it. They try, but they can’t…” Wes joked with his band mate, while they readied themselves. On one of the lines from the second verse, “…My beating, bruised, screaming bleeding heart…” Wes took most of the aggression out of his voice (compared to the album version), giving it a different feel, and it actually made the song sound even better.
To eliminate anymore downtime, Scott tapped on some of his cymbals while the rest of the group tuned, getting things ready for one last song from their new batch. It was called “Physics”, and Ben seemed to be the one that stole the show on that one, having some killer and catchy parts on both the verses and choruses, simply killing it. That one was definitely my favorite from this new set of tunes, and it was followed by my favorite from that new EP they put out in July.
While simple, the opening chords of “Golden Gun” are mesmerizing, and lyrically it’s easily one of the best, deepest things Wes has written. “…How long ‘til the dawn is coming? how long ‘til I drop? I never knew you better than I never knew my god…” he sang before the rest of the outfit joined in as it roared to life.
After one last timeout to get prepped for their final songs, they pulled out the emotional “Even The Bright Ones Burn Out”, before segueing it right into the turbulent “Way Out One In Five”, which concluded their 36-minute long set.
As usual, they knocked it out of the park, and I (and I’m sure other fans) enjoyed hearing the assortment of songs from their previous, current and coming albums. Speaking of that, their new, new material is fantastic, and even though their new EP is barely two months old, it has me looking forward to what their next release will be like, even though that’s probably at least a year away at this point.
If you want to hear some good rock music with a flare of punk, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a group better than Here Holy Spain, especially in the live setting. On that note, they do have a show at Club Dada on October 12th. And don’t forget to pick up their music in iTUNES, and if you collect vinyl, you can get a hard copy of their split vinyl release from IDOL RECORDS online store.
Trees had put together a rather last minute local rock show for this night, with it coming together only about two weeks before. I knew nothing about it, aside from that Paco Estrada was playing it, doing his first full band Dallas show in three months, and it had been even longer than that since I saw him last, so there was no way I could miss this one.
There were only two opening bands, and I never caught the name of the first, probably because they had so many friends/fans out they didn’t think to drop their name, assuming everyone already knew who they were.
They didn’t do a lot for me, and part of that was due to their singers’ voice. In fairness, he did note he had been sick, even saying himself, “…My voice sounds like a bag of dicks…”, but all the same, there was only one song they did where I thought he sounded good and it was enjoyable. Aside from that, their music seemed a bit generic, very of pop/rock, and in a tiresome way.
A trio took the stage next, known as Nine Left Dead who had made the trek from Oklahoma City.
They opened with an instrumental song, which made me curious if that was going to be all they were, but starting with their next song, one of the members began singing (I believe it was the bass player).
The further they got into their show the more I enjoyed it, and some of their songs I thought were pretty well crafted, having some excellent music beds that were even catchy at times.
The only bad thing was they never really got any momentum going, often taking lengthy pauses in between songs, and at one point near the end the singer apologized to everyone, citing they were currently in the studio working on some stuff and they didn’t have much planned.
They could definitely stand to polish and tighten things up, but they are on the right track.
Last minute like this, you can’t expect to get an all-star lineup, but at least they were able to get one all-star act, and Paco Estrada and his band were about to take the stage.
When it came time for Paco and his band to start, pianist Scotty Isaacs began, softly striking the keys as he created a heavenly intro to “American Girls”. That was just one of several songs they did from the upcoming “Bedtime Stories” record, and Paco led them in winding it into their next song with some licks on his acoustic guitar.
Afterwards was when Paco formally introduced himself to everyone, though most of the meager crowd was probably already familiar with him. After another one of their new jams, they launched into one of the true gems from Paco’s recent years, and one that is just starting to find a life in the live set, “The Girl with the Heart of Steel”. “…The love you gave that could never be returned. So you took the knife and you cut your hand. You swore by your blood they could never break your heart again…” Paco belted out before they reached the chorus, “And that’s when you became the girl who could never feel…”.
He has penned a number of excellent songs over the years, and that one is close to the top of my list for being one of his best, especially in terms of lyrics. The new stuff kept coming with another catchy song, after which Paco slightly joked about one of the cities he frequents. “…Austin’s a good place for music, Dallas is of course great… But there’s just something about Tyler…” he said, not meaning any disrespect to the town at all, rather just saying it had a different vibe to it.
Things got more lively when they busted out “She”, whose more rock sound allowed Joel Bailey and Ryan Thomas Holley to cut loose a little more on their bass and guitar, respectively. Still, no one seemed to take more advantage of that song than drummer AJ “Irish” Blackleaf. He went ballistic on his kit, having almost a robotic style of playing by keeping his arms fairly rigid, but he tore it up, all the while wearing a smile, quite obviously having the time of his life.
As they wound up most of the upcoming music, they started to tap some of Paco’s (more recent) back catalog, with the fan favorite “Whiskey Kisses”, which sounds so much better when fleshed out by the full band. It was followed by another song all about love, which Paco explained was about a fairytalesque love, where you’re more or less caught up in the moment. It was a beautiful track, with the line (which I think I got right), “…These are the moments that make the hard times worth it…” being one that really stuck out to me.
That flow kept going with “When We Were Made”, Ryan adding some excellent notes to the end of it, which, while somewhat subtle, were enough to take the song to a whole other level. “Breaking Down” then brought the night to a close, the song springing to life towards the end when Paco crooned parts of the chorus. I really don’t think I’ve ever heard that song sound so intense before, as they embarked on more of an instrumental portion. As it drug on, I started to wonder if they were going to tack a cover song onto the end of it, as is tradition, or if they had switched it up in their time off. Eventually, it was met with the one response I was hoping for, the music subsiding as Paco sang, “Did I disappoint you, or leave a bad taste in your mouth?” I still say the addition of U2’s “One” is the best cover they’ve mixed with that song yet, and it seemed to sound extra amazing this night.
Paco had stated that would be their final song of the night, so as soon as it was over, the house music started coming back up, while a handful of fans begged for an encore. Their request was met when Paco stepped back up to the mic and said they did have one more for everyone. That last song was “Haunting Me”, and it was a nice end to their 59-minute long set.
It was an excellent show, and after again hearing some of those new songs, it got me all the more excited for “Bedtime Stories”, which will no doubt be a great collection of songs.
Also, the full band serves Paco, well, and after years of having a rotating cast of musicians accompanying him, it’s good to finally see some starting to became mainstays, like Joel and Scotty. Hopefully Ryan will be able to make this permanent, too, because his voice and slick playing added some nice elements to things this night.
Next up, Paco will be doing a couple of Austin shows, one on September 26th at 219 West Rooftop on 6th Street. The following night he’ll also be playing Darwin’s Pub, with Ryan Holley helping him out on both shows. Also, check out his records, including the very new “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” EP on his BANDCAMP PAGE. (Also, check out this interview Paco did with DFW Undercover.)
Despite the low turnout (which was expected for a last minute show), it was good night, and Paco and his band were more than worth the cover price.
This weekend was going to be spent in Fort Worth, and originally, I planned on seeing the Toadies this night as they kicked off the sixth edition of their music festival. Then I happened to check the show calendar for one Hayes Carll, only to see he was going to be playing at Billy Bob’s Texas this same night.
That show had already won out beforehand, but was only made better when I happened to score a pair of tickets via a contest Hayes did on Twitter a few hours before the show.
I had only been to Billy Bob’s once before, to see the aforementioned band, actually, and the set up this night was much different this time around. The substantial floor in front of the stage, which was completely empty on my first trip here, was now filled with seemingly endless rows of tables, stretching as far as possible from side to side and front to back. I assume this is probably how Billy Bob’s typically is, when they don’t have a rock band playing that could bring some rowdy fans.
It was a nice setup, and I was glad to find out that not only were there seats, but also what a good spot they were, being in the second row back from the stage and a little to the left of it.
It was a little after the 10:30 scheduled start time when someone there from Billy Bob’s got on stage and welcomed everyone to the show, plugging some of their other events while also noting what a big Hayes Carll fan he was, and how excited he was for the show. Once that business had been taking care of, he then welcomed the man of the hour to the stage, as Hayes Carll and his Gulf Coast Orchestra took the stage.
Hays got things going by plucking the strings of his acoustic guitar, slowly giving the first song shape, before singing the first line of “The Letter”. “I meet some wild people out here, those who are pretending and others more sincere…” he crooned on the seemingly appropriate opener that’s somewhat about his journeys on the road.
Upon finishing it, he officially announced who they were. “…All the way from Austin, welcome Hayes Carll and the Gulf Coast Orchestra.” Hayes said loudly as whipped into “Faulkner Street”. His Gulf Coast Orchestra got to step it more with this song, particularly Scott who no longer had to gently play his lap steel guitar, and electric guitarist Travis was able to cut loose on a brief solo or two. They moved right along to the next song, the crowd cheering after the first few chords that Hayes played. He then softened his playing, “I have two songs that start this way. I hope it’s the one y’all want to hear.” he said to the sizable audience. I believe it was the one fans were most excited to hear, and that was one of the fan favorites from the “Trouble in Mind” record, “Girl Downtown”. It had much of the crowd enthusiastically singing along, and it was also the first of a few consecutive numbers that found Travis holding the side of his guitar against him, picking at it as if it were a lap steel, while I believe Scott switched over to an electric guitar.
Even though they were only a few songs in, they had been knocking them out left and right, but now it was time for a story, as Hayes mentioned his hometown on the Texas coast, which was around Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, and it got a roaring applause from everyone. “…That’s the loudest applause Crystal Beach has ever gotten.” He said while laughing. He talked about a variety of things down there, but the central focus was one Bob’s Grill and World Famous Sports Bar, a club he used to play, which he said had a “misleading” name. “…The whole place was probably about as big as this stage is…” he said, adding that no one who was currently in attendance would have been there. He then backtracked slightly, “Well, you two might have been, but you would have been watching a fishing tournament or something.” He stated he was a bit of a wonder down there, being the only person who could both play a guitar and sing at the same time, so he quickly made a name for himself and started picking up more and more shows. “…My show at Jeannie’s One led to my show at Jeannie’s Two, which was a bait shop located right behind Jeannie’s One…” he said, while rattling off a few other venues.
He then wound things back to Bob’s, which was owned by (of course) Bob, who, as Hayes put it, “…was a drug dealer.” He went on to say he bought some exotic animals with his profits from selling drugs, “…But the prized possession in his collection was a African Lion.” said Hayes, adding that there was a window behind the stage at Bob’s, and when Hayes played there, Bob would often bring the Lion’s cage there and place it behind the window. He continued own, mentioning that Hurricane Ike had devastated the area a few years back, but before it hit, Bob did “the Christian thing” and let all of his animals loose to give them a fighting chance. “Now, instinctually, that lion went to higher ground…” Hays told everyone, with higher ground happening to be a church, a church which some people also took refuge in, entering only to see a lion already in there. “…It was three days before the National Guard could get in there to assist everyone, so for three days those people were on one side of the church, while the lion was on the other… Like a sort of redneck Life of Pi…” he added. “Now, the reason for that long winded explanation is because this next song has a line about a lion tamer, and I didn’t want anyone to get confused.” he pointed out.
The intro alone to “I Got a Gig” had an excellent sound, with one of the guitarists starting first, while the other followed suit shortly after. Oddly enough, it gave it somewhat of a haunting sound, but was soon broken when the rhythm section, bassist Cody and drummer Mark, as well as Hayes joined in. And that explanation does indeed help the song make a little more sense, as he sings on the third verse, “There’s an old lion tamer parked behind the bar, a hundred pounds of weed in a stolen car…”.
They then slowed things down as Hayes led them directly into “Rivertown”, a personally favorite of mine from the “Little Rock” record, and one I was ecstatic to hear them do. “…And time will bring you down, time make you cold. I turned my back some time ago, and now I’m going home…” he sang on the rather somber track, before they immediately picked the mood back up with the title track from that 2005 release. Both Scott and Travis used an electric guitar for “Little Rock”, a very rocking number, and while they were doing more intense songs, it only made sense to the title track from his most recent release, but first, it was time for some more witty banter.
“This song’s about a soldier who has a morphine induced coma…” Hayes informed everyone, then outlined all the things that happen in “KMAG YOYO” as being hallucinations from the drug. The funny part came when he said he has young singer/songwriters ask him what the formula is to have a hit song in the Top 40 country charts. “…Some people write songs as a story…” he said, also giving a few other examples of writing styles, calling them “irrelevant”. “…The thing you need in your songs is keywords. See, I know this, obviously.” he said, in perfect deadpan humor. He went on to say, “…I usually teach a seminar about this…”, before telling anyone who wanted to learn a thing or two to grab a pencil and some paper. “Those keywords are…” he said, then preceded to list off “Taliban”, “IED, or any other acronym you can think of”, “Trucks” and “Spring break” were some of the words he said every song needed to have to be a hit, and once he had dropped that knowledge on everybody, they ripped into the very rhyme based “KMAG YOYO”. Scott truly got to show off his chops as a guitarist on that one, killing it on the guitar solos, even embellishing them from how they are on the record, subsequently giving it even more rip-roaring action.
There was just enough of a pause to allow the audience to applaud them, while Travis took a seat behind the pedal steel guitar, finally putting it to use on the gloomy “Chances Are”. Things got a little more uplifting after that semi depressing track when Hayes announced the next song was (and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing this) “drunks, and the women who love them.” Between that and pointing out that it was one he had co-written with Ray Wiley Hubbard, the fans knew exactly what song it was, loudly cheering for “Drunken Poet’s Dream”, which featured Travis on the mandolin. They didn’t let up, segueing it right into the next one. “I haven’t done this one in awhile, let’s see if I can remember the lyrics.” said Hayes before he started spitting out the lines of “Down the Road Tonight”. He didn’t seem to have any trouble with the words, and probably around halfway through the song they lightened up on the playing, allowing Hayes to formally introduce each of his band mates. Once he had done so, he left the stage, leaving Mark, Cody, Travis and Scott to do an instrumental jam, and quite a great job at it, at that.
After a minute or two, Hayes returned as they finished out the song, “Jukebox gypsies, mustang sally’s, don’t go walkin’ down dark alleys…”.
Most of his band left after it, leaving just he and Scott on stage, with Hayes informing everyone he was going to do a new song from his upcoming album, due out “…In the spring… Of 2017.” he joked. This was one he wrote about his son, who told him he wanted to be a magician. “Not a musician, a magician.” Hayes reiterated. He mentioned that’s a hard thing, because “…you see a life full of suffering ahead…” for your child, even saying his son wasn’t very good at first, and he would tell him when he was doing tricks for him that he could see what he was doing. “…But he didn’t listen to me or any of the other naysayers…” Hayes said, adding he had recently even become a member of the Austin Association of Magicians, an accomplishment that received some applause from the crowd. “You’ve heard of them?!” Hayes jokingly said, with surprise in his voice. He went on to say that his son is “…the youngest member, by about fifty years or so…” and they meet every other week “…At the IHOP, right by my house.” he finished.
There was an overall meaning to that story, though, as Hayes said he wished he had, had that spirit and determination his son does when he was his age, pointing out that everyone could benefit from picking what they really want to do and doing it, if only it were that simple. “…I hope he never loses that.” he said in closing. The song is called “The Magic Kid”, and it’s a sweet song with a message that everyone could take to heart, as he sings a few different times during it, “Who we are is who we are. Why is that so hard to be?”
While acoustic, it was a good change of pace from the other slower songs which dealt more with heartache, and as the Gulf Coast Orchestra filed back out on stage, Hayes again lightened up the mood by saying the next song was about license plates.
He named a few states and their slogans, like how Oklahoma is the OK state. “I like that, they’re like, “We’re not great, but we’re ok.” He said, and after mentioning North Carolina’s, he joked that that South Carolina’s was, “We wish we were North Carolina.” Talk then turned to the “Live Free or Die” state, New Hampshire, which Hayes said he felt was the best motto, eventually wrapping things up by saying how horrible it would be to be in prison in that state, having to make license plates that read, “Live Free or Die”. “…If you all listen to the third verse of this song, we might learn something tonight.” he told the audience before pulling out a track from his debut album, “Live Free or Die”. It was a humorous song, and that lesson he mentioned, well, it was, “…So if you catch your wife with another man, it’s best to hold off as long as you can. Then shoot him in another state where they got a different license plate.” That is just another example of what a brilliant writer Hayes is (and evidently always has been.)
“Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” came next, albeit a much different rendition than that which you hear on “Trouble in Mind”. Hayes used a harmonica on parts of it, doing a very scaled back acoustic version of it. Personally, I am more of a fan of the album version, probably ‘cause I’m a rock fan first and foremost, but even acoustic the song sounds really good. Fitting with that tone was “Hard Out Here”, which again saw Travis playing the pedal steel. In what I’m guessing is typical fashion, Hayes added some additional lyrics near the end of the song, drawing from experiences on the road, as recently as that day.
He spoke it more than singing, telling the audience of how they played a show in Marfa the night before, and didn’t get to bed until about five in the morning. He continued by saying the hotel room was infested with various bugs and such, like a tarantula, which happened to be in his bed. So, after (literally) a couple hours of sleep, he said he and his band mates woke up and got in the van to head to Fort Worth, only to discover their van had broke down, resulting in some of them riding in an Impala to the show, while the others drove a U-Haul with the gear loaded in it. Such is the life of a touring musician.
Soon after finishing it, they pulled out another blistering number, “Stomp and Holler”, which was a signal that they were at the tail end of their performance, and they wound it pretty fluidly into “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”. Then, to wrap things up, they did the one song I had anxiously been waiting to hear since they first got on stage, “Beaumont”. That beautiful, straightforward love song about the feeling not being mutual was a perfect way to close things out, and that’s actually one of the few songs I’ve heard any band do that works well as both an opener and a closer (Hayes opened with it at a Dallas venue a few months back).
By the time that was all said and done, they had been on stage for an impressive 90-minutes, leaving me wondering if there even would be an encore or not.
Everyone was hoping for one, though, making sure the band knew it, too, by chanting “Hayes!” repeatedly. It had only been a minute or so since they had left when they made their way back out, Travis picking up the mandolin, while Scott was finally going to use the accordion. “I say this every night, but I would do this every night rather anyone shows up or not, but it’s sure a lot more fun when you do.” he said to everyone before embarking on a 12-minute encore portion. It was nearly impossible not to smile as they ran through the upbeat and incredibly catchy “Bottle in My Hand”, before an electric guitar and the lap steel were put back to work for “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long”. They had one last song left for anyone, another one that came from “KMAG YOYO”, “The Lovin’ Cup”, offering a good, upbeat way to call it a night, and after again thanking everyone for coming out, Hayes and the Gulf Coast Orchestra retreated back stage.
It was a fantastic show with a nice selection of songs from all of his releases, hitting just about every song the fans were wanting to hear and then some.
This was only the third time I’ve seen him live, and it was definitely the best, due mostly to the song selection in this lengthy set.
Hayes is a true entertainer, in terms of a singer and songwriter in the witty and/or honest songs he writes and the almost non-stop doses of laughs he adds to the live performance. So, if you want to see a very enjoyable and memorable show, go see Hayes Carll.
For a list of his tour dates, go HERE. He’s staying pretty busy through the end of September, with a few dates in the Mid-West and the East Coast, and will n doubt be announcing some more shows throughout the rest of the year, so stay tuned. And to check out/purchase his music, head over to iTUNES.
It was a very fun night at Billy Bob’s, and at least now I can say I’ve seen a legitimate country show at the world’s largest honky tonk.
This was a big night for the local music advocates that collectively make up DFW Undercover, who specialize in doing video interviews with bands, as well as live photography (via Piercing Photography). This night marked their first ever showcase, and it was a singer/songwriter showcase at that.
The Labb in Denton was the host venue, and while I had heard of it before, I had never actually been there.
It’s mainly a sports bar, and as far as sports bars go, it’d be one I’d frequent if I lived closer to Denton… And if I was an avid sports fan. It was a nice place inside, with several large TVs hanging above the bar, and of course some pool tables and dart boards were scattered around, as well as some tables. The patio was where the show was taking place, though, where a decent stage is built as a permanent fixture, with plenty of tables and chairs to accommodate onlookers.
Zach Smith was the first artist this night, but I got there a little later then I intended, which resulted in me missing most of his set.
I really enjoyed what I heard, though, especially the song I walked in on, which featured a backing female vocalist along with him and his percussionist. “This next song’s about alchemy… But it’s about other stuff, too.” said Zach before beginning “The Stone Refined”, which was followed by a track titled “Waiting for the Sun”, which ended with a very long but very good sounding instrumental outro. They then did one last song to conclude their set, which Zach pointed out to his little section of fans was, who had been cheering him on, was one they had never heard before.
Even with only catching a glimpse of his performance, I thought he sounded great, and he has an excellent voice.
Aside from this solo stuff, he also plays in a band called Cloth’d in the Sun, so check them out, too.
Up next was Dallas based singer/songwriter Ashley Falgout, who, like the other acts on this bill, I had never heard of previously, but was interested to hear.
She played a large array or original material during her 52-minute long set, and after finishing her first song, she confessed/joked that she does “…a lot of songs that are half-ass written…” That may be true, but to me, I certainly never would have guessed that, let alone thought it.
After playing another tune, she mentioned how warm it was (the downside of a patio in the Texas summer), then proceeded to set up a cover song. “Sometimes I learn other people’s songs…” she said, then added, “Or two chords out of it…”, noting that she doesn’t feel it has to be precise. That led to do an amazing rendition of Ani DeFrancos’ “Not a Pretty Girl”, a song that she really turned into her own.
She did a nice job of conversing with the crowd, even if it was a one-sided conversation most of the time, it made it seem like she was really able to connect with everyone, and now talked turned to Spotify. She said she only recently learned what it was, and her album, Long Over Due”, could be streamed on it. “…Or if you want to give me money…” she said, pointing out it was also on iTUNES.
She did another killer song about a past relationship, and followed it with a medley of one of her songs as well as a cover of what she said was her favorite song, but (not surprisingly) was one I didn’t recognize. Afterwards, she cranked out a few more numbers, before ending with what I think was “Just Another Lullaby”, and then that was only because the sound guy informed her she needed to wrap it up.
She wound up being my personal favorite act of the night, with her incredible and distinctive voice, which even sounded a bit sultry at times. She was also a very talented songwriter, with fantastic lyrics that often seemed pretty personal.
If you’re into the whole singer/songwriter genre, then Ashley Falgout is definitely one you need to listen to, and her record can be purchased HERE.
There was one last act up for the night, and it was more of a full acoustic band, led by Fred Rush. He’s probably best known as being the drummer for Ugly Mustard (who have been a fixture in the D/FW music scene since ’93), and as far as his new solo project went, this was only going to be their second show.
This acoustic trio, which also consisted of Jeff Michnal on the cajon and Johnny Pina on an acoustic bass, opened with “My Heart Screams”, which was a real knockout. “This is what I’ve been waiting for. I can’t believe I found it, finally…” Fred crooned at the start, shortly before the song kicked into high gear, given they were just using acoustic instruments, after all. Once they finished it, Fred took a moment to thank DFW Undercover for hosting this event, as well as the goal they have. “…I’ve been on a soapbox for twenty to thirty years…” said Fred, saying that the people behind DFW Undercover seemed to be on the exact same soapbox. That soapbox he was referring to was sharing the mentality that everyone in the scene needs to come together for the sake of making things better, rather than bands, venues and the ilk acting as if other bands and venues and such are their competition.
They then moved on to what was a pretty upbeat sounding song, “Insomnia”, with another tune sandwiched between it and “Marigold Lane”. They played several seconds of that latter one, before Fred suddenly brought things to a halt. “I started it in the wrong key.” he said, laughing, adding he thought about going with it, but then decided against it. It had sounded good before, but the key it was supposed to be played in served to make it an even more infectious song, and towards the end of it, Fred’s son, Trent, joined them on stage, adding a little extra percussion to the mix. He grabbed a guitar for the next song, though, and took a seat on a stool on stage right.
Fred stated that they were going to do a cover song, and they gave the crowd a little tropical taste by trying their hand at the Zac Brown Bands’ “Island Song”. Not quite what you’d expect from some guys who are typically in rock bands, but they pulled it off nicely, and despite the contrast between it and Fred’s original stuff, that cover meshed nicely with it all. They had another cover in store for everyone, and as Fred put it, it was in the “spirit of the singer/songwriter showcase”. “…I don’t know where he gets it from…” Fred cracked after informing everyone that his son played in a band, and now the father and son duo kind of co-sang on “Diary for Poets”, which Trent wrote for his group Welcome to Wednesday, though it was Trent who did a bulk of the singing on this one.
Trent, too, could certainly sing, and he and Fred created some awesome harmonies on that track. “…The band was called Fred, I think we’re going to rename it Trent.” Fred joked after they finished it. Apparently, Trent was supposed to leave after that, but he decided they should do an impromptu performance of “All Apologies” by Nirvana. Jeff, Johnny and Fred went with it, with Fred chiming in from time to time, and given the fact that this wasn’t planned, they nailed it. At least I thought they did.
Trent did exit the stage after that one, and they began wrapping up their 51-minute set with another original, before things got a little heartfelt with the last song. Fred dedicated it to his father, whom he said was like Superman to him growing up, and that currently he was experiencing some health issues. With that said, it was fitting that the song was called “Ordinary Superman”, and it brought their set to a wonderful end.
You wouldn’t have guessed this was just their second show, ‘cause Fred seemed perfectly at home behind the microphone with a acoustic guitar in his hands, just like Jeff looked comfortable playing the cajon, yet both have little live experience with any of that.
Fred has a pretty unique sounding voice, too, so it’s hard to believe he’s been keeping that in for song. Oh, and he writes some really good lyrics as well. And for the record, Fred Rush and his band made a lot of noise for an acoustic group.
I know what I said about the artist before them, but I liked Fred Rush and his band just as much, in a different way.
That’s what was so cool about this night. All of these singer/songwriters covered different areas of the spectrum, which was just another reason why I loved the showcase so much, because I don’t see that many singer/songwriters, let alone a small handful on one night, so it was nice that it was all so eclectic, with each act having different styles.
Kudos to DFW Undercover for orchestrating such a cool event, and expect more from them. In fact, they have another show at Hailey’s in Denton on October 11th.
All photos courtesy of Piercing Photography. All rights belong exclusively to them.
In five years, the Denton based singer-songwriter Jessie Frye has released two EP’s, the most recent being very well received by fans and critics alike. However, in those five years one question has abounded; “When will you put out a full-length?”
Well, last week, everyone got the first glimpse of what her much anticipated debut full-length, titled “Obsidian”, will sound like, when the lead single “White Heat” was released.
It’s showcases a much different side to her music then ever heard before. Jessies’ piano is still an integral part to the song, but not in the more classical style of her past material, instead, this one’s more of an electronic track. The at times soupy sounds of the song are rounded out nicely by the thick drumbeats and subtle, low bass lines, while the guitar serves to enhance the dreamy quality the song creates.
It feels safe to say that this takes Jessie out of her comfort zone, but it’s nice to see an artist embrace something new and different, after all, that’s what sparks growth as a musician. There is one constant, though, and that’s Jessie’s enchanting, marvelous voice. It sounds even better than where the last record left off, and she’s able to create a plethora of textures with it, exerting complete control over it, at times singing in a more sultry tone, like on the line “White on white heat Perfect alchemy…”, and at other point it’s strong and forceful.
In listening to “White Heat”, you’ll understand exactly why Jessie Frye is a North Texas treasure, and while it may be several more months before the world can listen to the full “Obsidian” album, “White Heat” is the perfect song to whet peoples appetites while simultaneously making them even more excited for the record. It’s a gorgeous blend of indie and pop, and if this tune is any indicator, then “White Heat” is but only the kindling for a roaring fire.
The Jessie Frye band is:
Chad Ford- Drums
Jordan Martin- Guitar
Jessie Frye- Piano/Vocal
David Kellogg- Bass
Purchase the single “White Heat” as well as the previous two EP’s in Bandcamp.
Upcoming shows include:
September 13th at Pour Jons in Siloam Springs, AR / September 14th at Foam in St. Louis, MO / September 20th at Village Café in Bryan, TX / September 21st at Avant Garden in Houston, TX / September 28th at Flipnotics in Austin, TX / October 12th at The Poplar Lounge in Memphis, TN
What better way to cap off a busy weekend of concert going then with a show at the Doublewide in Dallas, and what better band to see than the St. Louis based Kentucky Knife Fight.
Yes, nearly six months after their last stop in Dallas, the quintet was again on tour and stopping by what has really become their home away from home, and not only do I mean the city of Dallas, but also the Doublewide itself.
They were sandwiched between a couple of local Dallas groups, and the first act on stage this night was The Drama Queens.
The newer group (according to their Facebook page they’ve only been around about six months) only gave the crowd a small taste of what they were like, with their set clocking in at 20-minutes, during which time they only played four songs.
I wasn’t too keen on them at first, though their opening number slowly grew on me, and by the time they reached their next song, “Old Love”, I was feeling it a little more. “…This song’s about old loves…” said singer and guitarist Jason Burt, adding, “We all got ‘em.” Things continued to get better with their next song, which Jason acknowledged was written by a friend of his, who happened to be in the audience. He also pointed out they had changed it up some. “…Not because your version wasn’t the best…” he told his friend, “But because I couldn’t do it as good as you can.” It was a really catchy number, and the guy who wrote it even joined them on stage to do a little singing, as well as some picking on the guitar, making it all the more memorable. I believe it was also on that song that guitarist Justin Yantz played either a lap steel guitar or a pedal steel (from where I stood I couldn’t actually see, though caught a glimpse of the instrument when it was brought off stage.) giving it a nice sound. And I felt their final track of the night was the best yet.
Upon finishing it and announcing they were done, the sound guy informed them they had time for one more and Jason answered him, saying that was all they had prepared.
Their music channeled a bit of a classic rock sound, complete with keys, courtesy of Daniel Creamer, and there was even another musician who did some back up singing from time to time and shook a tambourine. Maybe you’ll like it from the get go, or perhaps you’ll be more like me and it will take a bit to warm up to the band, but in the end, you probably will end up liking their stuff.
Kentucky Knife Fight was next, and for me, they were whom this night was about. Actually, I think a lot of people felt the same, because they had the Doublewide pretty packed, which is an accomplishment on any night, let alone a Sunday night. The last time they came through down, they brought with them a large amount of new material, and many of those songs I quickly fell in love with, so, now that their latest record “Hush Hush” was out, I was looking forward to hearing those songs again, and better yet actually knowing them.
At 10:59, they were ready to roll, and James Baker got them going with a drum roll on his snare, while the guitars and bass filed in soon after. As they started that, front man Jason Holler closed his eyes, completely immersing himself in the music while he waited for his mark, which was mere seconds away. “Been up for days at the Tic Toc Inn, with some old habits and some new found friends…” he sang, the opening line for “Bad Blood”, in his somewhat gravelly, somewhat nasally sounding voice, two characteristics that make him one of the most recognizable singers you’ll ever come across. It could have been easy to keep your eyes glued on him during that short song, but the blaring guitar notes that Curt Brewer and Nate Jones were cranking out couldn’t be overlooked, nor could their high energy performance. In fact, Nate could often be seen dropping to one knee during that song, then springing back up as he constantly moved around his little portion of the stage.
They may be an alternative country band, but the songs from “Hush Hush” really blur the lines between that and Rock ‘n’ Roll, and “Bad Blood” is a prime example of that. And luckily, this night they drew heavily on that newest album of theirs.
Their other records didn’t go overlooked, though, and once that first song was over, Curt swapped out to his banjo, while Holler pulled out his harmonica, grabbing his bullet mic and playing it into that. That was a pleasant surprise, because I wasn’t expecting “Dream So Sweet”, one of my favorite tracks from 2010’s “We’re All Nameless Here” album, and it gave me hope that they might do a personal favorite of mine later in the show.
They switched back to rock mode after that, Curt going back to his guitar, and Holler again reached for his bullet microphone, now draping it around his neck. Bassist Jason Koenig then launched them into one of the instant classics from “Hush Hush”, “Misshapen Love”. Curt bounced around while shredding on his axe, having a style that’s truly all his own, while James and Koenig created the dynamic rhythm section, complimenting each other even a little more on that number than they do on some of their other material. All the while their throng of fans was singing along, particularly near the end, when Holler repeated the first verse, this time into the bullet mic. “Why you wanna go and wreck my life? Why you wanna go and bleed me dry?…”
Afterwards, they pulled out another old gem, and it was the one I was hoping to hear more than anything else this night, “Always A Bribe, Never A Bride”. The song’s absolutely intoxicating, from the sheer catchiness of it, to the elements you’ll only hear on the live version, like when Holler Curt and Nate harmonized on the second chorus, the music briefly subsiding, making sure the harmonies packed a punch. While they have some fun with the final line, with Holler singing one part, like, “…Every man…”, then pausing for a few seconds before delivering the next part, “Every woman…” then keeping the crowd on their toes as they await the final bit, “Eve-ry breath.” The most remarkable thing, though, was how coordinated they all were, playing right when Holler would open his mouth, and there were no real cues to signal them, at least not that I saw. Goes to show what shape you’ll be in after near constant touring, I guess.
They weren’t quite done with the older stuff yet, but when addressing the crowd Holler noted they were going to do another new song, “Father”, which spins a captivating tale revolving around crime. It’s also a song that pushes Holler as a vocalist, showing off his true prowess as a singer. The final lines, “Walking for the door gonna see if you really mean it. When you say you’re not afraid to spread my brains across the ceiling. Officer there’s no stopping what’s lurking in the weeds this season. There’s so much evil unborn in this world for no rhyme or reason.”, are repeated several times over, without a single break in between sentences, forcing him to strategically reload his lungs, and do so while still going about singing. If you listen to the recorded version, it sounds exactly like that live, and unless you’ve witnessed it first hand, you can’t truly grasp the effort that goes into that song, and it’s something you’ll marvel at.
Next, they offered up their final classic of the night, “Herschel Walker”, which comes from their 2007 debut “The Wolf Crept, The Children Slept”. Many of their fans just soaked in the new stuff, but this one of the few songs that had nearly everyone passionately belting out the lyrics, jumping about, and just having an all around good time.
They had been hurrying through their set thus far, but now took more of a time out, and Holler stated how good it felt to be back in Dallas, and Texas for that matter. “…I can drink Lone Star beer again. That’s always a good day…” he said. By that time, his band mates were ready to continue, Curt again wielding his banjo (for the final time this night) as they got “Paper Flowers Two” going. Then came the title track, “Hush Hush”, which James got going with some powerful beats, and “Love the Lonely” seemed a nice contrast to that rocking number, still allowing some fiery riffs from the guitarists, though also incorporating a low end and deadly rhythm section.
With that, sadly their stint in Dallas had reached the end, though they had one last song to close out their 42-minute long set, and that was “Gunsmoke”. Curts’ opening riffs elicit a real Western sound from the old movies and TV shows, setting the beast of a song apart from their other stuff. It wound up being an excellent last song, ending on the same high-octane note they had started with, Holler snarling on the chorus, “…I wanna leave in the morning while my heart’s still pumping and I still have something to prove to you…”
Kentucky Knife Fight is never the same band, and each time they come through town the several dozen hours they’ve collectively spent on stages across the country shows on them, and such was the case this night. They were so much tighter, nothing short of a well-oiled machine, proving that as far as touring bands go (and yes, I do mean even big name national touring acts), you’ll be incredibly hard pressed to find ones on the same level as KKF.
Each of the members brings an insane amount of talent to the table, and as a working unit they are an undeniable force, which ensures you’ll be transfixed on them.
As far as their new stuff goes, it’s unquestionably the most powerful music the band has made to date, and I was very happy that they played every single song I wanted to hear this night. You can find “Hush Hush” on iTUNES, along with their other albums, so do check them out. As for shows, this tour has pretty much wrapped up, but they do have a few gigs scattered about the Midwest in the month of August and they’ll be playing (mainly) around their home state of Missouri in September, too, so visit their TOUR PAGE for dates and cities.
Closing out the night was a band by the name of The Trophy Wives, which was a super group of sorts, featuring most of the members of one of Dallas’s best alternative country bands, Somebody’s Darling. That is to say that David Ponder and Wade Cofer were the guitarists, while Nate Wedan and Michael Talley completed the rhythm section, on drums and bass, respectively, with Alexis Sanchez handling the singing as well as an additional guitar, and completing the band was keyboardist Daniel Creamer.
They started with what Alexis pointed out was one of their only original songs they did, with the majority of their material being covers. They mined more of the blues genre, with a bit of soul and rock thrown in, and while long (it lasted seven to eight minutes), it was a really good song. I stuck around through the next one, which I believe was a cover of a Jimmy Reed song, but decided to bail after that.
The reason was partly because blues isn’t my thing, even though the guys pull it off very, and it was also due to the fact that being out until two in the AM the previous two nights was starting to catch up to me, and I didn’t want to do it again.
Nonetheless, if you do like blues music, go check out The Trophy Wives sometime when they’re doing a show. They’re a super talented group and one you’ll surely like.
Overall, it was a fantastic bill this night, but there’s no denying that the majority of the people there came to see Kentucky Knife Fight. Which makes me think it won’t be too much longer before these guys work their way up to headlining gigs when they come through town. It’s just a matter of time.
This was a bit of a monumental night for me at the Curtain Club. Why? Because the show I went to this night marked the one-hundredth concert I’ve seen at the storied Dallas venue. It only took a little over seven years to rack up that many shows here, and I think the fact that I have been here so much should be some type of testament as to how fantastic the venue truly is.
The Greenville based Drag the Waters was the first band up this night, and were already most of the way through their set when I got there.
This was the second time I’ve seen a portion of their set (I saw a little bit of a show they did here back in April), and I liked them even more this time around. The four-piece just plays some good hard rock music, in more of the classic hard rock vein. It’s good stuff, and they added some humor into their show, too, whether it was intended or not. Like, when promoting the other bands on the bill, bassist Dewayne Dickeson couldn’t remember the act following them, which was Tejasmosis, and one of the band members from that group shouted out their name. “…I’m sorry, I only speak Texan and English…” he said, being completely sincere about not remembering the name.
As of right now their next gig is going to be a hometown in Greenville at the Texas Beach Club, so check it out if you’re in the area.
As mentioned, Tejasmosis was next up, and they proved to be just a little too metal for my tastes. I know that might sound funny given the remaining bands on the bill, but their stuff was just too heavy for me. They do what they do quite well, though.
The band did mention they would be dropping a new album the following week, which by now is out and should be available in iTUNES. So, if you like metal music, check it out.
Following them was yet another bad I was mostly unfamiliar with, and that was the Denton based Like Bridges We Burn.
They kicked their 34-minute long set off with the lead track from their “Fresh Out the Kitchen” EP, “With a Smile”, which reeled me in from the get-go. They were as much rock as they were metal, and front man Jason Mckee had a pretty good singing voice, and could also muster quite the scream, and he alternated between the two styles often, not only on that song, but throughout the set.
They played a majority of that 2011 EP this night, and next cranked out another quick-paced number, “This World”, during which guitarists Aaron Burcombe and Jonathan Dancause darted around the stage, rocking out on their instruments, and Joel Kunze did the same with his bass. “…This is Down the Rabbit Hole” said Jason before they ripped into one of the most intense songs of their set, where a lot of screaming was done in a very guttural way, though I enjoyed it and it added a certain depth to the song.
Once they finished it up, Jason pointed out they had a new member in the band, asking everyone to say, “Hello, Jonahthan.” He quickly realized his mistake and laughed at it, as did the crowd, and he corrected it with the right name, Jonathan. Soon, they started a newer song they’ve done, “Melting Hearts”. “It’ll melt you heart.” One of the band members added before they started it. It was a great song, and another one I really liked was the one they followed it with.
They continued on the heavier metal streak with their latest release, “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy”, which was a very solid, catchy track, though they gave it an unexpected ending when there was some feedback from the guitars. Yeah, it was noticeable, but hardly bad enough to ruin it or anything, and they joked that, that was the new “feedback ending”.
“Reckless Keri” began to wind things down, and almost seemed like it might be their final song, at least until Jason asked the audience if they wanted to hear one more song. “This songs about zombies?” said one of the guitarists, making it into more of a question instead of a statement, before they closed with a song called “Over My Undead Body”, which was another good blend of metal and rock.
Yeah, they were heavier than what I typically listen to, but my main qualm with metal music is the bands that constantly scream on a song, something Like Bridges We Burn did not do, and in small(er) doses, I can certainly handle some violent screams.
Their live show was great, and so was their music. Actually, I’m regretting not having listened to them sooner. Definitely a group to check out.
You can purchase their music in iTUNES, and they have several shows coming up, including another show here at the Curtain Club on July 27th. Before that (in early July) they’ll be at Tomcats West in Fort Worth on the 13th, then Andy’s in Denton on the 19th, with a show in Tyler at Click’s on the 20th.
Up next was a band in a similar vein as them, and one I knew I would like, since I was here to see Light the Fire.
It had already been about four months since I last saw the band, and at that time the new singer they had found only had a few shows under his belt as part of the band, and I was eager to see how solidified they were now.
Like usual, they had some fun at the start of their set as a rap song began to play, and drummer Blake Hein was playing along with it. The other instrumentalist sported some glasses and bobbed their heads along to the music before firing up some of their own stuff as singer Jeff Gunter ran on stage, his energy being obviously abundant and it was also a little infectious as they tore into their first song. Like normal, that opener was “Don’t Fail Me Now”, which seemed to have even more urgency to it than usual, and Jeff did a great job of commanding the crowd from the start, hunkering down on the monitors at times, surveying the crowd at more of an eye level.
Speaking of urgency, their whole set was laced with it and they had things tightened up even more than usual, and no sooner had the final notes of that song been played then Ryan Dickinson and Felix Lopez started the guitar lines that begin the title track of their first EP, “Note To Self”. Lyrically, that is still the song that perfectly sums up the band’s determination, from talking about pushing forward to matter what, and the brilliant line, “…My dreams are everything I can’t let slip away…”. They kept things going as the sample track for “Thoughts” kicked on, giving Jeff plenty of time to hype the crowd up some more by asking everyone to jump up and down to the heavier track.
“Has anyone heard of a band called Killswitch Engage?” Jeff asked everyone after finishing that previous song. Of course the people had, and he mentioned that late last year they got to use the same recording studio that band does, which segued them into one of their newer songs which they laid down during that trip. It was a “couples skate” song as Jeff put it, but not in the sweeter manner that you might expect. In fact, a mosh pit was more likely to break out during that heavy-hitter, and I’m fairly certain one did (people were moshing often enough it’s hard to remember which songs it was going on and which ones it wasn’t.) Also on that number, Ryan rocked out a sweet guitar solo, and soon that song gave way to the explosive “Under My Skin”.
Bassist Andrew Penland started jumping up and down during the songs second chorus, still slapping the bass strings as he did so, completing the songs powerful rhythm section. Once it was finished, they took a little time out to connect with the crowd more, and Jeff mentioned they had played in Fort Worth not long, and asked everyone if Dallas was better. “…There’s a reason it’s called Dallas/Fort Worth and not Fort Worth/Dallas, right?” he asked everyone as the roared back at him in agreeance. They soon continued on with their next song, another new one, which Jeff stated was his favorite. A fan instantly started shouting the songs title, and Jeff lowered the mic down so the guys could say it, and he shouted, “Thunder Cunt!” That beast of a song grows on me each time I hear it, and is one of my favorites, too. Sure, it’s much heavier than what I typically like, but these guys make it sound fantastic.
They followed it with another new song, which Jeff said was for the “local music lovers”, and it was titled Salute”. Felix got that one going, jumping up on one of the light boxes they had placed on either side of the stage which bore the bands logo and was illuminated with a red light, and shredding on his axe. There was also another good moment during that one when Andrew and Felix seemed to be chasing each other as they ran around in circles after one another, just having fun and they didn’t miss a note while doing it.
That brought them to the final song of their 34-minute long set, which wasn’t an original. A little while back the band recorded and released their take on a Scorpions tune. That song was “No One Like You” and they put a very metal spin on it, making it a good, fun way to conclude their set.
In the end, this was one of if not the best Light the Fire show I’ve seen yet. Even early on it was evident Jeff was a good fit with them, but now that he’s had plenty of time to get worked in and they’ve established some chemistry you could tell he was much more comfortable with them on stage.
That wasn’t even confined to just him, either, because they’ve been playing so much lately they’ve really tightened up and expanded on the already high-energy performance they put on. For example, the segues from song to song helped with the flow and, and something as simple as connecting songs together like that can make a band seem so much more professional.
They’re an incredible band, and the show this night was proof of that.
Next month will be a big one for them, as they return to the Curtain Club on July 27th to celebrate the release of their sophomore release. That will be part of their tour with their friends Like Bridges We Burn, and Light the Fire will also be playing Tomcats West in Fort Worth on July 13th, Andy’s in Denton on the 19th and Click’s in Tyler on the 20th. They also have some dates scheduled for August and September, so check out their REVERBNATION PAGE for those dates. As for their music, check out their first EP in iTUNES, and in the next month or so you should also be able to find their next EP there.
The night was already getting late, but there was still one band left to go, and that was Social Jab, who was doing a reunion show.
I never really thought the band was as big as they deserved to be. Not that they should have been famous, but locally they just never seemed to have the fan base they should have. Sure, I never saw them much either, but I was a fan of theirs and was disappointed that there was never a real farewell show or anything. Instead, they just faded in obscurity. But that’s what this reunion show was for, to give a little more closure to the hard rock outfit.
The lineup this night wasn’t the original one, as they lacked Dave Shafer on bass and had gotten a replacement, and also Chad Abbott, who was later welcomed in as the rhythm guitarist, was absent, but three-fourths of the core members were there, and that was what really mattered.
It had been about four years since the last time I had seen the band, but as soon as they got “Actors” going it sort of refreshed my memory, and vocalist Joel Purifoy repeatedly asked everyone to “get the fuck up” to the stage. I had forgotten what a killer song that was, and it sounded every bit as good as it did a few years back, and got their show off to a nice start. The substitute bassist rolled them into their next song with some at first soupy lines, before guitarist Dan Rivera and drummer Thomas Stewart joined in, and it suddenly became the best of their 33-minute long set.
There were only a handful of people who had stuck around, most of whom applauded the bands efforts after that song, but it wasn’t loud enough for Joel. “We’re all schizophrenics here…” he said, “It should be twice as loud as that!” The rock than continued with “Slow”, which opens with some sweet guitar lines, and one cool moment of the song was when Dan ran up on the drum riser, standing right beside Thomas as he shredded on his guitar. After “Reflections”, they did another knockout track, “All Away”, after which Joel formerly introduced the bass player, Graham, as he asked everyone to cheer for him. “…We’re not playing another song until you do…” he told the people, though they soon moved on to one of their final songs.
With “Over Now” Joel got to put his pedal board to use a little more than he had, adding some effects to his voice at various times, which was what made the song stand out so in my opinion. Joel mentioned several times that this next song would be their last one, but for a little while I thought it was all a ploy, since it was a cover song. I had completely forgotten they used to do an old U2 song from time to time, and now they rocked out “Bullet the Blue Sky”, which was a bit heavier than U2’s version and Joel did much more screaming than Bono did. That’s what allowed them to make it their own, though, and during the instrumental outro Dan removed his guitar, laying it on the floor as he grabbed the massive chain that is his guitar strap, using one of the links to play his axe, almost in the manner that a steel pedal guitarist plays that instrument. It was cool to see, and caused several people to rush towards the stage so they could snap a picture of it.
Sure enough, that did end up being the show, and while that was a memorable way to end it, I was a slightly disappointed they neglected some songs, specifically their single, “Blurred Vision”. It was a great show all the same though, I guess.
Considering they hadn’t played live in years and one of the members was a hired gun, they did excellent, and it was as if they picked up exactly where they left off. And while Social Jab might officially be done now, I wish the best of luck to the guys on their future endeavors, which will hopefully include performing more original music in different projects. Dan’s a killer guitarist, Thomas is a bad ass drummer, and Joel has one of the more distinctive voices I’ve heard and can pen some great songs.
All in all it was another night of awesome local music at the Curtain Club. Now, to start to work on seeing another set of a hundred shows here.
The Curtain Club and Liquid Lounge (along with the Boiler Room) were hosting a benefit show this night, featuring something like forty bands (+/-), and presenting it was Jaro Productions. Proceeds from the show were benefiting West, Texas, which some of musicians pointed out had kind of been forgotten about, especially since a few days before this FEMA announced they wouldn’t be giving the town any aid. All the more reason this was a great show to be at and support a worthy cause.
Now, to fit all those bands on stage in a timely manner, most of them were doing acoustic sets that consisted of a mere three songs, and I believe the first band up in the Lounge was called The Hot Hello.
Based on their little acoustic gig they sounded pretty good. Very different than some of their electric stuff I later checked out online, but still had a really good sound to it all.
They have an older EP you can check out in iTUNES if you want, and keep tabs on their FACEBOOK PAGE for more show updates.
Always the Alibi followed them, doing a mostly acoustic show, with bassist Evan Scates being the only one playing an electric instrument. Their brief little set began with one of their non-album tracks, “Edge of the World”, which sounded incredible done acoustic. It was very easy to hear every single word sung by singer and rhythm guitarist Henry Coke, and that in turn seemed to give the song more weight and made it pretty deep. Next they did a scaled down version of “She’s Letting Go”, and upon finishing it, drummer Richard Muencklers’ phone could be heard ringing. “He’s a fireman, he has to take that…” Henry joked, referring to the shirt Richard was wearing. Then, to set up their last song, lead guitarist Kelly Panter told everyone they thought it would be a fitting song given the cause they were supporting this night. Indeed it was, and they closed with a moving rendition of the Foo Fighters “Times Like These”, and with the chorus of “It’s times like these you learn to live again It’s times like these you give and give again It’s times like these you learn to love again…” it was certainly fitting of the situation.
It was a nice little set they did, and by the time they were done I found myself hoping they start doing a few more acoustic shows here and there, preferably a little longer than what they were able to do this night.
You can buy their debut EP “We are Waiting” in iTUNES, and can even snag a free download of that one album track they did at this show over on their REVERBNATION PAGE. As for their show schedule, they’ll be back at the Curtain Club on July 5th. On July 14th they’ll be out at Six Flags in Arlington doing some sets throughout the day, while on August 22nd they’ll rock Fort Worth, doing a gig at The Grotto.
Afterwards, I headed over to the Curtain, where The Circle was getting ready to go on, and actually got set up several minutes before their start time. They were given two options by sound guy Chad Lovell; Do an extra song or just sit on their stools for a few minutes. Then the door guy, Sean, said something, which I couldn’t hear all that well, but was something about having the band tell a story.
Vocalist Don Mills, saying he was looking on Craigslist, “…And not the personal section…” he noted, looking for a band to join, when he came across one that was in need of a singer. It was humorous little story, during which he also noted they had auditioned Monica Koohi (who now sings fro Red Angel Theory), but she turned down the offer, so they picked Don instead, and he joked that he should have just kept on looking.
They then got ready to start their little set, which rhythm guitarist Alan Sauls began… By playing the intro to “Stairway to Heaven”. “…There are plenty of cover songs to do, but not that one…” Don said, as the four guys (they were missing bassist Kenneth Henrichs) shared a laugh. “My Trip to the Desert Sucked” kicked off their set, which is arguably one of their heaviest songs and was given a completely new flow now, not only with the more restrained music bed, but Dons’ voice, which was still loud and powerful, but it was clear he was holding back immensely. “…I feel like this is the first show I haven’t screamed at in months…” he said to his band mates after finishing that song, pointing out how weird it felt. Their remaining two songs were some newer ones that will be on their forthcoming EP, one of which was “Failure”, which sounded like somewhat of a different song. “The Other Side” wrapped up their set, and was hands down the best acoustic sounding song they did, with some nice riffs from Craig Nelson and Alan, while Marc Berry had a nice beat going on his cajon. It was still different from the full blow rock version, but it really translated nicely into this format.
They were another band I found myself hoping will do an acoustic show a little more frequently, because they’re such a heavy, hard rock band it’s cool to get to see another side to them, especially one they pull off so (surprisingly) well.
They’ll be right back here at the Curtain on July 12th, and that will be a real rock show, and one you shouldn’t miss. You can find their lead single “Sleep on it” in iTUNES, and hopefully in the next few months they’ll have their EP with that and three more songs released. But until then, check out their REVERBNATION PAGE where you can download some live cuts for free.
Following them up on the Curtain Club stage was Little Sisters of the Poor, who was taking the stage for only the third time ever.
They kept things a little closer to a true full-band, with Gabe Muzquiz playing the drum kit that had thus far gone untouched. That obviously made them much louder than many of the other bands, and they got their set going with a catchy number by the name of “Love, Money and Death”. They ran through their set relatively quickly it seemed, with front man Dunagin Gaines announcing the titles of their next two tracks before they started them, and if I heard correctly the second was “Truck Stop Heaven”, while “Headaches” wrapped up the little show.
It really wasn’t that far off from one of their normal shows. Now granted, guitarists Jason Jones and Jackson Dunn, as well as bassist Joe Becker don’t usually sit on stools, but music-wise, even with acoustic axes, it was still pretty spot on, and instead of loud, guitar rock music, it was loud, acoustic guitar rock music. Even Dunagin didn’t hold back much, still singing at almost full throttle and adding his own vocal effects by moving the microphone all around, to, at times, give his voice a distant sound to it.
Great little show and my personal favorite out of the acts I saw here.
They, too, will be back at the Curtain Club soon, specifically on July 26th. And if you’d like to get a feel for their sound, you can purchase their first two singles in iTUNES.
Up after them was another local heavyweight, and that was Adakain.
I had still had yet to see the band in their latest lineup (and I guess in some ways I still haven’t), and that lineup includes Ryan Ray at the helm, while Taylor Walding has also recently joined the band as an additional guitarist.
“…This is an old Adakain song…” Ryan Ray told the crowd, as they opened up with “Sky is Falling”, the lead track from the “Silhouette of Lies” EP. It was a quite different rendition, even with Ryan Carroll back on the drum kit and Joseph Kuban (who usually plays with Serosia) lightly plucking the strings of his bass, but the softer sound allowed the song to be heard in a new light, and there was a different gravity to it this night. Once they finished it, Ryan R. looked over at Joseph, noting it had been a long time since he’d been on stage with him. “…You’re an attractive man…” Ryan told him. He then moved things along, saying they were going to do one of their newest song, “Bleach it Out”, and see how it worked, since they wouldn’t be using the sample tracks this time. Even done in this format the song still packed a punch, and was even slightly eerie at times, with Ryan loudly singing one line, like, “…See me”, then whispering the next, “ch-ch—change my name…” Excellent vibe, and another one that had a great vibe was what Ryan stated was one of his favorite songs, and that was Alice in Chains’s “Rooster”, which they put a nice spin on and it concluded a great little set.
I’m definitely going to have to see one of their electric rock shows sometime, preferably soon, because they put on a mean acoustic gig, and I can only imagine what they’re like when they’re not confined to some stools.
They’ve been around for many years now, and in that time have made a name for themselves, even doing some national touring, but their music now, at least the two new songs they made available to listen to, are a step above their previous stuff. There’s just a certain quality to them, which in part probably comes from Ryan and his voice, or maybe I’m just a little biased from being a fan of his previous project. Either way, they’re a killer group, and one you should see whenever they do a show.
The Orange was scheduled to be playing in the Lounge after that, and they were already one and a half songs in to their set, as I walked in during the middle of what I believe was “Dead Nation”, the song that drummer Cody Waits sings, or at least one of them. He wasn’t acting as the drummer this night, though, instead he was playing an acoustic guitar, while front man Scott Tucker wielded another acoustic. Afterwards, Scott announced their last song was going to be “Blow Up”, which was still pretty fiery, with Chicago Dan adding some sounds from his harmonica, while Buddy neighbors stole the show with his sensational riffs on his electric axe. I never imagined that song could be so good acoustically, but it can and does, and they didn’t go without any percussion, either, as Melissa Tucker shook a tambourine during the tracks.
Like many of the other acts I saw, The Orange sounded much better acoustic than I thought they would, even if I only did see half of their show.
Check out their first EP in iTUNES and later this year they will be releasing their first ever full-length record, so stay tuned for that.
They were the last act I saw this night. Well, at least here at the Curtain. There was another show going on down here that I wanted to see, too. So, since I caught most of the bands I wanted to see here at the Curtain Club and Liquid Lounge, I left to go to the other venue, and experience some full sets by some more great bands…
Criminal Birds has been around a relatively short amount of time, only a couple of years, but in that short time the quintet of younger musicians have managed to make somewhat of a name for themselves, even earning praise like they are “on par with any big ticket national act.” as said by Auditory Asylum’s Stephen Ellis.
They’ve obviously been able to make an impression on those who have managed to hear about them, but now, with the release of their debut album, a four track EP released in March 2013, they’re in more of a position to get their name out there, and probably turn a few heads in the process.
Right from the ringing guitar chords that begin “Chill Out” you know you’re in for a treat, as the music bed manages to successfully stitch together the genres the band classifies themselves as. There’s a nice texture to the guitars, which give off more of an ambient sound at first, and the notes are simple, yet complex at the same time. The soupy sound rapidly disappears as they hit the chorus, though, and they show they can rock with the best of them, from aggressive drumbeats to soaring guitar riffs, all of which is matched with Reggie Hastings’s singing, his voice suddenly springing to life. Speaking of his voice, I also quite like the way he enunciates certain words, like “breathe” and “breeze” during the first verse, putting a nice spin on them.
“Wait” starts off with a dynamic rhythm section and builds on the momentum created from the opening track, starting off as a fairly powerful rocker. However, you soon realize the track has a brilliant ebb and flow to it, as it switches gears from a percussion driven indie rock song on the verses to a softer love song vibe on each chorus. All of that combines to make it not only the longest song on the EP (at 5-minutes), but also the most beautiful.
The end of the previous track bleeds perfectly into “Slow Down”, and does exactly as the name suggests, while also evoking a melancholy feeling. “…Bring me to my knees, crippling my feet. Show me you’re lovely, then take it right from me…” Reggie croons near the start of the song, his voice almost completely void of any emotion, which serves to magnify the heartbroken mood the song conveys.
The nearly 18-minute long jaunt through the bands sonic soundscapes comes to a close with “End Daze”, which mines a sound similar to the first track, so it ends almost like it began. It’s another fantastic mix of full-blown Rock ‘n’ Roll with some ambient layers thrown in, and the lyrics, particularly on the bridge, demonstrate how rather profound their writing can be. The line; “It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’re still a product of your own design. … It doesn’t matter how hard you cry, there’s no pity for those who lie, tangled up in your wicked insides, in your denial.”
In the end, their self-titled debut EP is a wonderfully woven tapestry of sounds that shows off various sides to the group, and it’s hard to fit them into just one category of music.
The music is much more mature than you might think younger musicians (in their early to mid 20’s) would be capable of. That just speaks to their great musicianship, and they come across as sounding like an incredible tight and well coordinated band and you can probably listen to the songs dozens of times over and still discover something new that will catch you interest.
Granted, Criminal Birds isn’t reinventing the wheel or anything (though that could happen in the future), but they are putting a very intriguing and interesting spin on it.
Criminal Birds is:
Reggie Hastings – Vocals / Guitar / Keys
Taylor Dondlinger – Lead guitarist
Gunnar Ebeling - Bass
Grahm Robinson - Drums
Purchase the album on:
BANDCAMP (the EP is FREE to download)
Visit Criminal Birds websites:
OFFICIAL WEBSITE / FACEBOOK / REVERBNATION
Photo credit: Zack Huggins
The Levitt Pavilion. I had heard of it before, probably around this last year, but I had never been there.
What is the Levitt Pavilion? It’s an outdoor concert venue located in downtown Arlington. It’s also a park that takes up a whole city block, with the massive stage located on the East end of it, and they bring all sorts of bands in to play the stage, from local and regional bands that frequent the clubs of the D/FW area, to bigger national touring acts, such as the headliner this night.
The concert season at the venue had just kicked off the night before, and this night there were two openers on the bill, the first of whom I missed completely, while the other was Calhoun.
I had seen the band once before, a few years ago, and didn’t really care for them much, but I was certainly up for giving them another chance.
I only caught their last 20-minutes or so, but I must say I enjoyed their music. I don’t remember much about them from that first occasion, but I think they’ve changed their sound up a little since then, and it works well for them. I really enjoyed it, and wouldn’t mind seeing them again, and getting the experience of a full set.
After them was the headliner, The Polyphonic Spree, who began their set a little after 8:30, but not before some of the workers at the Levitt name dropped the sponsors and also encouraged everyone to donate some money when they came around collecting it, reminding everyone that while the concerts are free to attend, they aren’t free to put on.
It had been two weeks to the day (and almost even to the exact time) since I first experienced The Polyphonic Spree live, and after seeing they were doing this show, how could I pass it up, especially at the low cost of free?
The show this night was very similar to that other one, including the beginning, where a large banner stretched across the stage, covering all of the band members, while the nineteen-piece band/choir proceeded to play a light piece.
As that was going on, the twentieth member, singer Tim DeLaughter, began to use some spray paint on the banner, having to write backwards so it would be readable by the audience. The message this night was different, reading, “This nite is for you”. He then grabbed a pair of scissors, cutting through it, but not in a straight line, cutting off small pieces of it and throwing them out the fans, before finally cutting all the way through it, and as the banner dropped to reveal the band, the music rose to its height.
Suddenly, it stopped, and as the instruments fell silent, the band froze, not even moving a muscle for a few seconds, before diving back into the instrumental track, which they eventually wound into their first song, the vibrant, upbeat “Section 22 (Running Away)”. The six-piece female choir, the guitar and drums were on full display on that song (among other instruments) as Tim bounced about the stage, singing in his cheery voice.
Upon finishing it, he talked about having “weathered the storm”, as it had rained late in the afternoon, and thanked everyone for sticking around. “…I see a lot of you who were out here earlier…” he said, then basically promised to make this a night that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. I think they next did “Section 7 (Hanging Around the Day Part 2)”, after which Tim again expressed his excitement about the night, saying it was “…Gonna be a hootenanny tonight.” His voice acquired a real southern drawl when he said that, sounding more country than he really is, or at least acts. They next did a track from the “Together We’re Heavy” album “ Section 14 (Two Thousand Places)”. It was a highlight of their set, as Tim marched about the stage giving everyone what could be considered some words of advice, crooning “…You gotta be good, you gotta be strong, you gotta be two thousand places at once…”.
The energetic front man conducted his band at the start of their next song, thrusting one of his arms out in the air and as he did so, the cello player, violinist and multiple other musicians plucked and or struck a string on their instrument. That went on for quite a few times, and there was only once where the band jumped the gun and struck their instruments ahead of his cue. Like I said, this show was similar to the one I had seen a few weeks prior, that includes the setlist, which wasn’t a bad thing, and I was getting pretty excited at this point knowing what was coming next. The band soon tore right off into “Section 23 (Get Up and Go)”, with Tim singing the first line of this amazing rock song, “You’re satellite cover’s blown…”
The crowd was diverse, with people coming from all walks of life, and if any them hadn’t been feeling the band yet, then that song surely did the trick, because it’s hard not to be reeled in by its catchiness. “…Did y’all know it’s been seven years since our last record…” Tim said to the audience, seeming to be in a state of disbelief about that himself. He mentioned that, that will soon be changing when their new record comes out on August 6th, and that set up a new song from it, “Hold Yourself Up”, which I foresee as being my favorite track from the forthcoming record. It’s classic Polyphonic Spree, mining the same vein as many of the songs they performed this night, and has what I think is a wonderful line, “…She’s got roller coaster eyes…”, which is also periodically sung by the choir, all whom harmonize on it.
They were definitely on a roll, and after doing one of their new songs, Tim told everyone to store the next one away in their mind. “…This is for you Arlington, you won’t forget it!” he exclaimed, as the band created the gorgeous textures that make up their medley of The Who music, first doing a bit of “See Me, Feel Me”, which was slower, then stepped it up as they suddenly did a bit of the true classic, “Pinball Wizard”. Tim wasn’t lying, that really was a moment worth filing away in your mind. They didn’t let up either, patching things seamlessly into “Section 11 (We Sound Amazed)”, which they then eventually bridged into “Section 2 (It’s the Sun)”, doing it all so flawlessly that you might have thought it was one massive long song if you were unfamiliar with their music.
They had one last new offering for everyone and that was “You Don’t Know Me”, another fantastic song that elevated the mood by sending the message that you can’t let anyone bring you down. “…This is our night!” Tim excitedly said when he addressed the crowd after that song, mentioning that everyone had “shared a moment” from that little rainstorm earlier, adding that everybody was now connected for having stuck it out, and while there set was winding down, they still had quite a bit left to do. One of those still left in the chamber was big choir and sing along number “Section 8 (Soldier Girl)”.
Afterwards, Tim tried to evoke more of the raw Rock ‘n’ Roll spirit from everybody, asking, “Can I get a hell yeah?!” There was an audible response of that, though he also got something unexpected which he called attention to, and that was a peace sign. “…Only at a Polyphonic Spree…” he said laughing, truly loving it. The laughs weren’t over yet, though, and out of nowhere Tim suddenly began singing the theme song to the old children’s show The New Zoo Review, humming over the parts he couldn’t remember, but that was only a few words. It was completely random and had more than a few people cracking up.
“This song’s called Tripping Daisy!” he shouted, throwing in a reference to his legendary Dallas based rock band, then pointed out they didn’t have a song by that name. “We do have one called Light and Day, though.” He added, leading them into the dynamic “Section 9 (Light and Day - Reach for the Sun)”. That same word could also be used to describe the performance that went along with that spectacular song, which would have been a fine way to end the show, but they still had a little left in the tank. Tim again began a conversation with the crowd, speaking in his southern voice, finally saying, “…I’m sorry, the country comes out when I get excited…”. He had reason to be excited, as he spoke about Tripping Daisy, mentioning there’s not a day of his life where he doesn’t think about that band. I knew what was coming next, though frankly I hadn’t been expecting it to happen, despite wanting to.
At that other show of theirs I caught they had dusted off a Tripping Daisy song, and now they were going to do it again. “My Umbrella”, which sounded like a true rock song, even with instruments like a harp, French horn and an array of other instruments being played, and that track brought their 70-minute long set to an astounding end.
That could have been a fitting end to the night, however the stage lights stayed on, turning a nice shade of blue, giving the impression that there would be more. Sure enough, they weren’t quite done yet, and all twenty members soon walked back out on stage and resumed their posts for the 13-minute long encore.
They kicked it off with the bright “Section 12 (Hold Me Now)”, which is another personal favorite of mine, and I was ecstatic to hear them do it live. There next and final song was another cover, and before starting it Tim mentioned it was by a band that really influenced him in his younger days. “…No, it’s not Soundgarden…” he said, though he professed his love for that band, too. He built up some suspense as to what it might be, finally dropping the band name Nirvana, which the crowd seemed pretty excited about.
The song was “Lithium”, and they did a killer rendition of it, putting a different twist on it, yet still keeping it fairly close to form. They all made sure to give it their all, making one final push, and the harp player even picked up his harp near the end of the song, holding it out over the crowd, a move that amazed me.
That was the end of the show, but as the massive group huddled around one another to show their appreciation to everyone, Tim started into one final speech, thanking everyone for coming out and being a part of the night, sounding absolutely sincere about it.
It was a stunning performance they delivered, and while not everyone stuck around for the whole thing, they did all seem thoroughly captivated by it while they were there. Bear in mind that does include all age ranges, from some preteens to even a few people who appeared to be in their seventies, and everything in between. That just goes to show that the music that The Polyphonic Spree makes and the lively, high-energy show they put on don’t have a targeted age range, rather, it can and does appeal to everybody.
The show was just as much of a spectacle as it was the first time I saw them, and while the entire band will dazzle you, just in the way that such an array of instruments are able to fit together sound-wise and create such rock sound. However, it definitely is Tim DeLaughter that will capture and hold your attention more than anyone, and this night he was constantly moving around the stage, often running, and mingling with his band mates, or looking out at the audience and doing everything he could to make sure the people were fully enthralled by the show.
They seemed like they were, and I can’t imagine a single person left here disappointed this night.
Be sure to check out the bands TOUR DATES, of which they have some around the U.S. and even various parts of the world. Also, head over to their store in iTUNES to find their older records, and mark your calendars for August 6th, when the band will release “Yes, It’s True”, their first original album in seven years. And do be sure to come out to the Granada Theater in Dallas on August 9th for the bands official hometown CD release show.
As for the Levitt Pavilion, it’s a wonderful venue and I love what they’re doing, not only by putting on free concerts, but there making a town that isn’t a real destination for live music (at least not like Fort Worth and Dallas are) into one, even if it is for a few months out of the year. Actually, a lot of other cities in the D/FW metroplex could take a cue from them in my opinion. For example, I know Plano has a venue similar to this, but as far as I know it’s barely used, and I’m sure there are other cities that are the same way, yet here’s Arlington, one-upping everybody else.
They have a lot of great acts coming through the Levitt, and they are as follows:
June 19th – The Lone Star Circus
June 20th - Chubby Carrier
June 21st – Sara Hickman
June 22nd – The Light Crust Doughboys
June 23rd – Snarky Puppy
June 26th – Vocal Trash
June 27th – Carabali
June 28th – Monte Montgomery
June 29th – Jason Eady
June 30th – Billy Joe Shaver
July 3rd – Atlanta Rhythm Section
July 5th – Del Castillo
July 6th – The Quebe Sisters Band
July 7th – Terry Hendrix & Lloyd Maines
July 11th – Girl in a Coma
July 12th – The O’s
July 13th – Ruthie Foster
July 14th – Radney Foster
Those above concerts are all free to attend, then there will be one they charge for on September 14th which will feature Foreigner. So, go check out one or several of those, and starting in late August they will also have another concert season starting up.
Great night, and best of all it was over with early.