Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Climb

Elliott Brood--"Lindsay" (mp3)

"Free Bird!" yelled someone from the audience.
"Someone has asked for 'Free Bird," said the guitarist.  "We don't play that one.  But we will play some covers at the end."
"We write our own songs," added the drummer, without a hint of irritation and not getting the joke.

Such is the earnestness of an up-and-coming Canadian band playing in Chattanooga, and likely the South, for the first time, treating the ubiquitous request for the Skynyrd song as something to be dealt with seriously.  It did stop any other songs from being shouted out though.  But then, chances are very good that no one in the audience knew any of their songs, except me.  No brag; just fact.

It is pure coincidence that within two nights of each other, Billy and I found ourselves, separately, standing in from of bands that we have promoted on this blog--The Royalty and Elliott Brood.  His, as you have read, played practically for themselves in a small club in Knoxville, while mine found themselves in front of an enthusiastic crowd of thousands of people at Nightfall who, let's be fair, probably care that much about their music, but cared a lot that an uptempo trio of alt-rockers was filling the hot summer night with alt-rocking music.

"We didn't expect this," said the banjo player at the end of the night, looking out over the large crowd, after the band had delivered their covers as promised--Neil Young's "Powderfinger" and Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire"--and he reminded the crowd how lucky they were to have a free summer concert series..  Which we certainly are.

But for a band trying to broaden their audience, I don't know if an event like Nightfall helps them or not.  They probably sell a few cds, but for the most part, they are probably not unlike a wedding band who get their cache from playing at the wedding.  Because a wedding is such a wonderful moment, they get to share in that moment.  The similar reality is that people come to Nightfall for Nightfall; only on rare occasions, do they come to hear the band.  They come for the bikes and the beer and the Korean bbq tacos and the chance of seeing and being seen and the vibe.  Some of them never get near the stage at all and hear the songs played there as pleasant, distant background noise.  Those who come for music come for categories, blues or rock or zydeco, not for the specific band playing it.

Not that a band has to know that.  All they need to know is that they killed.  People cheered loudly and danced up front and demanded the encores that meant that the night and that precious vibe would go on for a few minutes longer.

Which in no way minimizes Elliott Brood's performance.  They were terrific.  Like a more rocking version of the Avett Brothers, they built a big sound with drums, a guitar, a banjo and some tight harmonies.  They worked the crowd right away with a series of faster, older numbers that I didn't know, but that went over well, making it clear right away that they were going to do with a set of drums (and simple, propulsive drumming)  and two acoustic instruments what a lot of bands can't do with much more--that is rock and fill the gaps of multi-layered studio recordings with just a few pieces.

Because "Northern Air" is the song that introduced me to Elliott Brood, a song posted on this blog and a song that made some friends far and wide sit up and say 'Wow,' I thought the show really started to take off when they played it.  I had a spot up front between a post and the wall of speakers, and it gave me a good perch to see how much they were getting into it (and how hot they were--unused to Chattanooga in May, they asked for and received a set of fans to help cool them down).  Other songs from their most recent CD, Days Into Years, including "If I Get Old" and "Hold You," absolutely exploded live, the first with its powerful lyrics and the repeated phrase "youthful heart" and the second with its Edge-like reverbed lead guitar. 

But it is the absolutely stunning "Lindsay" that made the show for me.  I was yelling into the ears of some students who had returned from college, and who were taking turns yelling into my ears, when "Lindsay" came on, and I turned away from them, saying, "Sorry, this is my song."  With its R.E.M.-like impressionistic lyrics and its staccato rhythm, it is a song that demands one pay attention to it:

Can I sleep for a while
18 wheelers shake the wall 
and the mortar's coming out 
the city says they'll tear it down
We grew up right here
doorframes marked with heights and years 
our lives in crooked frame
kitchen table coffee stain
I had that doorframe in my kitchen; last summer, it was painted over.

In 2012, there is no way to know if there is a place for a band from north of the border with tight Everly Brothers/Byrds/Jayhawks harmonies and a seriousness of purpose, with lyrics informed by both experience and history.  But to these ears, which hear a lot of music and which try to find new music that seems like it will have a lasting quality, I haven't heard anything better in a long while.  To know now that they can deliver live as well is even more satisfying. 

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe all of my fellow citizens of this city were paying attention, were flat-out blown away by Elliott Brood and their powerful batch of songs, and it wasn't just the sounds of rocking vocals, guitars, and drums that had them on their feet.  I hope so.  This band is worthy of that kind of praise.


troutking said...

Now I'm even more sorry I missed them at Nightfall and look forward to checking out their album. Sounds like they will easily surpass the Kinks in the rock--I mean, pop--canon. Not baiting.

goofytakemyhand said...

"But for a band trying to broaden their audience, I don't know if an event like Nightfall helps them or not."

They could have played Charles and Myrtle's instead. /sarcastic font

Billy said...

That other band? It wasn't The Bravery. It was The Royalty.

Which mostly just proves the point of our posts. So thanks.

Bob said...

Sorry, Royalty. I fixed it.