If you're a fan of four-part vocal harmonies, songs that evoke Southern gospel hymns and sterling live sets, you should do yourself a favor and check out the bluesy country folk of North Carolina's Delta Rae. Having been listed in Forbes' 30 Under 30 for 2012, these young upstarts (three of which are siblings) craft a homespun version of vocal-heavy folk that bends and shapes in all sorts of directions. There's a little bit of blues here, a bit of blue-eyed soul there, a dollop of country, and a bevy of crazy good harmonies. Seen Wednesday night at The Social in Orlando, the sextet was equal parts spellbinding, inviting and deeply indelible.
Opening with the piano-heavy "Morning Comes (Devil's in the Details)," vocalist Eric Holljes set the tempo almost immediately: the set was going to feature near pitch-perfect vocals and supremely polished performers. Rattling off a yarn that would make Hunter Hayes blush, "Morning Comes," was commanding and a ripe opener. Things kicked up a notch on the moving ballad "Holding On To Good," a song that gave Brittany Holljes a chance to showcase her wide range and ever-impressive lung capacity.
Her counterpart Elizabeth Hopkins took to the mic on the mid-tempo "If I Loved You," a song that echoed with shades of Lady Antebellum but in a far more bluesy tone. Hopkins' vibrant voice is titanic in its power and only three songs in the sextet had already made three powerful statements. After the maudlin piano ballad "Forgive the Children That We Once Were," in which Eric Holljes revisits his middle-school years, the group coasted along with "Whatcha Thinking 'Bout Baby?," a honeyed slice of country-pop and the first song in which guitarist and co-songwriter Ian Holljes sang lead.
Though he's arguably the weakest of the four vocalists, Ian still has a tone and timbre that would do well on its own. And it is there that Delta Rae makes all the difference. Most bands have one singer who deserves the spotlight (maybe), the Durham band is blessed to have four, all of which could arguably craft first-rate solo albums if they wanted. Armed with confidence, polish and armfuls of presence, they represent the apex of vocal pop. Though their Americana sound often dips into saccharine balladry, there's an integral pull to their music that is worth revisiting. Hopkins' leave-it-all-on-the-table ballad "Unlike Any Other," and Brittany's chill-inducing "Fire," had a potency and transcendence that revisited why live music is still a much sought-after medium. There's power and conviction in watching an artist sing with all their might. Gusto and bravado can only be conveyed in such a thin frame in a studio. Live, however, the artist has the ability to make magic. The four vocalists in Delta Rae seem to understand that.
Case in point, the band's first single "Bottom of the River," a stormy slice of blues folk that anchors itself in the four distinct voices weaving together. Utilizing only a trash can and a kick drum, the sextet allowed the voices to do all the heavy lifting. To call it awe-inspiring is probably doing it a disservice. Following up such a high moment is never an easy thing, but their spot-on cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain," allowed the momentum from "Bottom of the River," to indeed be carried forward. While the rollicking closer "Dance in the Graveyard," was a bit of a softball, the encore more than made up for it. Walking out into the frenzied crowd of roughly 100, the band sang "Hey Hey Hey," with just a box drum, an upright bass and those four fantastic voices. Intimate and hushed it made for a most winning finish to a most memorable night.
And yet for all the charm of the live set, Delta Rae still faces a tall order: winning on the radio. While their four-part harmonies and syrupy ballads seem prime for country radio, there's still a lot of Fleetwood Mac in their more rock-oriented arrangements. But maybe, just maybe, Delta Rae are set to change the game. After all, nobody would have thought a group of four scraggly Britons with mandolins and banjos would shift the rock landscape, but sure enough Mumford and Sons has done exactly that. Delta Rae has that ability, it's just a matter of how quickly the American public will catch on. Here's hoping they latch on soon, live sets like this past Wednesday are the kind of events not to be missed.
When it comes to live music, there is no greater joy than watching performers revel in what they do. No one wants to watch a band mail it in or look haggard and disinterested. And it is for this reason that Friday night's tour send-off show at Orlando's Backbooth, was such a treat for those attended. Ostensibly a happy trails shindig for local singer-songwriter Emily Kopp, the bill also included some of Kopp's closest friends: classmate Megan Alfredson, Los Angeles-by-way-of-Tampa singer-songwriter Connor Zwetsch and another Orlando native, Bracher Brown, the lone male on the bill.
Alfredson opened things off quietly and humbly. Though her set was mostly covers, she slammed home a wide swath of frothy cuts, including Paramore's "Misery Business," Willie Nelson's "Crazy," and a choicecover by Lil Wayne. What Alfredson lacked in stage presence she made up for with a belting voice. Though her hushed nature kept her mousey and unassuming, she certainly revealed a flair for vocal gymnastics and with more seasoning could certainly provide a spark to the meager singer-songwriter scene in Orlando.
Connor Zwetsch took to the stage with drummer Sandi Greco and a fireball of energy that was nothing if not illuminating, awe-inspiring and all-consuming. Anchored by powerful and deeply penetrating vocals, her (yes, Connor is a girl) set was easily one of the night's true highlights. Whether it was the racy opener "The Little Things." or her near-perfect cover of MGMT's "Electric Feel," Zwetsch performed a set wise beyond her years and revealed a talent that was both alarming and provocative. The one-time Tampa resident recently relocated to Los Angeles and the move seems to have done her well. There was a confidence and effortlessness from the opening seconds, that made her set so hypnotizing. Hard at work on her debut EP, Zwetsch is just a mere months away from shaking up the overcrowded California music scene.
Bracher Brown took to the stage with a three-piece band (all of whom are members of New Wave up-and-comers Stockholm) and armfuls of family and friends in the crowd. One would hope that the legions of kin would accentuate the rugged rocker's set. But alas, nothing did. Despite a buoyant cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl," little about Brown's set was memorable. While humble and hunky, his set lacked originality and seemed more concerned with brawn and braggadocio than brilliance and substance.
Headliner Kopp took to the stage shortly after 10 p.m. and barreled through an hour-long set that never wavered or sagged. Buttressed by an air-tight rhythm section and the zesty stylings of producer/lead guitarist Justin Beckler, Kopp never stopped smiling. Her songs, despite their maudlin subject matter, were nothing if not, affecting, poignant and undeniably potent. Whether it was the somber "When We Fight," the dark and stormy "Thicker Than Blood," or the grateful "Thank You," there's an assuredness and crispness in her songcraft that is both refreshing and revelatory.
While her debut EP veered more toward Colbie Caillat honey-pop, her new stuff seems more geared in indie folk and that change is something that should serve Kopp well going forward. Though much of her set was serious in nature, the 22-year-old was more than willing to add moments of levity. Whether it was a Britney Spears mashup with Alfredson, or a slightly comical version of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake," the sun-drenched set was a welcome tonic for a day marred in tragedy. And in an era, when so many artists mail it in and show little joy in performing, Friday night's set at the Backbooth elucidated exactly why live music is such a worthy endeavor.
Gainesville, FL's Levek is a sextet that plays dream-pop with strains of orchestral folk, psychedelia and even some indie twee. Seen Friday night at Orlando's Plaza Live, the group was anchored, affable and absolutely air-tight. Their set opened unconventionally as vocalist David Levesque entered on stage with an acoustic guitar and bassist Gerald Perez flanked on his right. They rattled off a sedate and nocturnal cut of sublime winter folk that was both well-timed and also well-executed. Levesque's hushed timbre made for a pleasant opening salvo and an earnest way to start things off.
Though Levesque failed to introduce his bandmates as they entered the stage, they came anyway and ripped through a languorous and dreamy instrumental that straddled the line somewhere between The Flaming Lips and Sufjan Stevens. Buttressed by Levesque's recorder solo and winsome keys, the song segued from ambient and airy to hallucinatory and drug-induced. There were even flourishes of Middle Eastern mysticism by the song's conclusion and it was apparent that something truly exemplary was happening on stage. Levesque has gone on record as admitting that the music of Disney has been a driving force behind his output and much of the set seemed culled from a Fantasia b-side (if there ever was such a thing).
Arguably the set's strongest effort was the three-keyed attack that is "Black Mold Grow," a whistling and whimsical affair that is arresting, adroit and nothing short of amazing. The Gainesville sextet wove a luminescent tapestry on their next cut, a song which featured a sonorous clarinet solo before segueing into a swirl of textures, moods and keys. It was also during this song that one got the feeling the music of Levek may be more about tone and rhythm than message. While there were lyrics, they certainly were not pronounced and seemed to take a backseat to their cornucopia of creativity.
Of the band's final four songs, very few moved past the gauzy vibe and much of the set felt like a flannel bath. Slinky and slithery, Levek made use of Gerald Perez's falsetto, and a structure that was as much percussive as it was sedate. Of the eight songs played few were as strong as the gnomic "Look on the Bright Side," which perfectly married their experimental leanings with their multi-layered pop dynamics. By the time it was all said and done, one couldn't help but want to hear more.
What made Levek's set so monumental was that it is never an easy thing to open for a band like Of Montreal. A band whose catalog is so vast, whose followers are so devout and whose live show is anything but predictable. And yet in their own understated way, Levesque and Co. managed to carve out something deeply indelible, unfailingly hypnotic and undeniably potent.
Having already written about them once before, this post feels a bit redundant, but sometimes such things need to be said. If the Florida-by-way-of-Brooklyn trio Jacob Jeffries Band are not on your musical radar, then please make an effort to correct this. Seen this past Tuesday at Will's Pub in Orlando, the group hammered through a 16-song set with an effortlessness that was both eye-opening and awe-inspiring. Fronted by the charismatic 24-year-old Jeffries, the band performs soulful piano power-pop that mirrors both Jellyfish and Ben Folds in its hook-driven arrangements.
Whether it was the inspired cuts from the band's latest album Tell Me Secrets, or older material like fan-favorite "Fairfax Diner," from the group's debut Life as an Extra, the set was nothing short of stunning. A natural at the piano and on stage, Jeffries has a youthful exuberance that is hard to imitate and even harder to dislike. Unfailingly polite, ever humble and vocally extraordinary, Jeffries has all the right ingredients to make a dent on the Billboard charts.
Though many in Florida were sad to see the band relocate to wintry New York, the move seems to have paid dividends. The band, which already had an alarming ability to display confidence and swagger without pretense, seems to have also honed their craft as musicians. The songs came easy, sounded more dynamic, almost expansive, and the arrangements felt more flexible.
What separates the group from its contemporaries is their first-rate live set. Tuesday's set at Will's Pub included a rousing cover of The Beatles "Why Don't We Do It In the Road," which is quickly becoming a staple in their repertoire; and a funked-up blues version of John Mayer's "Queen of California," of which Jeffries was quick to give all credit to his guitar player Jimmy Powers. And it is Powers' guitar-playing that makes the set so well worth remembering.
Granted Jeffries has all the charm and trappings of a born frontman but Powers' Mayer-influenced guitar riffs were nothing short of exemplary. Anchored by the ever-steady drumming of Eric Jackowitz, the band debuted a new song "Hate To See You Suffer," written in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and another untitled effort, which finds Jeffries opining, "If second-guessing was a sport, I'd be a champion." One of the set's more memorable moments came when opener Suzanna Choffel stepped on stage and sang an untitled composition, which featured arrangements constructed by Jeffries and Powers. The song, which is scheduled to be recorded in a week's time at an undisclosed Atlanta studio, has hit-potential written all over it and only adds a layer of gloss to both Choffel and Jeffries' already impressive repertoire.
In opening the show, Choffel offered a sterling set of dusty Texas ballads and a honeyed voice that mirrors Norah Jones at times. A recent participate on The Voice, the Texas-raised New Yorker has an appeal that seems destined for stardom and close-ups. Whether or not she finds fame from the Jeffries-penned tune is still to be written, but if her seven-song set at Will's was any indication, she is most certainly well on her way. At times her set bordered on lounge fare and others seemed drawn from the Tift Merritt playbook, but one thing was for certain, she came to make an impression.
At night's end, both artists had cast a deep impression and left this listener waiting more. In the end, that's all a listener could really ever want.
Easily my favorite song of this week is Wizards of Time's "Benjamin," an epic and highly nuanced slice of art-rock not unlike Sufjan Stevens or The Dear Hunter. The band is led by vocalist and musical wunderkind Andrew Levi Hiller, who has an expansive imagination and a distinct sense of artistry that is unlike few others. While lead single "Little's Jingle," was proggy, guitar-driven and dense, "Benjamin," is inspired, uplifting and decidedly off-beat. Yet where it turns left, it also turns pleasant and that sense of amiability is what makes the song so darn refreshing. The Arizona group's debut release Will The Soft Curse Plague On? is out now on Hidden Shoal Recordings. For more details, head here.
Solid Dudes Kitchen is a web-based cooking show that focuses around the adventures of Derek Swanson and Dave Graw (the Gentlemen Collective). In 10-12 minute episodes, the tandem assigns themselves a food-related task and set out to accomplish said task. While Graw has little to no cooking skills, Swanson has plenty, and the two banter back and forth for much of the show. Often times the humor is crude, sophomoric and inane, and other times its laugh out loud funny.
The Season 2 disc, which has a total running time of just over an hour, finds the group at the Jalapolka Fest in Detroit's Indian Village; at Royal Oak's Ronin Sushi; and in Munich, Germany to visit friends in the band Mondo Ray. But the show is not all laughs and trivialities. In the Sushi episode, the duo uncovers the innerworkings of a sushi bar and the amount of time and patience it takes to be a sushi chef. In the Jalapeno episode, Graw and Swanson import a dash of regional culture and a sense of pride in their hometown. While it's not quite Charles Kuralt, it's also not that far off, either.
In the episode One Meal For The Rest Of Your Life, Derek cooks up duck-fat monte cristo sliders, while the two wax rhapsodic about their favorite albums. During The Hang, they are witness to a master class in pouring from bartender Chris Brock. Season 2 ends with the 23 minute-episode Dudes Hast, in which they attempt to conquer Munich, Germany. Whether its their struggles with public transportation or their schmoozing with old friends at the Augustiner Beer Garden over radlers, there's a profound sense of intimacy and immediacy at work here that makes the show well worth-watching.
So a song came across my inbox today that pretty much stopped me in my tracks. The chap's name is Danny Chait and his single is "Hanging Out," a rising and hopeful slice of EDM-inspired balladry that is hands down the best song I've heard this week. Chait has an innate ability to sound sincere without sounding saccharine. When he sings verses like "So I package up this pain that no one else can see," and "I hope you're not like me, superficial and a freak," he hints at something truly exemplary. Sure it's easy to be self-effacing and ruminate over revisionist history, but there's also a way of conveying pain and vulnerability that hits at the fabric of what makes music listening so enjoyable. Chait is blessed with a reedy voice that allows his despair to be something worth remembering. If this is truly just the beginning, there's a very good chance Danny Chait will be a name we hear more from in the months to come.
Well I've given it five listens and here's my ten cents. Also, as a closing note, I really haven't paid much attention to Triple Crown Records since As Tall as Lions went asunder. This release has renewed my vigor for the label.
"The After Party" - Ethereal and airy. Hull's inimitable voice. He really sounds his best in this kind of atmosphere. So hard to dislike or ignore. Lamenting how much he "hates to be alone." Driving/searing guitar dives into something dense, thick, meaty.
"No Reward" - Autumnal and breezy. Moves into hazy and distorted and weird. Seems like the kind that would take no prisoners live and win legions of new fans.
"Forest Whitaker" - My favorite lyrics of the year. "I started a band that was cool for awhile but it turned pretty bland. I started a fight with a neighbor next door and his pesky wife. You started a job that you hate when you're sober and hate even more when you're not. I know you hate me too, you always say you do." Buzzy, bright. Easily one of my favorite songs of the year. Andy Hull is a rare talent that is criminally overlooked by those that should pay attention.
"It Never Stops" - A quiet opening. Quintessential Kevin Devine song. Damn fine. Autumnal, mid-tempo. Just wow. A great freaking song. Woah.
"Pyotr" - Placid and ruminative. Super deep and cerebral. A paean to fidelity. When he writes songs like this, it feels like listening to a living legend at work.
"Friendly Advice" - Nirvana-esque opening. Gritty. Hull doing his best to be visceral, meaty and impassioned.
"No Sides" - A buzzy and bright Devine track, "I'm nobody's slaughtered lamb," drips with religious overtones. Not much of an impact. Just kind of ehhhh.
"Petite Mort" - Devine sings a subdued, mid-tempo effort. At this point, it feels like the album may be losing its appeal.
"42" - Andy Hull solo acoustic. Freaking amazing. Why did Hull bring his A game to this effort but Devine didn't?
"Lost Creek" - Hull again. "My dad and Russell running through the woods of Lost Creek. It's a shame Jessica never got clean." Why is it that Hull sings about nostalgia like very few of his peers? God this is just cinematic and magical stuff. What a home run.
"Ambivalent Peaks" - A quiet Kevin Devine affair that is timid and temperamental. Considering he got outshines by Hull for most of this album, this is a pretty towering effort.
One of my favorite local bands is the dream-pop indie-folk group Day Joy. Their debut album Go To Sleep, Mess is due out later this fall, on Small Plates Records but in the meantime, the group has released this slice of utopia, the title track off their new album. Fans of Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver should find something to like here. This music is something truly special. There's a reason Paste Magazine has hailed them as one of Florida's best indie groups.
Here's a video clip of the song "Talk of Terror," from their debut EP.
Somewhere inside all of us is a soul that craves pop-music. That portion of each of us may come out only sporadically, rarely and in some cases, far too often. But it exists and it sits inside all of us. This slow evolution of dance-inspired pop music has slowly unraveled, resulting in an untamed monster, spawning the likes of Ke$ha, One Direction andCarly Rae Jepsen, to name but a few. Call them guilty pleasures, call them one-trick ponies, the bottom line is they sing songs with mega-hooks. And it is that pop-music loving soul that craves these mega-hooks.
Enter the latest guilty pleasure: Action Item.
These five Jersey upstarts craft a slab of pop-rock that many would call cookie-cutter, derivative or banal. Hell it may be all three of those things, but one thing is for certain, this energetic quintet churns out some serious hook-heavy ear candy. Seen last night in Orlando on the Owl City Midsummer Station tour, the group was well-heeled, slickly polished and even self-effacing. Though they performed with the skill of a band many years their senior, they never let go of their youthful spirit. Their bubbly brightness married well their sun-drenched anthems and helped anchor a set that was both eye-opening and attention-grabbing. Touring in support of a self-financed documentary, Action Item are currently working on the finishing stages of an album due out later this fall. Working with a team of A-list producers, the band is drawing on their experiences opening up for the likes of Hot Chelle Rae, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and We the Kings, to name a few.
Snicker all you want, guilty pleasures lie inside us all, and there's a good chance that this time next year, a song by Action Item will bear that very title. You have been warned.
What's the point of music if it doesn't challenge you? What's the point of art if it doesn't try to do something different?
The Cincinnati duo Bad Veins clearly understand both of these questions. While their music is hyper-caffeinated, hyper-aware indie pop, live on stage it is an entirely different matter. Utilizing an antiquated rotary phone, a reel-to-reel tape machine and a vintage organ, vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastian Schulz performed a master class in how to perform music live, last night at Orlando's The Social. Though the crowd was small ––– 50 max ––– the tandem played without pretense and never stopped bringing their A game.
Davis walked on stage first and introduced himself and an absent Schulz before diving into "Doubt," an ode to revisionist history. When the song finished, Schulz walked on stage and the band kicked it into high gear with the uber-infectious "Don't Run," a valentine about a failed relationship. Bad Veins songs are anchored in Schulz's measured drumming and Davis' sturdy croon.
One of the things that is most compelling about a vocalist is when his intonations and utterances feel sincere and genuine, as if the pain he sings about is something deeply felt. Davis seems to understand this and performs each song with a gravity that cannot be underestimated. Whether it was the halcyon heights of "Gold and Warm," the jittery fragility of "Falling Tide," or the chilly grandeur of "Child," there was something riveting about every second. The duo write pop songs brimming with hooks and nowhere was that more apparent than on the sugary "Dancing on TV," and the driving "The Lie." Davis is at his best when he's laying it all on the line and the prime examples of that were the starkly honest "Dry Out," the symphonic "If Then," and the carnal rocker "Afraid." By the time it was finished, the crowd of 50 were eager for an encore. Mission accomplished.
Opening the set was the St. Petersburg quartet Alexander and the Grapes, who performed a set of dense Americana not unlike Pedro the Lion. Whether it was the two-dimensional "Where I Go," which started off hazy and autumnal and segued into something dense and concussive; or the autobiographical "East Coast," about the rigors of life on the road, the entire set was crisp, confident and air tight. Vocalist Alex Charos has a dry vocal delivery that gives the songs more depth. His vocals mixed with Chase Swan's pedal steel were a perfect compliment and the songs themselves were deeply resonant. While the sonic landscape is definitely Americana, the quartet were not afraid to dive into deep, dark rhythms and mine for something more visceral.
Also on the bill was Stagnant Pools, a guitar drum-duo, who recently release their debut LP on Polyvinyl. Their seven-song set was ripe with moody guitar lines, pulsating drums and frontman Bryan Enas' drowsy vocals. While many of the songs blended together, standouts included the cylindrical "Illusions," and the crunchy "Solitude." The biggest problem with the set is that Enas is shy and taciturn and so he never came across as engaging or warm. Being that the bed are young and fresh out of college, there's plenty of reason to think they'll only develop further as a live band, as the years pass.
In the end, the night belonged to the Cincinnati duo Bad Veins. Polished, pristine and incredibly passionate, it was everything that ones hopes for in watching a live set. If this band is not on your radar yet, make a point to change that immediately.
The Florida music scene is about to lose one of its most promising talents.
The Fort Lauderdale-based Jacob Jeffries Band are currently in the process of uprooting their outfit and heading north to Brooklyn. While I certainly can't fault the band for said decision it is a crippling blow to the Sunshine State. Seen last Thursday at The Abbey Theatre in downtown Orlando, the quartet performed a master-class of first-rate piano-driven pop rock.
Whether it was the infectious single "Crazy Under the Moon," the hook-driven "Worth the Wait," or the Southern rock howl of "Coming Home," there was something incredibly potent and intoxicating about every passing second. Jefferies is a born performer and his charisma knows no bounds. As a live band, the songs are deeper and more compelling than on disc, and with nuggets like The Beatles "Why Don't We Do It In The Road," and "Baby, You Can Drive My Car," thrown into the set, there was little reason to not smile. What is Florida's loss is now Brooklyn's gain.
But with the departure of the JJB, comes two new additions. Stockholm, a fiery quintet from Orlando plays blistering, radio-ready new wave not unlike The Killers, et al. Equally as captivating, if not more so, than the Jacob Jefferies Band, the group had a polish and sheen that was alarming, eye-opening and nothing short of spellbinding. Vocalist Chris Arter absolutely owns the stage and has a commanding presence that draws you in. The band, who was once signed to Island Def Jam, definitely has a major label presence about them and seems more than ready for their share of the national spotlight. From start to finish, there was nary a flaw, and each of the seven songs were nothing short of stunning.
[Editor's Note: I attend more than 30 concerts a year and have been going to concerts since I was 15. That's roughly 16 years of concerts. I have not seen a live set, in a venue that size, as captivating as Stockholm's, in at least two years. It was truly spellbinding]
Though considerably less compelling than JJB or Stockholm, the Clearwater-based quintet The Normandy played a strong set of seven alt-rock cuts. Somewhere in the vein of Paramore and Kenotia, the songs were guitar-driven with a strong female presence. Being that vocalist Lyska is only in her third month with the band, there's a good chance that the band will only grow stronger as the months go on. As a frontwoman, Lyska is inarguably sexy, undeniably captivating and has a serviceable voice. Her only issue right now is becoming more kinetic and charismatic on stage. As of right now, she just feels like a hired gun. The band cites Thrice, Thursday and Circa Survive as influences and those three are definitely present on the band's two strongest songs; the hook-driven "Lonely Lungs," and the sparkling "Forest Fire."
More information on The Normandy, can be found here.
Stockhom can be found here.
And the Jacob Jefferies Band can be found here.
Here's the problem with Neon Trees. At some point, the entire thing is going to grow tired.
Seen last Friday at the Revolution in Fort Lauderdale, the entire set felt like a carbon copy of David Bowie. While Tyler Glenn has never shied away from his affection for glam-rock's poster boy, Glenn's version of Bowie 2.0 felt a little over the top. By the end of the night, he almost felt like a caricature of himself. Insofar as a live band, there was little to complain about. The songs were strong, had few flaws and the energy was definitely tangible. Utilizing a drummer as a fill-in for Elaine Bradley (who is currently at home with a newborn baby), and a lethal tandem of two more than capable guitarists, the songs were shimmering, buzzy and full of flair.
But never once did the set feel like a band. Instead it felt far more like the Tyler Glenn show. Being that the band only has 19 songs of recorded material, the set itself was also brief and brisk and without a cover. While Glenn made every effort to engage the crowed (including a stage dive towards the end of the set), at some point it all felt a bit too much. As if Lady Gaga was trying to front a power pop band. Highlights of the set included a piano version of "Your Surrender," a near six minute-version of "1983," and a powerhouse performance of the band's ubiquitous hit "Animal."
Opening the set was the Columbus, OH duo Twenty One Pilots, a tandem that includes frontman/pianist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. Ostensibly a hip-hop/electro-pop outfit, the group is most definitely commercial, undeniably accessible and wholly engaging. Frontman Joseph is a born performer and has all the swagger and confidence of a seasoned veteran. In short, he walked on stage and commanded the room to take notice. If Glenn was the Bowie of the night, Joseph was the Freddie Mercury. The band recently signed to Fueled by Ramen and has a three-song EP available on iTunes. Of all three bands, they were the most entertaining and they definitely had a flair for the dramatic. If anything, this is definitely a band that needs to be on the proverbial music radar. Friday's set proved exactly that.
Sandwiched in between Twenty One Pilots and Neon Trees was Cincinnati's Walk the Moon, who have recently found commercial success with their brisk lead single "Anna Son," and a self-titled album on RCA. Of all three bands they were the most artist-driven. Additionally they were the only band who seemed to understand that substance matters over image. Whereas Twenty One Pilots and Neon Trees seemed more interested in aesthetic as intrigue, Walk the Moon allowed their songs do the talking. And talk they did. Whether it was the sweetly affecting "Me And All My Friends," or the hyper-caffeinated and surefire single "Next in Line," there was a dizzying and intoxicating quality about the band's kinetic live set. By the end of the night, it was these Ohioans that might have made the loudest statement of all.
As Warped Tour wraps up, I thought I'd give a quick ten cents on my visit to the Orlando Warped Tour stop and my thoughts on those bands that I saw.
Hostage Calm: These Connecticut upstarts are definitely on the precipice of something big. Signed to venerable Boston label Run For Cover Records, the group performs taut, guitar-driven pop-punk that is heads and shoulders above its contemporaries. Vocalist Christopher Martin is a born frontman and has all the charisma and swagger that is needed to vault a live set to the forefront. Additionally, the songs deliver a message and hit home. Rather than wax rhapsodic about the vagaries of love, Martin and Co. ruminate on same-sex marriage, growing up in a broken home and the fear of commitment. They are in a few words: refreshing, honest and undeniably engaging. A new album with J. Robbins is in the works. Holy smokes, that's going to be something.
Stepdad: Buzzy, bristling and hyper-caffeinated, this electro-pop quartet is nothing short of stunning. Though they probably belong at SXSW or the CMJ Music Marathon, it was a real treat to see such a cohesive, and well-anchored band at Warped Tour. Songs "Jungles," "Pick and Choose," "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails," and "Starfriends on Earth," were incredibly catchy, surefire singles, and nothing short of ear candy. To put it simply, this band has a big future. Woah. To quote Blogciritcs.com, "If Passion Pit and The Postal Service got drunk one night and had a kid out of wedlock, the result would be Stepdad."
Transit: Though I'd seen them before, I was impressed with how much better they had gotten in just a few short months. Realizing that Warped Tour was a big stage, the band stepped it up and did so in a big way. Joe Boyton's vocals were spot-on, the rhythm section didn't miss a step and the guitars were urgent, kinetic and memorable. As an added perk, the group did an acoustic set in the Acoustic Basement, but lost a lot of steam during the set. Though its probably too foolhardy to call them the future radio darlings of pop-punk, it's also not out of the realm of possibility. This band is something special.
Taking Back Sunday: Okay, I did it. I finally saw them. I finally put my personal prejudices aside and decided to check it out. Holy hell am I glad I did. This band knows how to perform. Lazzarra is the consummate frontman and the sound was polished, air-tight and without flaw. They also catered to their fans and performed many of their biggest hits. It was to put it succinctly, a clinic in how to perform live on a big stage. Literally every band on Warped Tour could take a cue from TBS and apply the lessons learned to up their game. It was without a doubt the day's peak moment.
We the Kings: Travis Clark needs to stop yelling. He writes caffeinated, bubble gum pop and yet he wails to the crowd as if it was a screamo show. Relax dude. Its just harmless pop music. That being written, he was back home in Florida and was one of the headliners, so I suppose his bleats made sense, but oh man, did it get tiring. All that being written, the set was fine. T. Mills joined him for "Party on the Radio," and other sugary cuts like "Say You Like Me," and "Check Yes Juliet," were performed with precision. The band even earned props for performing a cover of Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," which Clark cited as "my all time favorite song."
Twin Atlantic: Only caught the last two songs of the set but they were easily a highlight. Their sound was in a word: controlled. There was nothing superfluous, nothing too loud, it was just clean, neat and absolutely engaging. There's a reason this band is so well-respected and praised, they most definitely deserve it. Awesome stuff from an up-and-coming British band.
Lostprophets: They were trying to be metal, dense and edgy and they achieved it. The set was abrasive, meaty and relentless. Vocally they could have sounded better but I'm not sure that's what they were trying to achieve. Bear in mind I only caught three songs, but the entire thing was too concussive and over the top for me to stick around. I also bolted so I could see Chuck Ragan.
Chuck Ragan: Do yourself a favor and see him live. His gravelly vocals and homespun Americana anthems are bordering on legendary. Buttressed by a violin and an upright bass, the songs were earthy, warm and truly something special. The only regret about Ragan is that he didn't pursue this American project sooner. Easily one of the highlights of the afternoon. A consummate professional and the very definition of a troubadour.
Palmer Reed: I understand he's young, inexperienced and doesn't have a lot of range, but this may have been one of the most disappointing sets all afternoon. Reed has miles to go before he's even considered to be in the conversation as something worth remembering. This was coffeehouse karaoke at best.
Miss May I: Man, they whipped it with a belt. Anyone who reads my columns knows metal/hardcore is the farthest from what I dig, but I was impressed by how much this band put into their set. Surely it got tiring hear how "metal," the band was, but the band also deserved credit for their "marathon pit," and their unrelenting slice of hard rock. All you can ever ask for in a live band is that they don't mail it in, that they leave everything on stage and give it their all, as if it was their last night on earth. Miss May I did exactly that and that's why they've earned the respect of this writer.
All Time Low: I saw them in 2001 and was unbelievably impressed. They were young, cocky and comical. They also put on a whale of a show. 11 years later and they're still doing it. Cocky, comical and pretty proficient at what they do. Though I only caught two songs, I was nonetheless floored. Here's to them for that.
It was a big blow for the Long Island music scene when upstarts Envy on the Coast called it quits after only two releases, but sure enough Envy's charismatic and immensely gifted vocalist Ryan Hunter is back with North Korea, a band that also includes Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer and former Envy bandmate Brian Byrne.
The band recently signed to Triple Crown Records and is working with Mike Sapone (Brand New, Sainthood Reps) on a full-length. The group's two EPs are available for free on Facebook and if the full-length sounds anything like those two EPs, holy hell, they are going to blow it out of the water. Color me stoked. Find them here.