After not quite a year since I last ventured into a local venue, this time with fingers optimistically crossed but not entirely sure what to expect from the evening as party-rock & hick-hop rolled into Athens for a sold-out show at the Georgia Theater.
I’ve been a fan of the openers, Atlanta-based rap-rockers Almost Kings, for 4-5 years, roughly half of their existence give or take. With that background, I had some musical expectations going into the show but with any band you’ve not seen live, you can’t be completely sure.
I probably should have been more certain. I don’t know that it would even be possible for Almost Kings to do less than a high-energy show.
Their material itself makes that a virtual certainty but where they reach the next level is in their ability to weave can’t miss covers (like House of Pain’s “Jump Around” ) throughout the setlist. Those songs serve as a force-multiplier for their original material, setting the crowd up perfectly for audience-participation tracks like “Bounce”.
Being in the opening slot for the night one of the tasks for Almost Kings is to set the tone, build the energy, put the crowd in the right emotional state for the headliner. I don’t know that I’ve seen any opener ever do a better job of executing that task.
While I’ve been a fan of AK and other bands in the party rock genre for a number of years, this was really my first live experience with anyone squarely in that niche. I don’t really want to say that I’m exactly “surprised” by one of my biggest takeaways from their set but it’s honest to say that there was something I’d never properly considered until this show. It’s a style that puts a lot of spotlight on the vocals but the musicianship that underlies the words is quite strong. That was something that I came away with a new appreciation for after both their set and the headliner performance that followed. To a man — for both bands on the bill — there was solid work on every instrument and that is something that probably doesn’t get proper credit as often as it should.
The bigger question mark for me going into the evening was the headliner. The Lacs are certainly not an unknown commodity, they’re well into a second decade of doing what they do. My question was along the lines of “but which part of what they do will they do”? In their own words, “Sometimes we lower that music to get the message across”, and those moments are the ones where they’ve tended to lose me over the years. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks and all that. They’re not “wrong” by any means, it just hasn’t always hit the mark with me when they do it.
That meant they started the show with me firmly in the undecided column. Candidly , I had re-positioned myself out more than halfway to the door in case it went south, and that’s with me having voluntarily (okay, eagerly) bailed out on only one headliner in my entire lifetime of shows.
That I ended the evening nearly back in the same spot near the stage I occupied earlier kind of sums up how things went.
As The Lacs worked their way through a set that covered basically the full depth of their catalog several things became clear to me. First, the connection between the band and their fans runs deep. Deeper than anything I’d ever seen or heard about them would have led me to guess.
I’ve seen plenty of shows where there were fans who knew everything word for word, I’ve been to quite a few where I’m “that guy”. I just haven’t seen many shows where the percentage of people that tuned in is as high as it was last night. Younger, older, male, female, front row or balcony, it seemed like nearly everyone in attendance knew pretty much everything. Singles, deep cuts, old songs, new songs, it didn’t matter. That elevates the, let’s call it “sense of community” in the room and in turn elevates the feeling from “performance” to “experience”.
The next thing that came into clear focus for me is that The Lacs are at their very best when they’re being the most “themselves”. They don’t have to be this one thing or that one thing to be compelling on stage, they just have to be whatever moment they’re in happens to be. Whether that’s sharing the backstory of a song or taking a moment to enjoy a “ski shot” or having some fun at a bandmates expense, a significant part of their appeal lies in their willingness to just be … real.
That sounds simple I suppose, but it’s something that a lot of artists either can’t do or never master (and perhaps occasionally shouldn’t do).
Despite having a new album (currently sitting at #2 on the iTunes Country chart as I write this) released just a day before the show, the group didn’t feel obligated to do X number of songs from it or make the common sales pitch for a current single or anything you’d normally associate with the timing of the show. They noted that the album had dropped but paid more to attention to how, as natives of the south Georgia town of Baxley, Athens and the rest of the state felt like “home” for them, and the combination of enjoyment and comfort about simply “being at home” showed throughout the night. They may have performed for the audience but they never fell into the mode of performing at the audience, there was a noticeable sense of “it’s a big party and we’re in it together” that felt like a very mutual understanding for the evening.
While certain songs did stand out more than others to me — certainly “Field Party” is a highlight for example — I came away thinking more about the atmosphere in general than about particular moments. Maybe that’s what I’d say about The Lacs now after seeing them. They aren’t about a particular this or that, they are viewed best perhaps as an example of where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And there’s a lot of good going for that whole.
As tradition in my reviews requires, I wrap with the ever-useful GBU, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The Good — a sold-out venue, at a fair price, for a deserving lineup. None of those things seems to grow on trees so it’s always good to be in a packed room … A guest-appearance by Crucifix, which was a MAJOR highlight for me. I’m admittedly late to the party on the talented rapper but having recently caught on to his talent, seeing him join The Lacs for “Outlaw In Me” was a fantastic bonus … my first-ever Uber experience. They are definitely 1-for-1 with me as a successful transportation option.
The Bad — not really a “bad” per se, but now more than ever I look forward to eventually seeing Almost Kings in a headlining slot. As constructed their set worked just as intended but I’d enjoy seeing more original material from deeper in their catalog (“Bang Loud” and “Hold On Me” most notably) … I sort of hate to include a strictly personal “bad” here but this was the first concert I’d attended without my son & constant concert companion in something like 15-16 years. Yeah, change is constant and all that sort of stuff but it was definitely different, and not really in a good way. On the bright side his departure for college in another time zone means that we can cover a lot more territory between us but still, I look forward to the opportunities to get back to the same shows down the line.
The Ugly — me, making the trek alllllll the way up the stairs to the rooftop bar smoking area.
I really gotta remember that there’s an elevator next time, I’m not getting any younger.