Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cave People, The Sidekicks and Tigers Jaw

Although I see a lot of '80s bands live with Denise, and a sprinkling of '70s bands (usually on my own), every once in awhile, I need to get out to see some more contemporary bands, just to see that I still have a pulse. Denise and I caught Walk the Moon (with Company of Thieves) opening for them earlier this year, and that was a great show. I also saw an acoustic rendition of Looming this past January at The Amityville Music Hall, and that was fun too, especially because I got to spend a little time with the band before they hit the stage.

Last weekend, I was supposed to go into the city to see 888 at The Mercury Lounge. At the last minute, though, 888 cancelled the show, and a show in Albany the next night as well. This was unfortunate, as I was looking forward to hearing "Critical Mistakes", one of my favorite songs over the last few years, live. In the end, it was probably just as well for me that they cancelled, as I had a dental thing going on the day of the show, and it wouldn't have been fun dragging myself into the city while I was in that much pain.

Unfortunately, I had to spend the first half of the week pressuring to get a refund, because the Mercury Lounge and Ticket Fly (the ticket agency), instead of just issuing refunds, tried to do a bait-and-switch thing. When I originally bought the ticket, it was just 888 playing an early show by themselves, and some other band whose name I forget was supposed to headline an entirely separate show later that night. Then, the later band must have cancelled their show, so next thing I knew, 888 had an opening act, SCR, a Long Island pop fusion band. When 888 cancelled the show, I got an e-mail saying "Good News!" and proclaiming SCR was now the headliner. But I could get a refund if I really wanted to by emailing them back. Now nothing against SCR, but I'm completely unfamiliar with them, and these days, it has to be something pretty special to motivate me to haul my butt into the city. (I'm pretty sure I can catch SCR out here on the Island if I want to.) I immediately answered the e-mail and said that yes, I definitely wanted a  refund. They completely ignored it. I e-mailed again two days later, and again they ignored it. Finally, after several days, and after waiting on the phone for 25 minutes, I got through to someone at Ticketfly who said my e-mails had come through with weird coding, but she would make sure I got my refund. Good, but way too much work.

So this past Thursday was my second attempt to see a contemporary band that I like this week, since Tigers Jaw was playing at Revolutions in Amityville. I actually kind of credit Jessica and Brandon from Looming for putting this show in my head. When I spoke with them last January, they were telling me they were just about to go out on tour opening for Tigers Jaw. It sounded like a great show, and I looked into going. However, the closest they were coming to New York was Rhode Island and New Hampshire, so I didn't get to go. But I've been keeping my eye on Tigers Jaws' schedule ever since, and when I saw they were coming to Amityville, I immediately bought a ticket. I also listened a little to both Cave People and The Sidekicks, the two opening bands, just to familiarize myself with them both. They both seemed like decent bands.

As I drove towards Revolutions Thursday night, my mind was awash with memories. This venue was known as Crawdaddy's back in the mid-'90s, and it's had at least two or three different names and owners since then. My primary memory of Crawdaddy's is that Denise's old band, The Slant, played the Long Island Music Festival there back in 1996. This got me reminiscing about The Bulldog Bar and Grill in Amityville, where The Slant played the LIMF the following year (which apparently burnt almost to the ground last week). And that led me to remembering the sad story of own death and wake for that LIMF show at The Bulldog in '97. I know that reference makes absolutely no sense to you now, but I promised myself that sometime later this week, I will post that story here in this blog. It's a good one, much too good to be lost to posterity.

The tickets said the doors would open at 6PM. I didn't want to get there too early and wait around forever. I also didn't want to get there too late to grab a seat, though, as there was no reserved reserved seating, and I'm way too old to stand. As it turned out, I got there at about 6:20, only to find a short line waiting outside in the drizzle, and a sign on the door that said "Doors Open at 6:30". Grr!

I got a spot under an awning to stay dry, and watched the kids with their multi-colored hair showing up to get in line behind me. (This was a 16-and-older show.) The doors finally opened at 6:35 or so.

As it turns out, though, that's about the only bad thing I have to say about the venue. The club looks nice on the inside -- wood paneled bars, etc. (unsurprisingly, it's been completely remodeled since its Crawdaddy's days) -- and throughout the night, I found everyone from the doorman to the bartenders to be very friendly and pleasant. I also have to mention that I also liked that this place isn't trying to kill you on their prices. The food and soda was certainly reasonably priced. I wasn't drinking, so I can't tell you about the alcohol prices. And they had a Gatorade bucket full of free water on the bar, with plastic cups next to it, which they kept constantly full so the hard-dancing club kids didn't pass out from dehydration on the dance floor. I really appreciated that, and thought it was a classy thing for the club to do.

I surveyed the club quickly upon entering. I knew I probably didn't have long to pick a spot for the evening. When you walk in the door, the narrow part of a long, rectangular bar is right in front of you. The stage is to your left, up against the curtained-off windows that run along Main St./Montauk Hwy. It obviously faces away from the street, towards a big, open area in front of it. There was a curtained off area to the left of the stage, which I'm sure is for the bands and their guests, and a boxed-off area with seats and wooden benches in front of the stage. I would have sat there, but I was afraid it was intended as some sort of VIP area, and I didn't want togete thrown out of there after the club filled up and not be able to sit anywhere else.

I could have easily grabbed a seat at the bar at this point -- in fact, I almost did -- but when I started to situate myself there, I saw a small room at the opposite side of the bar from the front door, with couches and soft comfy chairs. It was strategically situated next the rest rooms and the merch table. I grabbed the one chair in the room with an unobstructed view of the stage (knowing full well the view would be obstructed by people sitting at the bar, standing, etc., when the room got more crowded), and set up there for the night.

Clubbing by yourself is never an easy thing, especially if the club owner doesn't know you from Adam (it was nice being treated like royalty back in the Long Island Music Coalition days), and if you're there by yourself (without a friend or partner to save your seat). This is doubly true when, like me, you're too damned old and out of shape to stand if you lose your chair.There's always somebody who'll steal your seat the moment you step away from it. So you want to set yourself up where you'll rarely have to leave your seat, and if you do, you can get back quickly.

I took advantage of the club's emptiness to take a quick bathroom break, and to order food at the bar (which was only maybe three or four steps away) before returning to my home away from home. (If only it reclined!) My burger came pretty quickly, and by 7:30, I was settled and fed for what was supposed to be a 7:45 start.

Now I had a notebook with me for this show, and I wound up taking extensive notes, stream-of-consciousness style. I thought it might be a good experiment to just copy my notes exactly for this blog entry, so I recorded my thoughts about the food, the crowd, the venue and all three bands. Unfortunately, I took so many notes throughout the night that this blog entry would have wound up being about 20 pages long if I translated them all here. Also, my handwriting is so terrible that I'm sure I would have wound up with some interesting translations. So I had to abandon that plan, in favor of writing up way more abbreviated impressions.

A couple of words about the room I was in, which I came to think of as the Ozzy Room. It featured posters for Black Sabbath, Motorhead and various other '70s and '80s metal bands on the wall. It also featured a love seat (next to my chair), a couch along the wall to my right, a soft armless chair across from the love seat (which was big enough to usually be shared by one or another of the young couples that wandered into the room over the course of the night), and a soft (but much less plushy than mine) chair directly across from me. Once I was situated, the rest of the room filled up quickly, and only the chair opposite me was empty for most of the rest of the night (primarily because its location sucked -- it faced away from the stage, and had the added handicap of being tucked next a wall that blocked the view of the stage entirely.) I did have to beat back one young, umm, gentleman, who tried to sneak my bag off of my chair when I stepped up to the bar to grab my food. He had one of those smirky faces you really want to slap, and two adoring female friends with him who looked on with that "you're such a bad boy" expression on their faces.

Cave People was up first. By this time, I couldn't really see the band unless I stood up. They're kind of a low-key band, sort of lo-fi. So I could hear their music, but not super clearly. And when the singer spoke between songs, I could hear him, but usually couldn't make out what he was saying (Although I could hear enough to tell he was pleasant and endearingly self-deprecating.)

Cave People played as a four-piece -- two guitars, a bass and drums (with the singer manning one of the guitars.) I vaguely recognized at least two of the songs from an EP they put out earlier this year (Kingfisher), although they put out a new one about a week ago called Salt which I haven't familiarized myself with yet. Their set was decent, although I have to admit that the strongest impression I had of it was that a lot of their songs end suddenly and kind of awkwardly.
I must have liked them more than not, though, because they only played an eight-song set, and I remember wishing it had been longer.

The Sidekicks played second. This is also a four-piece band, but their music is much rockier and more upbeat than Cave People's (basically alternative rock with some pop tendencies), and I could hear them clear as a bell. I couldn't make up my kind if I liked them or not. The lead singer had kind of a high-pitched voice which could get whiny at times. But they also had a second vocalist who helped level it out, and they sounded pretty good when they sang together. None of the songs really stood out to me, but it's always hard when you hear a band for the first time -- sometimes it takes a while for a band's music to grow on you. They did have an album they put out last year that I had listened to once. But they also had a brand new album out which I didn't know existed before tonight, and I imagine most of their 10-song set was drawn from that. They took the stage at precisely 8:45, and ended by 9:30. The one distinctive thing I can tell you about them is that several of their numbers had surprising mid-song time changes.

I was excited to see Tigers Jaw, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm familiar with them through their two most recent albums, Charmer (2014) and Spin (2017). (They stylize it as spin, but homey don't play dat lower-case sh*t. 'Cause I'm a rebel.) They have a number of songs I really like, including a driving number called "Cool", which came in #7 on my Top 20 Songs of 2014 list, and a slow, dreamy song called "Escape Plan" which was #7 on my Top 20 Songs of 2017 list. However, earlier in the day, I saw a poster online that said that this show was the first show of a tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of their self-titled Tigers Jaw album, which they were going to play in its entirety. And I didn't know a single song from that album. So I was hoping I was going to recognize at least some of what they played tonight.

Tigers Jaw took the stage at 9:50, and my little Ozzy room immediately emptied out, as everyone tried to get close to the stage. I had asked myself if I thought I could move closer and stand for the whole set, and my honest answer was no. (Although the room emptying out did give me the freedom to move up once in awhile to see them better, and still feel confident my chair would be there when I got back.) And I wasn't even certain if they were going to do an extended set, or only go about ten songs or so.

I'll give you the biggest negative for their performance right off the bat. While the sound was generally pretty good for them throughout (and they had a decent light show, too), the vocals were too low in the mix for the whole night. It wasn't too bad for lead singer Ben Walsh -- his vocals were a little lower than I'd have liked them, but you could hear him clearly all of the time. But backup singer Brianna Collins' mic was turned so low that I could hardly hear her at all. They turned her up just a tad on the couple of songs that she sings lead on, but it was still way too low. And there were times on Walsh's songs where I couldn't hear her at all. (And it wasn't just in the Ozzy room. At one point, when the band took a brief break, three very sweaty young guys who had just been dancing and stage diving in the pit in front of the stage sat down for a minute to get their energy back, and they also said they could only hear her "a little bit".) This was a shame, as one of my favorite things about this band is the vocal harmonies from Ben and Brianna.

Everything else about their show was really good. They performed as a 5-piece, doing an 11-song set of material mostly from Charmer and Spin, including favorites of mine like "Escape Plan" and "June". (They didn't play "Cool", but that album is four years old now). They then announced they were going backstage for a few minutes just to get themselves "together," after which they'd be back to play the Tiger's Jaw album from beginning to end.

Here are two major things I noticed about their second set. The first is that older Tigers Jaw sounded a lot more emo than more recent stuff. There were times when the material they played (none of which I was familiar with) reminded me a lot of Bayside's music. The second thing is that although I don't know the Tigers Jaw album at all, this is one of those albums that obviously really meant a lot to the people in the crowd (who were mostly twenty-somethings). On most of the songs, the crowd knew all of the words, and sang them along with the band. This made me a little sad, as they were sharing something that I obviously wasn't a part of, although it was nice to see how passionate these now-young-adults were about an album that had probably helped many of them to make it through the hard times in their teen years.

I promised myself to pick up a copy of this album soon. (I could have bought it at the merch table, but they were selling the vinyl for $20, and I think the CDs might have been $20 too, so I can get it cheaper online.)

Anyway, I moved up near the front door to watch the last song of what was definitely an emotional night for both the band and the crowd.

All in all, I'd tell you that Revolutions is a pretty good club in which to see a show if you're a teen or twenty-something. If you're a geezer like me, there are always compromises you have to make anytime you go somewhere where there isn't reserved seating. But although I wish I'd been able to get up close to see and hear the bands better, I'm still glad I went. I definitely ended the evening a bigger fan of Tigers Jaw than I was when I first got there, and the other bands showed me enough that I'll be checking out more of their stuff as well. (I actually just downloaded the latest Cave People album, and ordered the new Sidekicks LP on CD.) And I'm looking forward to getting more familiar with the self-titled Tigers Jaw album as well. Good show by all.