Black Stone Cherry + Pop Evil + Kyng + Lansdowne … The Loft at Center Stage Atlanta July 21, 2011
4 bands for $17? Sounds like a bargain but is it really? In this case the answer turned out to be a resounding “Yes” and then some.
First though, a little backstory. Last time I was at Center Stage was in the late 80’s, to see Dangerous Toys w/ special guest Junkyard, so it’s not as though this a show that would have normally ended up on my calendar. It’s turned out to be a rough summer for hard rock & metal fans in Atlanta (and especially in my house) though. For me & my son (my regular concert companion), the Mayhem tour had too many bands that seemed likely to be an endurance test in the summer heat, the Uproar tour seems to have skipped over Atlanta entirely, we’ve seen Poison three times in recent years & have heard too much really bad live Motley Crue recordings to be gung ho for that tour. Things were looking pretty bleak until a random visit to the Black Stone Cherry website turned up a date in Atlanta. A couple of hours of researching the two previously unfamiliar bands later, plans were made & tickets were bought.
Now, on with the show …
Lansdowne — Not just another band outta Boston, these guys have been described as one of the best unsigned bands out there today. That’s not a bad description at all. Roaring into Atlanta with the adrenaline rush of a brand new album Blue Collar Revolver that hit iTunes earlier in the week, they opened the evening with a steady stream of modern hard rock in the vein of Saving Abel (Q: am I the only Lansdowne fan who thinks Jon Ricci could be a vocal double if Theory of a Deadman ever needs one?). While a made-to-sing-along song like “One Shot” might be the fun moment from the new album that you end up listening to over & over, it’s the overall quality of their catalog that actually stands out to me. Whether it’s their newest songs or past album favorites like “Watch Me Burn” (still my personal favorite so far), there’s simply not a dud in the set list. They’re at least an equal match for the vast majority of the bands in the same niche, the biggest difference I can find is that Lansdowne hasn’t gotten that one critical break … yet.
Kyng — This California-based three piece has gotten some buzz in the past year from airplay & interviews on SiriusXM but for me they probably were the band on the bill I had the most questions about coming into the show, from what I could find online I simply didn’t know exactly what to expect. Consider those questions answered, what you can expect from Kyng is to get your ass kicked by a modern take on very hard classic rock. They acknowledge the influence of Black Sabbath on their style, embrace it even, but there’s a lot more here. At different times during the set I found myself thinking of Deep Purple and a number of other legends that clearly provided the foundation these guys are building on. Make no mistake, they ARE building on it, with newer elements compared to something like the Foo Fighters. At the core of their sound though is the simple fact that these guys are solid musicians that really seem to have a good idea of who they are & what they want to do. Happily, what they seem to want to do most is rock their asses off. Call it what you will, “California Heavy” as they’ve used or whatever, it’s good stuff. The new single, “Falling Down” (check it out in the Music section of their Facebook page) should be on iTunes at the end of the month with the album Trampled Sun due in September but I don’t see Kyng as a band that’ll be defined by any one song or even a particular album. They’re going to be about their body of work & that’s something I’m looking forward to hearing develop for years to come.
Pop Evil — One of those 10 year “overnight success” stories, PE has burned up active rock radio in recent months with “Last Man Standing” but how would the show overall match up with that signature song? With groups I’ve never seen I’m always uneasy about whether live will meet the expectations built by “hits”, even with additional evidence found in songs like “Hero” and “100 in a 55” I wasn’t sure. Once again, question answered. That experience I mentioned, built with some 400 shows in a two year period, gives Pop Evil stage presence in abundance. I suspect they might cringe at being called “rock stars” but in this case I use the phrase with good intentions. They bring a big show feel, circa the sleaze & the hair metal 80’s, with an updated sound. They understand that there’s some showmanship that’s part of the overall concert experience but avoid sacrificing anything musically to provide it, each member developing his own personality on stage & connecting with the audience along the way. I tried to sum it up by telling my son “you think you haven’t seen Motley Crue, but I kind of feel like you just did”, and I mean the kicking ass in the club when they were still growing version of the Motleys. It’s not quite that over the top, but it’s an appropriately measured facsimile.
Black Stone Cherry — Of the four acts, this was the one I had the most confidence in before even entering the building. I’ve been a fan of these guys since their self-titled debut back in 2006. “Lonely Train” , “Hell & High Water” and personal favorite “Rain Wizard” felt like such known commodities that they simply couldn’t miss, current hit “White Trash Millionaire” is a fun attitude song that figured to be an added bonus. What I got was all that & some surprises too. The songs that have gotten airplay & the other tracks I’ve heard over five years really didn’t prepare me for the furious assault that BSC unleashed on the crowd. Not in a million years would I have guess them to be the band on the bill that would come closest to inspiring a Thursday night mosh pit … but they did. All the comparisons I would have made beforehand – Black Crowes, Skynyrd, maybe a little Allman Brothers – those were all accurate but there’s something more here, I’ll call it aggression for lack of a better word. Their roots may be firmly planted in a small town in Kentucky but BSC has gone well beyond any preconceived notions of what kind of sound that background would produce. Part of that almost has to stem from their relative youth but I imagine it’s also in their musical heritage – each member comes from a family with music in their blood (including drummer John Fred Young being the son of Kentucky Headhunters founding member Richard Young) so there’s not only their own love for music but also an appreciation handed down / genetically contributed. They’re clearly comfortable on stage but even moreso they’re clearly happy on stage & that translates. Best description I’ve come up with is that they aren’t on stage looking at the crowd thinking “see how cool we are”, they’re on stage looking at the crowd & then at each other thinking “damn, ain’t this cool?”. Folks, that’s what I call a band.
Random observations/highlights from the night
— Disappointed with the crowd, I’d guess a little over half capacity for the room, so maybe in the 200’ish range. That’s pitiful, although there isn’t a really a lot of external promotion for shows like this (at least not that I saw). Compared to pictures of packed houses for the same lineup in much smaller cities like Greenville & Knoxville, it’s depressing.
— Props to the venue & promoters for making this an all-ages show. Not enough of those in the Atlanta area, a lot of the future for real rock seems to rest with under 21/under 18, let’s get ’em in the habit early & let it be a part of their lives. There was a glaring lack of 18-24 in the crowd at this show, apparently just not their thing or whatever, so stop trying to cater to a demographic that doesn’t seem to give a shit.
— Speaking of the venue, Center Stage certainly looks & feels different after major remodeling a few years ago but it’s a solid venue that I’d definitely have no hesitation about visiting again & again. Friendly staff, nary a bad thing to say about anything under their control all night, from parking to security to bar, etc. it was all nice & easy.
— Unexpected highlight of the evening was a lengthy impromptu discussion (old concert t-shirts are great conversation starters) with Don de Leaumont, editor of a cool music news/blog site called (memorably enough) The Great Southern Brainfart. Was a great way to start the night, talking about the past, present, and future of hard rock & metal in Atlanta and overall. I’ve checked out the site, bookmarked it for regular use in the future, and recommend you do the same.
— I’m reminded again what a lucky man I am to be able to share things like this with my son. My first club venue show in about 20 years was also his first ever & that’s something special to share.
— As great as the show was, what really stands out to me was how incredibly cool the guys from Lansdowne & Kyng in spending a few minutes talking with them, not just with me but also with my son. I’m pretty sure it’s something my son will never forget and I’m absolutely sure me being there for his first real brush with real live rockers is something that I’ll remember & enjoy for the rest of my life. You’re all top notch guys in my book and Tony Castaneda might just be one of the purely f’n coolest guys ever afaic. Mad props to you all (or whatever the hell the whippersnappers say these days).