Friday, October 5, 2007

A show review, or a review of shows in general? (Today is the Day, et al, at Stray Cat in Tempe, AZ)

(...picking up where I left off yesterday...)

One of the shows that I found my way out to last week was the September 28th Tempe, AZ stop of the Supernova Records "Axis of Eden" tour. Headlining the show was Today is the Day (whose most recent record lends the tour its name), with support from fellow Supernova acts Defcon 4, Christine, and Taipan, with Phoenix locals Black Hell opening the show.

I have to begin by commending Tyler King, who booked the event, for choosing a local opener extremely well-suited to the show. I had been hearing Black Hell's name around town for quite a while, had heard some of their recorded material, and had been meaning to check them out, although admittedly with expectations that were far from high. I was extremely pleased to have my assumptions debunked in this regard; The band only played three (fairly long) songs, but I was thoroughly impressed. For one reason or another, from a combination of their recorded sound/ the contexts in which I usually heard their name/ etc., I was expecting a performance from the band that was far more cliche-ridden and formulaic, and a sound that was a bit "crustier." I'm definitely not going to claim that this band is doing anything that hasn't been done before, but these guys do it extremely well. I found that my knee-jerk reaction to this act was to question for a moment some of my idealistic preferences about "good" or "noteworthy" musical performance (when I'm speaking critically, I most often vehemently hold that in order to have artistic value at the present juncture, an act must offer a complete package, which involves elements of showmanship, well-calculated/ artistically appropriate appearance, etc, in addition to the music itself). I found Back Hell's no-nonsense approach to "get up there, play your instruments, and play them really well" suprisingly refreshing. Their performance was tight, heavy, and musically proficient, and their stage-demeaner was humble (I don't usually think that humility and the stage mix very well, but for some reason that vibe works for these guys). While perusing the band's websites, I was pleasantly suprised to notice the use of the word "Psychedelic," which came to my mind while they were playing, but I would have figured would be an element that much of their audience might have been oblivious to. Their well-sculpted and precise guitar-tones seemed to spiral around the room, often-times transcending and elevating the more conventional (although also skillfully accomplished) "brutality" of their rhythms, creating a more "spacey" effect than your average (particularly local) metal band.

(whew, that was more time than I was planning to spend on the opener. Oh well, I enjoyed their set.)

Next on the roster was another short (three- song) set, this time from a band that I've since learned is called Taipan, a Today Is The Day side-project. Frankly, their set scared me, and not in a way that's akin to how some metal bands might want to "scare" their audience. I have to admit, I hadn't actively listened to Today Is The Day much in quite a while. So, when Taipan took the stage looking an awful lot like the slated headlining act (both bands are trios, and they share two out of three members between them...) the first thoughts going through my mind involved questions of why they were playing so early, such a short set, and so poorly. Jotted in my notebook about this band are phrases like "Steve Austin's voice is shot... struggling with guitar-work... not very tight..." I don't think I need to elaborate. I wasn't impressed, and I was extremely relieved when Steve Austin and bassist Chris Debari took the stage again later in the night with a different drummer to play a much more fulfilling set as the real headliner.

Next up was a band from Nashville called Christine. This band would easily be my prediction for "every metal-head in America's next favorite band," if they cleaned up a few fairly minor things. They are a female-fronted act that walks that dificult line of doing enough genre-blurring to stay interesting while also remaining coherent, while mixing in less than orthodox elements, like an occasional steel-guitar part, without becoming too avant-garde for metal fans. This band's overall biggest selling-point, in fact, are these sorts of issues of "balance." Most bands that skirt the vague boundaries of "doominess" choose to be infuenced either primarily by sources that are blues-based or classical-based, whereas these guys meld the two in under-attempted ways that would make Sabbath proud. The vocals waver from growls to angelic/ child-like clean parts, which is a balance that very few bands that attempt can pull off with any success at all. The main issue that I feel could keep this band from their potential is their stage and promotional demeanor. The vibe that their presense and banter between songs portrays is not at all the sort of image that their sound and songwriting conveys. A perusal of their myspace page after the show proved to present the same sort of slapstick-ish sarcasm (They list themselves as "Regional Mexican / Southern Rock / Crunk"... "southern rock," sure, that influence is definitely there... the other two? definitely not) that doesn't seem an adequate match from the fairly serious and dark feeling that their music conveys. Again, my peaves have to do with merely wishing that the performance-package presented were complete, which a more caculated attention to their demeanor and conduct (making sure that it is well-suited to the artistic statement being made or attempted by their music) would easily achieve for this band. It is obvious that their songs and sound are carefully crafted. A bit of similar care to other elements of their performance would do this noteworthy material far better justice.

OK, I think I'm going to cut it off here for today and give the readers' eyes and heads a break. I'll finish this tomorow, with (hopefully) a final installment of "how many posts can a single review possibly take," as well as some attempts at critical "conclusions." Remember, my attempt is to write on broader phenomenon than the bands themselves.

(All images in this post have been pilfered from the band's own websites. I apologize and will remove them if this is a problem to anyone. I didn't have my camera with me on this night.)

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