Otherwise / Like A Storm / Seasons After / First Decree
The Masquerade (Hell) – Atlanta, GA
October 10, 2015
When the day began I didn’t expect an object lesson in the resilience of rock n ‘ roll. I’m pretty sure that the bands weren’t expecting it either.
When this show was first announced it seemed like a rather rare case of the stars & planets aligning for me. Saturday show, all ages (which matters since my son/regular concert partner has a few more months before turning 18), reasonably priced, with a lineup featuring complimentary acts and bands that were on my need-to-see list. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for me not a lot did but for some of the bands, well …
First Decree opened the show and unbeknownst to them did so with pretty high expectations to meet. Their latest single “Stop” has recently cracked the Top 50 of the airplay charts giving them an introduction to a lot of new fans but for me it’s just the third in a series of standout songs that started around the beginning of the year when I ran across “Phoenix” and the follow-up “Lost In The Crowd”. 3 for 3 with songs that held my interest for months at a time? Yeah, I had expectations. And they met them.
The voice of Travis James is as haunting in person as it is on record and the brotherly trio (literally, the rest of the band are actual brothers) that comprise the remainder of the band not only fulfill their roles capably, they prove themselves more than capable. My biggest takeaway from their set though — having already gone in convinced that they’re a very legitimate candidate for a real breakthrough — might actually be the impression that they’re … happy. It’s not an easy life for a band on the road, never has been I suppose but that’s certainly true today. Yet there’s a certain air of … joy around First Decree. It’s not a giddyness kind of thing, more of an understated sense that they’re genuinely enjoying what they’re doing and the opportunity to do it. That’s a good experience to get to share.
Next up for the night were midwest rockers Seasons After. Again, it’s fair to say that I had certain expectations before their set began. I mean, their 2014 album Calamity Scars And Memoirs cracked my year-end list at #16 overall, so I wanted them to deliver on that sort of level. For my son this was a particularly critical spot in the show too. He was hoping that ,for as good as last year’s album was, that they would also give adequate space to material from their debut album from several years earlier. But before we could get to any of that, even in the moments before their set began, something was visibly amiss.
Guitarist Chris Dawson was, well, if you were watching then you knew something wasn’t quite right. I suspected a severe cold or the flu or something of that sort honestly. Very early in their set front man Tony Housh provided the explanation: an hour or so before their set, Dawson had cut off a sizable portion of his big toe in a fall. In true rock n’ roll fashion, super glue and bandages patched him up for the stage and the show went on as scheduled. I really don’t want to put too much focus on the incident, Dawson soldiered through it like a champ & the impact on their overall performance appeared to be minimal (if any) but … well you couldn’t help but hurt for the guy. You could see the effort he was making, you could see the pain he was in, there was no way for anybody with even half a heart to not be concerned for him. It was just a reminder of the extremes performers sometimes have to go through in order to make the proverbial show go on.
Injury report aside, the band delivered on those preconceived notions I had and a little more. The radio friendly tracks were there, including the current charting single “Weathered & Worn” as well as the catchy-as-hell tracks “Gettin’ Even” and “So Long Goodbye”. They hit the mark with my son’s hope for more older material with the inclusion of “11:11”, as well as winding down with their crowd-pleasing cover of “Cry Little Sister”, a cover of the song from The Lost Boys soundtrack that gave them their first taste of significant radio success back in 2010. One surprise to me was probably how effectively and frequently they combine clean vocals with a growl/unclean component. It shouldn’t have surprised me, it’s not as though the mixture doesn’t appear on their albums, yet somehow it wasn’t as prevalent in my mind as it really should have been. In person, the band comes across at least one notch heavier than I may have perceived them. Admittedly, my preferences run toward clean vocals but these guys have a knack for blending the two in a way that works for fans of either style. That’s a definite talent in my opinion, not everyone can do it, one that serves them very well and likely expands their appeal considerably.
The penultimate band of the night was red-hot New Zealand act Like A Storm. The strong review of their live set given by my pal HardRockDaddy had me optimistic about what was forthcoming. The band had also built considerable anticipation with a string of earworming hits that began internationally with “Love The Way You Hate Me” and has continued through “Wish You Hell” and now “Become The Enemy”.
The brother trio + one (only the drummer isn’t a blood relative) was greeted by an attentive and enthusiastic crowd and quickly set out to reward those in attendance, delivering a highly engaged performance throughout the set. While there are numerous highlights that could be picked out of the set — the slide guitar element in “Wish You Hell” is every bit as engaged & inspired in person as it was on record for example — my real sense of their performance is more about the whole than the individual parts. They are a notably personable group of performers, and they use that trait to great effect, drawing their audience in and creating an almost communal experience. You never feel like they’re performing at you, much more a sense of them performing for you or at times – like their cover of AC/DC’s “TNT” — even with you. The songs are certainly there, the musicianship is certainly there, but it’s the presentation of the sum of the parts that makes them something … more. I’ll steal a line from my rather insightful teenager to sum up what I’m trying to say: “This stage, this venue, aren’t really big enough for what these guys are doing. They’re bigger than this room”. What works so well for them with 100 people today feels very much like it would work just as well or even better with 1,000 or 10,000 or perhaps someday 100,000.
That brings us to the evening’s headliner, Otherwise, but maybe by one of the narrower margins of any band I’ve seen. I mean narrow in the sense of “they barely got there” after spending a day in Transportation Issue Hell and making it to the venue at roughly the time their set was supposed to start. As in several hours riding in a borrowed van (the band said “hijacked” but I’ll stick with “borrowed”) and then playing a full set on borrowed gear sort of narrow. We’d noticed the absence of a merch table for them early in the evening, a little social media exploration clued us in to there being a bus issue, so we had some notion of roughly what was going on behind the scenes.
And as far as I could tell from their performance none of it mattered one bit.
Vocalist Adrian Patrick is as intense & passionate on stage as anyone I’ve seen in quite a while. He’s on the talkative side as front men go, and given the day they’d had he didn’t lack things to talk about. But when he talks, you listen. More importantly perhaps, when he talks you believe him. When he thanks the fans for even sticking around, it feels genuine. When he hits on a familiar rock n’ roll theme such as following your dreams or never giving up, there’s a sense that it’s all very real and very … personal to him. I don’t know him aside from songs & one stage appearance but I’d be willing to plunk down a few bucks to be that he isn’t much on small talk, that when he opens his mouth it’s to say something he actually believes.
It almost feels unfair to focus first on his stage presence & presentation because that could give short shrift to the rest of the talent on stage. That’s not my intention here at all. It’s to their considerable credit that, despite all the obstacles and challenges thrown at them, they functioned as a cohesive unit, complimenting each other in ability and focus throughout the show. I suspect they might describe things differently from their vantage point — it almost had to feel like a nightmare of confusion given the circumstances — but from the audience side I felt as though we got every bit that we bargained for and saw them do what they do at full speed. They deftly weave between singles and album cuts throughout the set, keeping the audience in a good place between relaxing to songs we know and paying extra attention to ones that are less familiar. The set itself was fully headliner worthy and a fitting cap to the evening as far as I’m concerned.
That said, what will likely stick with me about Otherwise longer than any one song or moment is the bigger picture. The professionalism in the face of a tough day, the passion, the pride in their craft. As I said in the opening of this recap, the resilience of rock n’ roll. There’s a kinship in this music. Fan to fan, artist to artist, and between artist and fan. If I may borrow an appropriate lyric, “We are the ones who will never be broken … With our final breath …. We’ll fight to the death… We are soldiers, we are soldiers”
For me, Brothers In Arms was a most fitting name for both the tour and for this particular night.
And now as is somewhat my tradition, I wrap here with a bit of GBU
The Good — Nice to see a show where I was actually older than the average member of the audience for a change. Actually saw an unusually large percentage of college-aged fans, something that’s been rare at any non-festival show I’ve been to in several years … Better than good was the complimentary nature of the bands and how the tour lineup was structured. I’ve reached the point of being too old (or maybe just too damned grumpy) to sit through bands I don’t enjoy and I pass up several possible shows a year due to lineups that simply don’t have a consistent appeal to me. I’m just not willing to endure two bands that I have no interest (or worse) to get to one I actually want to see. This combination appealed to me from top to bottom from day one, and I genuinely appreciate the thought that went into putting the lineup together.
The Bad — After paying $3.50 for a smallish bottle of water I noticed a “Beer Specials” sign. Something called a Bud Limorita (I think that was it) and Mike’s Extra Hard Lemonade were just $2 each. My question would be just how nasty does something have to taste if it devalues plain water by over 40%? … Saturday was also the first time I ever consciously felt like “maybe this venue IS a little over the hill”. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, nothing specific really, maybe just because the impending demise of the venerable building was in my subconscious. Yet somehow there was less sense of charm and more sense of age than I ever recall noticing. Or, you know, maybe that’s just ME instead of the building.
The Ugly — Have to put the total attendance here I’m afraid. When the show began there were less than 75 people in the room and that figure may include some crew members and venue staff. I was literally able to count them all in a matter of moments before the first note was played. At no point in the night did the room ever top 150, may not have ever reached 125. That’s downright embarrassing, not for the bands or the venue, but for the whole greater metro Atlanta area. I don’t know what the official door was but I can’t imagine it was significantly better than what I saw. I’m frequently frustrated by how Atlanta has become primarily a weeknight- only scene for rock but given the lack of support it often gets I can’t legitimately complain about it either. As a market, we’re probably lucky most bands bother to come through at all.