Imagine Dragons visited Orlando's House of Blues last Friday night in support of their chart-topping album Night Visions and in doing so cemented themselves as one of 2013's most promising new artists. With a stage setup surrounded by towering palm trees and a ten-foot tall drum, the group marched on stage and performed a percussion-heavy intro to a dizzying array of lights and airy guitars.
Opening with "Round and Round," a song not found on Night Visions (save for deluxe packages) the quintet made an impression from the get-go. The rhythm section was tight, the guitars were lively and impacting and Dan Reynolds had the swagger and charm of an industry veteran. And that small nugget should not be overlooked. Having only been at it for four years, Imagine Dragons appeared wise beyond their years in nearly every song played.
Whether it was the bombastic and chill-inducing "Radioactive," or the pleading "Bleeding Out," there was something crisp and well-executed about the entire 70 minute set. Arguably the finest moment in the set was when Reynold and Co. veered from the script. Standing on stage with just guitarist Wayne Sermon flanked on his left, Renyolds belted out the plaintive "Thirty Lives," an unreleased cut that is also going by the titles "Lay Me Down," and "Starlight." Ostensibly a plea for help, it is easily one of the band's finest songs to date and one can only hope it makes the cut on the next release.
On the contrary, the Aussie upstarts Atlas Genius performed a set that was well-executed and expertly performed, the only problem was the entire set lacked charisma. Whether the set falling short was the result of inexperience or just a band in a room far too big, the 45-minute set was unfortunately one giant letdown. Even the catchy single "Trojans," and the pensive "Back Seat," could not rescue this band from an underwhelming set of monotony sans charm.
Taking the stage before Atlas Genius was California's Nico Vega, whose frontwoman Aja Volkman is also the wife of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. Volkman is indeed a rare bird and has a strange sense of making her live set a piece of performance art. Though the set itself lacked the crispness and lucidity of seasoned veterans, there was a strangeness and a left-of-center verve that actually made the set worth watching. In many ways it felt like What Will Aja do next? But a live set should never be about a frontowman's antics.
In short, the night belonged to the Las Vegas pop-rockers and to them alone. It was a position they were more than willing to relish in. And if Friday night's set is any indication, they have all the talent and skill to remain a force on radio for years to come.
Call it the tour of reinvention. Or if you prefer, the tour of harmless sugar pop. Either way, both apply. Earlier this year, San Diego's Allstar Weekend on a farewell headlining tour. After this summer's Warped Tour, the trio is set to start anew. Same band members, new name and new mission. Also on the bill was Buffalo's Cute Is What We Aim For. Returning to the stage after a four year layoff, the band is making a comeback of sorts. Also supporting was YouTube star Tiffany Alvord, a 19-year-old California Mormon, and Beneath the Sun, a group of shaggy past-their-prime rockers who once went by the name Schoolboy Humor. All of it made for an interesting kaleidoscope regarding the current state of music.
Seen Saturday night at Orlando's House of Blues, the show was interesting to say the least. Beneath the Sun's spiky pop-punk was not exactly novel nor was it offensive. But at this point in their career, the group should be chasing down new avenues. Regardless, their job as opener was to fire up the crowd and they did so with gusto. What followed however was nothing short of puzzling. Alvord stepped on stage with an acoustic guitar and a mousy frame. Rattling off B.OB.'s "Magic" with ease, she appeared to be something worth remembering. But in a matter of seconds, that all came asunder.
Performing the next three songs (two of which were originals) with a background track providing all guitars, keys and rhythm section, this section of her set turned into a veritable American Idol audition. Despite this hilarity, Alvord got a tremendous reaction from the crowd as she served up Taylor Swift's ubiquitous "We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together." But at this point, the entire thing felt like karaoke (and in many ways, how was it not?) As if cognizant of this, she strapped on her guitar for a serviceable rendition of The Wanted's "Glad You Came." In her defense, Alvord was gracious, humble and unfailingly polite.
Those last three traits were sorely missing from Cute is What We Aim For's brash and brawny set. Opening with "Moan," the group segued into "Risque," "Newport Living," "Practice Makes Perfect," and "Doctor," with very little signs of rust. After a candid moment in which frontman Shaant Hackiyan apologized for his prior indiscretions and how his battles with substance abuse kept the band on the shelf, the quartet barreled through with "The Fourth Drink Instinct," "The Curse of Curves," before closing up shop with "There's a Class For This." But even in his candid admission to being three years sober, Hackiyan looked like he was more in love with being on stage than that of being a musician. Everything about the band's 45-minute set dripped with ego and self-congratulation.
On the contrary, the sun-drenched pop of Allstar Weekend was without pretense and unfailingly sincere. Though vocalist Zach Porter played Robin to bassist Cameron Quiseng's Batman, none of the band's 14 songs were self-serving or indulgent. Whether it was the bubbly "Come Down With Love," the bristling "Mr. Wonderful," the infectious "Not Your Birtday," or the throwback "James (Never Change," there was a sweetness to all of it that was both refreshing and rewarding.
Granted, most of the songs are shallow, derivative and ridiculously vapid, but what else does one expect from a pop group whose foundation began with the Disney Channel? To the band's credit, there were plenty of moments when the set could have veered off into hopelessly corny and the band steered away from that. Instead the show was a celebration of harmless, inoffensive candy-coated pop music. But the real takeaway from the set was how polished and pristine the set was. There were very few if any flaws and the entire 80 minutes had a workmanlike industriousness that was both commendable and worth respecting.
The band has already issued a statement ––– one that was backed up on stage as well -––*that their collective hearts are yearning for something else. Whether or not that project is received warmly by its fans remains to be seen, but if 80 minutes on stage Saturday night were any indication, it will most assuredly be successful. Some people were just meant to be in the spotlight and this California trio is no exception to that fact.
I was in the grocery store yesterday and Jewel's "Hands," came on and I found myself harkening back to the year that was released and how much that album moved me. And yet I feel like if the song was released today it would be comically laughed at and would have the shortest shelf life ever. Have we evolved (or devolved that much)? People can poke fun at "Hands," all they want, but it had an awesome message of tolerance and perseverance that a contemporary society hell-bent on bullying and political in-fighting might want to revisit.
That being written, two other radio gems by female artists from around that time also popped into my head and made me wonder. "Bitch," by Meredith Brooks and "Why Can't I?," by Liz Phair. The former was saucy and angst-ridden but had a big powerful hook and enough zest to tower over the airwaves. And yet I feel like a guitar-driven juggernaut like that might get lost in today's radio landscape. How is this possible? As for Phair, while it's no secret "Why Cant I?," is not her best work, its an unabashed pop smash. Does radio still play glossy guitar-pop like that? I feel like we're so far removed from that. Am I overthinking?
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.