Creating Community Through Music

Little did I know that interviewing Smith House at the suggestion of a former student would open up a host of opportunities not only for the USR music site but also for me as a writer. Zach Brown from Smith House asked me to write an article promoting all the bands featured in the May 1 concert at the Black Sheep, which featured Smith House, Atlantic Panic, Get Along, and the headliner, Modern Suspects. I met with and interviewed everyone from all the bands except Get Along. Read that article here: Local Suspects.

I looked forward with anticipation to the May 1 concert as I watched each band promote themselves over the intervening weeks since the interview. These guys were so effusive and down to earth when I spoke with them that I couldn’t wait to hear what they had to offer. I walked into the Black Sheep and immediately was taken back to when this club was called the Merry Go Round. Same smell, same walls, same no-paper-towels-in-the-bathroom as 20 years ago. After inspecting the Dowlin Audio proprietary sound system, which featured a 44-channel board and an LED/64-par can light system, we found ourselves some seats on the wall near the stage and settled in for the night.

The opener was Smith House, whom I have looked forward to hearing since I first met them. This was the first time they had played to such a large audience and in a concert-style venue, so they were understandably keyed up and excited when I chatted with them a few minutes before the show. Their chemistry was palpable when they stepped onto the stage, and they fed off the audience’s energy as they played. With pitch-perfect voices, they harmonized beautifully and read each other well. Barrett Muth’s gravelly baritone was a strong counterpoint to Zach Brown’s soaring tenor. “Torn” was as good as I expected, but “Seasons” was definitely the best of the six songs they played.

Atlantic Panic followed, with a grungy, energetic sound that ramped up the audience to the next level. Chadwick McIntire was a great front man who has obviously had some good experiences as a lead singer. When I interviewed the bands earlier in April, Chadwick had some great insight into the idea behind this May 1 concert, commenting that it builds community and gives the audience a taste of what bands are available locally. He really connected to the audience. The rest of the band got down to business, each one concentrating intently on giving his best show. I heard some hints of Jimmy Eats World and the Gin Blossoms in their music. Dan Isaacson showed some creative drumming, Pito Johnson took some great latitude on what could be too-straight bass parts, and Chad Morgan had some fun guitar licks. Their best song, “Kiss Me for the Last Time,” brought enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. I look forward to seeing this band in a year; they haven’t been together long, and they are still young. If they keep at it, their style will continue to refine itself and they will have their choice of clubs and venues.

Following Atlantic Panic was Get Along, whom I described in the last article with, “no two songs are alike, and although they are classified as ‘indie’ they have such a breadth of techniques that classifying them is difficult.” Seeing them live proved to be exactly that. This band was a mystery to me going in, because they were the only people I didn’t meet and interview in advance. Their songs were eclectic and didn’t follow any traditional pattern, even changing key seemingly randomly at times. Nicholas Yanez was a talented percussionist with a broad range of techniques. His wife, Cara Yanez, stated that this was her first gig back after an eight-month hiatus due to childbirth. As the band’s frontwoman, Cara handled almost all the vocals, some keyboarding, and occasional guitar. After her pitch settled in, she had a gritty Alanna Miles quality to her voice, and at other times a sweet, sensitive tone, particularly in “Yuki,” which was by far their best song. Get Along’s pervasive presence on social media brought a strong fan base to the show.

After a 30-minute changeover, Modern Suspects took the stage. As the headliners for the show, these guys kept their EP-release promotion on the down low in order not to detract from the other bands. I found that to be so respectful, which is a reflection of the guys I got to know during the interview: very mindful of other musicians and their talents and willing to create that sense of community awareness that the other bands shared. Their stage show was versatile, definitely the “popternative” style, a term they coined to classify themselves. Garret Myers’s soulful vocal expression transfixed the audience at times, while Tyler Frees’s alternation between bass and synthesizer added texture to their songs. Bart Williams added some well-rehearsed and solid guitar to the mix. Their show gained momentum at the right times as they interspersed power-style ballads in between high-energy songs that, at times, showed orchestral complexity. I heard overtones of the Psychedelic Furs and New Order in some places, and Beastie Boys throwback beats in others. These guys definitely brought down the house.

The crowd for these bands was the most polite, respectful audience I’ve ever seen. Each band’s following moved to the front for their band, then drifted back out of the way when the next band came up. Some of these bands had parents and grandparents in the audience, so obviously the musicians trusted their fans and the venue. Nobody got violent or too drunk. It was a really nice night. The one criticism I have is that when the last band came up, the engineer turned up the sound so loud that it was uncomfortable and we had to leave. The system had six top cabinets over four bass cabs (enough to power sound for a 1500-seat arena), so it was way too much for a venue of that size to begin with. But, with a house count of 320 in a 400-guest venue, it was a great turnout and a very enjoyable show.