It’s been a little over two years since Queensrÿche last stepped into the light at Baltimore Soundstage, previously visiting on their Condition Hüman tour, and fans were champing at the bit for another night of Rÿche N’ Roll. The sold-out show, the fourth stop on the Verdict World Tour, put all of us shoulder to shoulder for an evening that would leave us spellbound.
Opening up the March 7th show was The Cringe of New York City, led by John Cusimano on guitar and vocals. While best known as a producer of the Rurouni Kenshin: Wandering Samurai anime series and husband of chef Rachael Ray, Cusimano has also released several albums with The Cringe, which has played alongside the likes of Cheap Trick and ZZ Top. Being as they have a more classic rock sound, their pairing with bands known for progressive metal backgrounds felt a little mismatched, but they put on an energized show, and performed a great rendition of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.” The Cringe will continue to support Queensrÿche, and they are days away from debuting a new single entitled “I Can’t Take It No More.”
Though Queensrÿche was billed as the headliner, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this tour had been listed as a co-headlining effort, given the amazing longevity and talent of Fates Warning. It was quickly evident that those in attendance were as much there for them as for the band to come. Drawing on material going back to the 1991 album, Parallels, up to their most recent studio effort, Theories Of Flight, Fates Warning dished out one classic after another. The new material was perhaps my favorite, with the tracks “Seven Stars” and “The Light and Shade Of Things” striking a deep chord, and it carried a weight and aura that signaled to me how proud the band is of their recent endeavors.
The Verdict World Tour showcases a new spectacle for Queensrÿche: an array of LCDs displaying individualized visuals for each of their songs. As we awaited their impending arrival, a ghastly, crimson-cloaked figure danced across the stage. A hush rolled over the crowd, followed by the band blasting into the opening track off their new album, “Blood Of The Levant.” While the last tour had been about playing those overlooked deep-cuts from the first five albums, this tour sets out to highlight the La Torre-era releases. A third of the setlist featured songs from the last three records, and boy did they sound powerful. This was especially the case for the EdBass-penned tune, “Light-years,” off The Verdict, which radiated an undeniable groove through the air. Everyone loved the new tunes, but even if it hadn’t been their favorite, the other two thirds of the concert dug into the discography and featured at least one song off of ever release from the 1983 debut EP up through Promised Land (this being the first touring year to feature “I Am I” since 2010, before Todd joined the band).
It felt like an excellently well-rounded evening of wailing dual-guitars from the hands of Michael Wilton and Parker Lundgren, and the ever-astounding pipes of Todd La Torre. And while Scott Rockenfield has yet to return from paternity leave, Casey Grillo held things down admirable alongside Eddie Jackson. As the spectacle came to an end, as these things are wont to do, and we ushered ourselves out over the smattering of rogue beer cans into the chilly air beyond the doors of the Baltimore Soundstage, we all seemed to have a similar feeling: Damn, that was good!
Be sure to check out the upcoming tour dates for the Verdict World Tour and catch these great bands in action.
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Steep Steps is an indie-electronic project by producer Tony Correlli, featuring vocalist Athena Hiotis (Rêve, Circuit Villains), whose debut EP, Vigilance, was released in November. While not a band, per se, these two have composed a thrilling four-song collection perfect for movies and television. After listening to it myself, it’s not surprising to me that, in one mere month from its release, Steep Steps was nominated as Best EDM Artist at the Maryland Music Awards.
Considering the short nature of this release, and the project’s intent for its songs, let’s break this down tune-by-tune. The opening track and debut single from Vigilance is called “Sophia.” The beat and electrobass chug along as the dual vocal harmony swims hauntingly through the air, cascading over the ears, wrapping around each nook and cranny. Correlli opened up to me that “[Sophia] was inspired by a chapter from the ancient Book of Enoch that personifies wisdom as a woman searching for a dwelling among the children of men – and not finding a place. Still true today! But what if? What if we looked for wisdom rather than vengeance and other emotional reactions that have caused so much pain and death for as long as our history has been written?” The video released for this song paints the latter vividly, and features stunning videography to match the omnipresence of the music.
Following this we have “Comatose,” an eerie song in which bass notes scrape the bottom of the audible spectrum, vibrating the air. Static buzzes, alternating from ear to ear alongside the echoed hammering of an object dropped upon the floor. Athena’s voice cuts through, paranoia setting in, pushing forward down halls in this forgotten space. “Namaste” is a change of pace, and the chorus’ peaceful, airy, layered vocals are reminiscent of Devin Townsend’s Epicloud. The drums continually pound forward, while fingers dance ascending and descending lines upon the keys. A smile definitely cuts wide across my face each time this one spins. Closing out the release is the song “Outlines” from the film Butterfly Kisses, returning once more to the eerie; yet powerful. Athena’s voice stretches out and lingers, ushered forth by unnerving keystrokes and otherworldly string vibrations. If you’d like to up the ante, check out the accompanying Steep Steps video.
I’ve been a fan of Tony Correlli’s work as a producer at Deep End Studios for years now. But while I’ve continually had the pleasure of listening to other peoples’ projects he produced, and perhaps played on or co-wrote with occasionally, this is my first opportunity to hear his own creative juices leading the charge. Frankly, what he and Athena Hiotis have done with Vigilance is beautiful, even when hauntingly so. One of these four selections has already found its way into a movie soundtrack, and the others could easily do the same, but all of them are enjoyable as standalone listenings as well. So whether you’re director looking to elevate your cinematic experience, or merely a fan of music, consider Steep Steps.
For an added bonus, take a listen to their Game Of Thrones / Stranger Things theme song mash-up, and come out to Baltimore to see their debut live performance at the Metro Gallery on January 18.
Buy Vigilance at: iTunes | Amazon
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Transcendent Events always sets up great concerts featuring a stunning array of Baltimore-area bands. I had the pleasure of attending their Halloween event about three weeks ago, and more than a few bands turned my head. One of those acts was a new group called Rise Among Rivals, a hard rock band whose self-titled EP became available just this summer. Despite only recently emerging on the scene, it was evident that they are not suffering for a fan base, taking stage to an immediately ecstatic crowd. I quickly understood the rationale, as energy erupted off this foursome, delivering an emotional, yet precise, performance.
I did myself a favor and grabbed a copy of their singular release to get a better idea of what makes this band tick. What I found were six extremely catchy, well-played tracks; tightly executed rhythms, powerful bass presence, and passionate vocal phrasing. “Left Alone” is a particular favorite of mine, with whistling pipe organs laying the groundwork for David Gascon’s [vocals] emotive vocals to warble overtop, as though they’re passing through a cascading sheet of water, before the dual-guitar sledge of Gascon and Jim Poggi crash down upon us. Jamey McElroy’s immense basslines shake us from underneath, jutting upward with the heartbeat of Christopher Tepper’s percussion. There’s a computerized effect during the song, seemingly imitated by the guitars through slides and other fretboard pyrotechnics, which adds even more flair to an already enjoyable experience. This focus on the second track isn’t meant to diminish the others. I certainly want to address tracks like “Bliss,” with its delicious, bass-heavy launch from the starting gate, the use of both a traditional kit and electronic drum samples to widen the flavor palette, as well as the dynamic see-saw of soft and heavy sections. This last point draws the ear to the spacious verses as well as the explosive chorus, and emphasizes both that much more.
Lyrically, Rise Among Rivals largely focuses on relationships that have overstayed their welcome, along with a bit of self-reflection for good measure. While this is certainly not your soundtrack for a happy-go-lucky romantic comedy, there is a note of positivity throughout in the fact that the protagonist of this story is aware of the problems they face and are doing their best to get out of them (the only exception being “Bliss”). And, as I’ve already noted, Gascon is solidly expressive from start to finish, easily drawing the listener into this world to connect with the music.
Rise Among Rivals’ first release is tremendously enjoyable. They have garnered well-deserved attention through six songs that are powerful and catchy, and have shown themselves to be a heavyweight contender during their live shows. If they continue this trajectory, having already accumulated quite the following in less than six months, I would not be surprised to see them start to support national acts before much longer. I’ll definitely be paying close attention to what this foursome chooses to deliver in the future, because I have no doubt that it will be fantastic.
Purchase Rise Among Rivals at: iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby
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When I began doing concert photography, one of the first shows I covered was at the House Of Rock, north of Baltimore, in 2013. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I were there to see Eye Empire perform, but there were a slew of openers to test our lenses out on first. One of those bands, it so happened to be, was Skitzo Calypso. In fact, I distinctly remember holding the door open for Brad Cox and company as we were making our way into the restaurant, unaware of who it was until later that night. So, how wonderful is it that five years later I had the honor of photographing their return to the stage, not to mention getting to see several other great acts alongside them, at Transcendent Events’ Halloween show on October 27 at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore?
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One of those acts is a fairly new band called Rise Among Rivals, whose debut, self-titled EP only dropped in June. Yet, it was very clear from the moment they took the stage that they possess a large and enthusiastic fanbase. And I can understand why: they deal out a heavy-yet-catchy band of hard rock, and it’s executed extremely well. Throw in the fact that they’re all extremely animated individuals, and you have a set which is not only fun to listen to, but watch to boot.
Skitzo Calypso’s return to the stage — after a two year absence — was well received. Particular highlights for me were two songs off their recent release entitled A.L.I.C.E., “Reaching For An Emerald Sky,” and “The Tortured and the Hare,” both of which exploded with energy and drove the band and the crowd forward into the night. Of course, I state that as someone who was pressed up against the stage, banging my head to the rhythm of Gary Holmes’ bass drum. Still, looking around and making sure not to headbutt anyone as I lost myself in the music gave me a decent sense that I was not alone in my enjoyment. One person who was definitely enjoying himself was bassist Tyler Garrett, who was like a man possessed the entire night. He’d scream to the sky and fall upon the floor, all while keeping the foundation in place for the dual-guitar assault of Patrick Sise and Bryan Holmes as they ripped through track after track.
Part way through the set, frontman and vocalist Brad Cox took a moment to speak from the heart about the late Chris O’Rourke, former Skitzo guitarist and friend, and dedicated their song “Until My Heart 5tops Beating” to his memory. Though obviously an emotional moment for him, he carried on in his usual manner, literally sweating energy and belting out note after note. Fans were enjoying the show so much that, by the time the end arrived, the band had to convince them to leave. Reluctantly, they dispersed, but certainly happier than they arrived after having received a healthy serving of rock n’ roll, not to mention a bag of Skittles in standard Skitzo Calypso fashion.
It’s not every day that you get to see musicians from three different continents share the stage on the same night, but that’s what occurred last Friday at Baltimore Soundstage. Embarking upon their North American Forest Tour, Finnish symphonic metallers Wintersun headlined, accompanied by Australian act Ne Obliviscaris, with the American technical guitar guru, Sarah Longfield, opening up for both.
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If I’m to be completely honest, Sarah’s participation in this tour is what drew me in. After having witnessed her in action opening for Marty Friedman on his Wall Of Sound tour at this very venue, I knew I wanted to come check out her mesmerizing fretboard antics once again. Sarah’s stage show is not what I would call flashy. Her set isn’t backdropped with strobe lights or a huge banner. Whether this is because she’s opening or because she wants to focus on the musical aspect when she’s onstage, I couldn’t say. But I can say that she’s great at what she does, and if others weren’t there to see her at the start of her set, by the end of it she had them yelling for more; notes dancing off her fingertips as she two-hand-tapped her way through songs alongside fellow guitarist Derek Sampson, backed by drummer Cameron Sather.
Be sure to keep an eye out for her new album, Disparity, due out November 30.
Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris is doubly-fronted band: Xenoyr, the lyricist and harsh vocalist, and Tim Charles, on clean vocals and violin. Both did a splendid job rousing the crowd in their own ways, with Tim doing the between-tunes talks while Xen reserved itself to explosive bouts within the songs. The band did a wonderful job mixing the head-banging heaviness of the dual guitar attack, not to mention the intricate basslines, with the eerie hollows filled by the twisting violin notes. The staccato backlighting was quite transfixing, though it did result in some challenging photo opportunities: either enveloping each member in a blanket of darkness or erupting in a cascade of light. Ultimately, however, I feel this does a good job of describing the music visually.
The final band of the night was Wintersun, hailing from Finland. Fronted by Jari Mäenpää, former Ensiferum member, the crowd was enthusiastic at their arrival. Knowing that many of their songs are between 5 and 15 minutes, I was worried about how the longer numbers would carry over to a live setting. Boy, was my worry poorly placed! While songs carried on for a while, the band kept us all entertained, and I never really cared where one song ended and another began, because what was happening in each moment was enthralling. One second, everyone’s cell phones were in the air swaying with the rhythm of the music, and the next moment found Jari picking the rhythm pattern on Teemu Mäntysaari’s guitar while forming the chord on the fretboard of Asim Searah’s. At one point late in the evening, Jari asked the crowd how many more songs they’d like to see. One person screamed “two,” followed by another who screamed “ten.” “Ten?! We’ll be here all night,” exclaimed Mäenpää! The band closed out with “Time,” which the crowd seemed more than willing to continue giving.
While the North American tour has ended, I’d urge you to follow these three acts wherever they may roam going forward. Wintersun has dates in November in Europe, as does Ne Obliviscaris (and a date in the UK), while Sarah Longfield will be traveling to Taiwan soon for some clinics!
On the overcast and potentially stormy afternoon of September 15, with Hurricane Florence threatening us from the south, myself and more than a hundred others gathered outside in a small West Virginia town to indulge in a gratuitous sampling of barbecue and heavy metal. This was Sirbaugh Acres, a private event from mastermind and hard rock enthusiast, Tim Sirbaugh. Thanks to him and Kickstarter backers, he had organized the fifth installment of this festival, entitled Sirbaugh Acres V: It Was Metal. The latter portion of the name was not only telling of what would come, but also owed credit to the headlining act, D.C.-based A Sound Of Thunder, whose most recent release bears the same moniker.
Our fears of rainfall were soon assuaged thanks to the mystifying powers of the opener, Dirty Deal, whose song of sunshine quickly parted the clouds for the rest of the day. Tailgating, lawn chairs, and dancers were the winners of the day, as one act after the next took to the stage. In addition to original material, the speakers blared the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Accept, and Queensryche. More than one person leapt to their feet at the sound of Zeppelin tunes, I assure you. All in all, everyone had a glorious time.
You can check out our photos from that afternoon and evening, featuring the aforementioned Dirty Deal, as well as South Of Sobriety, Meridian, Caressing Steel (a very good RUSH tribute act), Chicago’s Shokker (with Sarah Teets of MindMaze subbing in on vocals), Bleeding Black, and A Sound Of Thunder. We hope it’ll give you a little taste of the event and entice you to check out some of these fine acts as well.
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A Skitzo Calypso concert was my first exploration into the world of Brad Cox, and what an introduction it was! Immediately after discovering the band, I found their website and downloaded several free songs, many of which would later appear on Ghosts II: The Beyond. But not long after that, they went on an indefinite hiatus. Vocalist, Cox, and drummer, Gary Holmes, turned their efforts towards Skitzo’s sister band, We Love The Underground, which I quickly grew to love. But now, as the latter group has decided to take a sabbatical, the former group has re-emerged with a series of teased songs and a forthcoming EP entitled A.L.I.C.E. I was lucky enough to get my ears on the new tunes in all their glory.
The first song, “Reaching For An Emerald Sky,” wastes no time, bum rushing the listener with cascading key strikes from producer Tony Correlli. Guitar chords chisel out a path alongside the vocal melody, leading us up and up towards a chorus that, by the end of the song, begs to be heard again. Though the EP is named after the heroine from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (or Through The Looking-Glass, if you prefer), the inspiration for this song bears quite a different name, and the lyrical content here plays off her story beautifully.
Next is “She’s Not Coming Home,” with twinkling guitar notes draping vocals that trudge forward. The rhythm section almost provides a move-a-lator of sound from which Brad’s words push forth. This song marks a darker turn for the record, but features one heck of a stunning solo!
“The Broken Part Of You” is the central slice to this work, and I freakin’ love its bass-intensive intro. Cox explores multiple vocal approaches here, providing a varied listening experience. The dark clouds from the last song are still surrounding us, but we’re not going down without a fight. “Now you’re broken too” he screams into the night.
“Eulogy Of Me” is a lengthy atmospheric piano piece, courtesy of Calypso-alum Cherry Teresa, where the vocals sits close to your ear. It’s finally here where the skies begin to clear and hope emerges, showing us a bright future awaits. Cellos and violin additions add strikingly to the dichotomy of light and dark, and a guitar solo emerges out of a scene occupied sparsely by piano notes, captivating us and leading us back to meet the rest of the band.
The final piece of the puzzle is “The Tortured And The Hare,” which features former bassist, Zeke Johnson, launching full blast from the onset. Though not necessarily a fast song, it is unrelenting, tugging the listener along for the ride. The killswitch on Brad’s voice adds intensity to the song. Here’s where we give way to the Wonderland analogies, with white rabbits aplenty. We chase them from one landscape to another, perhaps an homage to its inspiration, but they never go too fast to lose us, continually putting us through our paces.
There’s no place like home, and that’s where we find Skitzo Calypso: at home in their element. This little EP is filled with big hooks, but the meat is in verses. Cox fully commits himself to each moment and there’s never a doubt that every word sung is important. The dual guitar attack of Bryan Holmes and Patrick Sise is beautifully choreographed and it’s great to hear the Holmes brothers together once again. A.L.I.C.E. allows us to share in this foursome’s rock n’ roll insanity only briefly, but it’s an adventure that you’ll be happy to repeat.
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In March 2017, several dozen sweaty nerds (myself included) crowded into a Virginia bar to watch a solid hour of heavy metal; by December the band we’d come to see were performing on stage in a Spanish stadium before thousands of people. Needless to say, it’s been one hell of a year for A Sound Of Thunder. What led to such a transformation of circumstance? All it took was a great song and a well-timed revolution. You see, following Catalunya’s controversial independence referendum, which saw Spanish police using violence against voters, the band released their song “Els Segadors (The Reapers)” to show support for the citizens. This song, written a year prior as an homage to the Catalan heritage of the vocalist’s mother, was the band’s arrangement of the Catalan National Anthem, and has served as a rallying call for those who support independence of the Spanish region. Not bad for a band who considered itself a local heavy metal act up to that point, eh?
But A Sound Of Thunder is no mere one trick pony; American or otherwise. In June 2018, they released It Was Metal, an album brimming with melodic hypnotism, rhythmic ferocity, and more Blue Öyster Cult Easter eggs than you can imaginos. You don’t have to be a flaming telepath to enjoy this album, though I’ll admit that if you don’t spend half an hour looking up the medicinal use of Irish skulls after listening to ”Charles II,” you’re missing an opportunity. From the powerhouse opener, “Phantom Flight,” featuring Accept vocalist, Mark Tornillo; to the flux capacitor-equipped closer, “Fortress of the Future Race,” the band is firing on all cylinders.
This is undoubtedly the band’s fastest album, overall, which keeps the “Hail!”s coming and the fists pumping. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the band has traded speed for its dynamics. Perhaps the best example of this is the nearly ten minute track, “Obsidian & Gold,” featuring the wonderful keyboard work of Tony Carey (Zed Yago, ex-Rainbow). For instance, there is a softer section of this song which pairs up the tender, loving vocals of Nina Osegueda over an understated, yet hauntingly creepy piano arrangement, which has the thrilling effect of drawing us in, while at the same time putting us on edge. Then there are heavier, mid-tempo portions of the song that sweep us away into huge, swelling sing-alongs. And once the guitar solo kicks in, it’s like a stampede of elephants, trampling all in its path. And did I mention the wonderful keyboard work? That was one sweet, sweet organ solo, Mr. Carey.
While I wholeheartedly loved the contributions of the guest musicians on this release, it is really the ever-increasing talent of the four staple members: Josh Schwartz, Chris Haren, Jesse Keen, and Nina Osegueda, that elevate this album to such a shining display of metal. They have put out consistently solid releases since I first heard them six years ago, but I dare say this one takes the cake. Yes, it has even topped my previous favorite from them; the 2013 album, Time’s Arrow. And what’s more, is this one features a companion comic book anthology, turning each song into a short, several page, graphic adventure by legends of DC, Marvel, and Valiant Comics. I highly recommend picking up both, as the comics breathe even more life into the auditory journey. A Sound Of Thunder has really knocked it out of the park with this one. It Was Metal is a triumph for the genre.
Purchase It Was Metal: From The Band | iTunes | Amazon
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It’s not every day that you get to witness a powerhouse band quite as talented as Sons Of Apollo. While this may sound like hero worship, you can hardly ignore the wealth of experience and musical ability possessed by these five men. And while I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two of the five perform with previous bands, I knew that I had to make my way to the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C. to catch their final North American tour date. And that’s just what I did on May 20th, 2018, where I got to see Portnoy, Sherinian, Sheehan, Thal, and Soto combine forces to wow an energetic group of fans.
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Unlike most shows I see, all of the bands I saw that night were on tour together, and thus had developed not only a bond, but had the benefit of solidifying their light show. If it’s one thing a photographer likes, it’s a band with a great lighting technician! And what a great job that person did, highlighting the explosive antics of the Venezuelan-born, L.A.-based hard rock band, Sifting. I was impressed from the opening chord, as frontman Eduardo O Gil bounced around with endless energy, and guitarist Richard Garcia shredded up and down the fretboard in his own, more solemn, manner. Bassist, Wins Jarquin, and drummer, Joey Aguirre, exuded enthusiasm the entire set, and managed to hold things down while staying light on their feet.
Two Venezuelan-born, L.A.-based bands on the same North American tour?! What are the odds? Felix Martin and his band are a unique bunch. Felix plays a double fretboard guitar, combined to become a single 14- or 16-string guitar (he has two versions) somewhat resembling a chapman stick. The band deals out instrumental music that ranges from songs that sound piano-esque, to funky slap-bass, to incredible heavy technical guitar tunes. The music reminds me a bit of Scale The Summit and The Fine Constant, two other acts I had the pleasure of seeing last year, and I’d highly recommend checking all of these bands out if any of this peaks your interest. I was honestly a little surprised at their musical pairing at this concert based on their style of music, but everyone loved what they heard, which is the important part. I don’t suppose it hurt that most of Sons Of Apollo emerged from the green room during the last song, dancing around the stage like men possessed, showing just how much fun this bunch had together on the road.
Psychotic Symphony was one of my top albums of 2017. That isn’t something that often happens for me with debut albums, regardless of how seasoned the musicians. But whereas other supergroups stun the headlines with their names and then deliver merely ‘okay’ records, Sons Of Apollo got together and knocked it out of the park. I was beyond stoked to see this material live, and I was not disappointed. I will warn you, however, that the best place might not be right up front. I spent the first half of their set in the second row, first shooting photos around peoples’ heads and then enjoying the show, but the best audio was to be found further back, where the bass notes of low-end maestro, Billy Sheehan, began to allow other instruments to join him on more equal footing. But I neither fault Sheehan nor the sound tech for this; Sheehan’s power is simply too much to be contained, which is probably why he had his own 5+ minute bass solo before the show was even half over – they just had to wear him down!
In addition to the entire album, we also were treated to some covers, including Dream Theater, Queen, and Van Halen. As could be expected, the Dream Theater material was pulled from the Falling Into Infinity days that Portnoy and Sherinian shared. Meanwhile, Soto’s solo portion resulted in Freddie Mercury-inspired audience participation that fed into “The Prophet’s Song,” followed by a duet with Bumblefoot for a rendition of “Save Me,” which flowed beautifully into their own song, “Alive.”
While I felt the attendance was a little lacking (thanks to it being a Sunday night, immediately following a Nationals baseball game), Jeff Scott Soto reminded us throughout the night that we were “small, but mighty.” There was so much excitement emanating from the crowd that I didn’t even realize that we weren’t a full theater until I left my spot in the front to join my wife back by the soundboard. To Sons Of Apollo’s credit – Soto’s comment aside – never once did they give me any doubt that they were playing to anything less than a full house. That’s the kind of showmen they are: giving 100% regardless of there are 100 or 10,000 fans. They’re beginning their European tour in June, so now is the time to pick up the album, Psychotic Symphony, crank it, and then prepare for when these five musical marvels reach your neck of the woods.
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Richmond, VA-based band, Carbon Leaf, and they’re celebrating it on the road. As often happens when Carbon Leaf comes to town, I found myself there. And it’s not just because of the photos and review, but because I really love the experience. But I’ll come back to that later.
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For this first stretch of the tour, the band were joined by solo upright bassist, Scott Mulvahill. Mulvahill, who made a name for himself by spending five years playing alongside Ricky Skaggs in the Grammy-winning band Kentucky Thunder, caused me to raise an eyebrow when I first saw him emerge onstage. “How,” I thought to myself, “can a solo bass player entertain a roomful of people for half an hour?” I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth, and by the end of his set I was standing in line at the back of the room, now singing a melody to the tune of “take my money” for his EP, Top Of The Stairs.
Scott has a voice like velvet and can pluck, slap, and bow a bass like nobody’s business. But it was in his down-to-earth attitude and affability that he won over the crowd. “As you may have noticed,” he began, “I’m a solo bass player. I could really use some clapping for this next song, but if you stop…at any point… it will be extremely awkward for your lone bass player.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bass player, all alone, get cheered so loudly.
As I was saying, I really love the experience! Carbon Leaf doesn’t just put on concerts; they throw family gatherings. They bring a storied history with them, like a family often does, with inside jokes and traditions that they have built with their fanbase over time. If you’ve attended any of their shows in the last five years or so, or you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll be well aware of the one-mic portion of the show. The band gathers around a single microphone, acoustic instruments at the ready, and the audience hushes to a whisper…or as much as alcohol will allow. But sometimes one tradition finds its way into another, such as when the jovial holiday tradition of “Carter’s Christmas Beard,” a little ditty sung by bassist Jon Markel as an ode to guitarist Carter Gravatt’s winter solstice shavelessness, makes its way into the air – cutting off the intro to another song. The laughter that results doesn’t make sense to anyone but family.
And that togetherness goes hand-in-hand with their upcoming album, Gathering Vol. 1 (out June 1st), which we were privileged to hear most of that night. The album is said to be about community, and the two tracks which opened the show, “Come Sunday Morn” and “Bow & Arrow,” certainly brought the audience together quickly. The band were as full of energy as the first time I saw them, nearly a decade ago. And while the evening soon turned into a Maryland turf war over who could spoil the band the most with drinks, leaving guitarist Terry Clark merely uttering “Oh no!” as more rounds appeared on stage, and vocalist Barry Privett warning, “this will not go how you think it’s going to go,” it was a wonderful time for all in attendance. At the end of the show, closing out with another one of the new tunes, “Gift From The Crows,” the band members all filed out and sat down at a table to greet anyone and everyone who wanted a moment of their time, a picture, and an autograph. They stayed until the venue started kicking people out, and lingered even then to hear another fan’s long-awaited confession about what their music meant to them.
They’re good people, and you won’t regret it if you take time to see them live this year. They’ll be around.