It wouldn't happen again. It couldn't happen again. I had told myself that this time I would make it. A few months ago, Eye Empire had played at the Recher Theatre in Baltimore, but I had a prior engagement to attend. I was bummed that I couldn't make that event, so when this one came around I knew that I had to make sure it wouldn't happen again. I found out about the concert by chance, hearing a friend of mine mention he would be taking photographs of them when they stopped by his area in North Carolina. Sure enough, I discovered that only a few days after he saw them they would be in my neck of the woods once more. Despite this, I saw no online ticket purchasing outlets upon immediate inspection and wondered if the House Of Rock was a legitimate venue, as their website looks quite ancient and speaks more to their deals on steak dinners than their music scene. While different than most other places I've been to see bands, I assure you that the House Of Rock in White Marsh, Maryland is a cozy little bar & grill & concert combination.
The opening acts were scheduled as Yesterday's War, Any Given Sin, and Skitzo Calypso. It seems that Yesterday's War was unable to make it and replaced by two other acts: Drift Plan and Plaid Anxiety. I should start by saying that Drift Plan is a great band. I was immediately impressed by the musicianship of all the band members and the great songwriting that they possessed. Though the singer was struggling with his allergies, they were all lighthearted and I found myself laughing at their banter. They've already released a full album of material and are working on some newer, heavier material, all of which can be streamed or downloaded for free on their Soundcloud page. The only thing I would have preferred is if they were a little more active, as their songs had presence, but they lacked command of the stage.
The second act, Plaid Anxiety, seemed to be more of a comedy duo (would have been a trio, but their second guitarist couldn't make it). One fellow used a Yamaha Motif ES6 as a drum machine while the guitarist would riff over it. The keyboardist then began a long list of songs all about sex and alcohol. With a song title such as “My High School Crush Is A Lesbian”, how can you go wrong? It was quite a sight, literally, as the singer had flashing sunglasses and a shirt that doubled as a light-up equalizer! It became especially interesting when the singer donned a large gold chain and hoodie, turned on a vocal effect to make himself sound like a large black man, and proceeded to rap. It felt like the first time I heard Frank Zappa sing about Titties & Beer, except far more simplified. I couldn't help but facepalm song after song. Despite the silliness of their tunes, they were surprisingly well done and the singer was full of energy, which made it difficult not to enjoy myself.
Any Given Sin followed up, quite contrasting the previous band with not only its sound, but its image as well. They possessed a much more rockstar garb. They had some unfortunate technical issues starting out, with the vocals being absent towards the beginning of their set and the guitars and bass not being evenly mixed in the PA. At one point, the lead guitar player looked to be playing a blistering solo, but I couldn't hear a single note from the opposite side of the stage. Aside from these issues, the songs themselves were pretty good, laced with a crunchy metal tone. They even played a metal-induced cover of “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. For those that are fans of old school metal, you should take a moment to listen to their new EP – streaming on their Facebook page.
The final band before Eye Empire would take stage was Skitzo Calypso. One of the cool things about concerts is that you get to experience bands that you've never heard before. This was my first time hearing Skitzo Calypso, and minus unknowingly opening the door for the singer earlier that night, I had never seen them before. As I would soon discover, this is not a straightforward rock band. Floating back and forth between hard rockers, metal guitar playing, and RATM-inspired raps, I had to scratch my head at exactly what I was engaged in. The singer was full of energy, however, and would give me no time to ponder those mysteries, at one point getting right into my face (and camera) before jumping off stage and making his way through the crowd. A little audience involvement is always worth encouraging! While I didn't know any of their material, I was trying to follow along as best I could, which went well minus the lead singer's rap segments. Though competent in his flow, he was going so fast that the microphone didn't always translate his intentions to the PA as well as I would have liked. What definitely captured my attention was a stunning cover of Guns N' Roses “Welcome To The Jungle”, beautifully redone down to the mannerisms of Axl Rose. If you're looking to have stage presence, there aren't many frontmen worth imitating more, and not only did the singer pull off Axl's style, but his voice matched the material wonderfully. The only problem I had with their set was the constantly changing light show, but this is a minor fuss. After having gone home and explored more of their music, I'd be happy to see them again – this time ready to sing along!
Eye Empire was not only the foundation of this event, but also the demolition crew. Simply walking on stage electrified the entire crowd. I had already staked out a spot front and center, thanks to my previous escapades as new amateur photographer, and was not about to budge. Earlier that evening I had made my rounds, checking out the merch stand and striking up a conversation with drummer, Ryan Bennett, who was nonchalantly drumming on his practice pad to warm up. An extremely nice guy from the beginning, he immediately thanked me for coming to the show and we shared in some small talk before I gave way to other fans who wanted their turn. But now he was squared away behind a drumkit near the back of the stage, with guitarist B.C. Köchmit and his immense dreadlocks walking past to his microphone stand on the far left. Former Stuck Mojo/Stereomud bassist, Corey Lowery, arrived moments later with his neon-green stringed bass guitar strapped over his shoulder and vocalist Donald Carpenter finalized the ensemble with a portable Shure 55S microphone in hand.
There wasn't a huge crowd in attendance, but that really didn't seem to matter to this group. They tore into the crowd with the explosiveness of an atom bomb, starting off with “Ignite (Cause Of Impact)”. After several more powerhouse tracks, Carpenter commented on the crowd: “It's not about how many people you play for, but about whoyou play for. Each and every one of us deserves that respect, you know?” After another song from their debut, they ventured into a new track which the setlist calls “Weakness”. Being so close to the stage, as well as trying to take pictures, the audio wasn't always clear to me, but this track was heavy. After that, they went into “Bull In A China Shop”, which Carpenter described as the band's “crowd participation song”. It certainly got everyone riled up, screaming at the top of their lungs and headbanging in unison.
One thing many bands have a tendency to do is ignore the crowd. I don't mean that they don't try talking to the crowd, but that they often don't sing and play to them. I see many bands who look off into space or over everyones' heads. I understand! It can be nerve-wracking being on stage. But there's something special about watching the band and having the musicians look right at you while they're playing, as if they're playing just for you. Carpenter made sure to do this while he sang, leaning over into the audience and looking into their eyes, as well as holding out his hand for a fist bump or handshake. Part of the success of this, I suppose, comes from people wanting to see you in the first place, but it certainly helps the connection of the band to its fans when they incorporate this into their playing. The next best thing you can do is move around and be active to get the energy up on stage, and the absolute worst thing you can do is just stand there motionless. Eye Empire, veterans of the rock scene, know exactly how to elicit a response from their crowd at any given moment, a feature many bands would love to possess.
Two more new songs were laid before us, one called “Can't Forget” and the other entitled “One Day”. Though I don't recall the latter's subject matter, the former was in honor of the brave men and women of our armed forces “who sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted every moment of each day.” Both were very heavy and melodic, and later Carpenter noted that while they had a lot of varied material for a new album (release date unknown at this point), they felt that the heavier songs would be more appreciated in a live setting. They closed out the evening with the opening track from Impact, “I Pray”, which was like a haymaker delivered after ten rounds of boxing. I certainly felt sufficiently pummeled at this point and collapsed back towards the merch table.
The entire band turned out to be not only amazing musicians, but wonderful people. I had already met Bennett, who said he was no longer bored – drumming on his practice pad – simply sweaty. Carpenter was there, chatting with a few teenage fans sporting older Eye Empire shirts (I had already bought mine, stowing it away). He noticed me out of the side of his eye and came over, thanking me for coming to the show. I spoke to him about writing a review and posting some pictures of the set, which he seemed really enthusiastic about. I let him continue to chat it up with other adoring fans and began an impromptu conversation with Köchmit. I had just finished my talk with Carpenter when he and I both noticed we were standing next to each other. He turned around quickly and gave me a warm hello, introducing himself and then asking about me. I proceeded to ask silly questions such as, “How long have you been growing your dreads?” and “When did you start playing guitar?” He was nice enough to humor me with the answers (3 years and 13 years old, respectively). Finally, Lowery arrived, having made his way past the tables (this is partially a restaurant, remember?) of fans and over to the merchandise stand. I told him about discovering the band through our mutual friend, and guitar virtuoso, Mike Martin, and we started discussing how the band had gone about releasing their album. When I had overstayed my welcome just long enough, I informed everyone that I had to get back on the road. To my surprise, Carpenter came over and told me that, he too, had to head out and thanked me once more for coming, asking my name again to make sure he knew it. The rest of the band all shook my hand, thanked me for my support, and told me they hoped we could meet again soon. It was amazing to me, as this is only the second time when a band I've seen has cared so much about its fans to ask me my name to make sure they remember it. It's rare you find a band that is not only talented, but cares so much about their fans. I suppose that's just one more reason for me to like Eye Empire.
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Buy "Impact": iTunes | Amazon