By Joshua Robbins Photo by Sarah Blumenthal
May 11, 2015
When this tour lineup was announced it was really exciting to see that it was making its way to Charlotte. Normally with pop-punk packages like this you can (almost always) expect them to land in Raleigh. My excitement was slightly stifled as I quickly realized that May 4th was a Monday. As I age, I slowly morph into Garfield, fueling my Monday hate with lasagna. Outside of my own opposition, how would a show in Charlotte, NC be successful on a Monday?
Well, I am happy to report that Visulite Theatre was filled and there was even a line outside waiting to get in. With that fear put to rest, I shifted my thoughts to the show before me. To be honest, Visulite seemed like an odd choice for a show of this caliber. Old 97s, Mates of State and the Meat Puppets are predecessors at the venue and those shows seemed to fit more in line with such a regal location. It’s a fine spot, but normally one where you can sit down and enjoy an act, not witness teenagers stage diving. With that said, let’s actually talk about the show.
First up was Somos from Boston, Massachusetts to open the show. The band released their debut LP Temple of Plenty in 2014 via Tiny Engines Records. I’ve seen them a couple times, and I don’t feel like I could previously grasp what they were doing. In short, I didn’t consider myself a fan. This night was a little different and there was something else there. It really feels like this young band is on to something, but just in a way that they haven’t quite arrived. The Visulite really brought out a lot in their sound that I hadn’t noticed before. Their sound brings to mind Elliott from Louisville, KY, a band that existed from 1995-2003; it’s a kind of dreamy pop mixed with emo and indie. Think mid-era Jimmy Eat World as well with less of a pop slant. The band competently held the attention of the crowd, was very tight and definitely belonged on the tour. Looking forward to hearing more from them and seeing where they take their sound. Even if it doesn’t feel like they have hit their stride as of yet, that doesn’t mean they won’t.
Next up was Lemuria (Note: check out the interview on the CLTure site). The band hasn’t played Charlotte, NC since January of 2010, so their return definitely was long overdue. They quickly set up and plowed into their set. The crowd was ready for them, and you felt as if everyone had just been waiting for 5 years for them to return. Everyone sang along and there was a palpable excitement in the air. The energy started to wane a little bit due to some sound issues. The guitar was set a little lower in the mix so it made it really hard to hear, and they seemed to be having the same issues on stage. It appeared that most of the levels for all of the bands were set according to the headlining band, Tigers Jaw. Since Lemuria is a 3-piece, and Tigers Jaw is a 5-piece, a little adjustment was in order. The necessary tweaks were eventually made, somewhere in the middle of the set, but it seemed to take a little wind out of the crowd’s sails. Lemuria still handled it, like the pros that they are, and barreled through song after song, only pausing a few times to ask for more monitor. While most of the set focused on the newest album The Distance Is So Big, the band dug deep a few times and gave the crowd some old tunes, specifically when they played, “Lipstick,” from their 2008 album Get Better, the crowd went crazy. You could barely hear Sheena singing, as everyone chanted, “maybe I should wear lipstick too.” Save some sound issues, which were very tolerable, it was a treat to see Lemuria return to Charlotte after so many years of skipping over our great city.
Any of the aforementioned sound issues were definitely remedied before Tigers Jaw played, so it was overall more crisp. Personally, I would have liked to have heard more of Brianna’s keyboard, but I guess you can’t have everything. You could feel that this was the band that everyone came to see. The demographics in the room shifted slightly and the front of the house was mostly occupied by “children” whose parents might have last been in their same spots while Old 97s played at Visulite Theatre, at some point. Tigers Jaw released their newest album Charmer on Run for Cover Records in mid-2014, in the midst of a lot of band strife. 3/5 of the band quit right as the album was coming out, leaving singer/guitarist Ben Walsh and singer/keyboardist Brianna Collins as the remaining members of the band. Statements were made to announce their likely demise, which were quickly refuted by the two. The band recruited some hired guns to fill out the lineup and have been touring off the new album steadily ever since. It feels like the drama actually helped the album and the band because it created a backbone for something press could hang their reviews and criticisms on, case in point, exactly what you are reading.
Tigers Jaw began as an emo-tinged pop punk band in 2005, but they blossomed more into an indie rock outfit that brings to mind The Microphones with which they claim their band name was taken from. When Tigers Jaw lean more into the indie rock side of things, they really start to shine. The more mature sound suits Brianna and Ben’s harmonies and it will be interesting to watch how they develop. The crowd did not get the memo that they were watching an indie rock band though, as there was stage diving, crowd surfing and one instance of headwalking. For those who do not know, “headwalking” is an action where someone forcefully crowd surfs, and in most cases actually walks across people’s heads. The action was more of a “headcrawl” but I’m not sure if people’s necks prefer either. Tigers Jaw weren’t afraid to dig deep into their discography, and the crowd was very happy to hear them play “I Saw Water” from their 2008 s/t album. Everyone was quite cathartic and fully engaged, the “scabs” filling out the lineup did a great job and seemed mostly comfortable with the material, save one instance where the drummer had to be reminded how to start a song. It happens with even the most tenured musicians and they playfully shrugged it off. Brianna was given her moment to shine when the band played “Hum” from their most recent album. It serves as her sole lead vocal outing to date, but from the reaction of the crowd, it really should not be the last. It really could be interesting to hear them explore the co-vocalist aspect more, which seems possible given the changes in the lineup. At their tightest vocally, their melodies bring to mind David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. Not necessarily in vocal tone, but definitely in how their voices seem to naturally complement each other with little to no effort. That may seem like a lofty comparison, but it could be a comparison that Brianna and Ben could rise to given the opportunity. Two songs in the set, “Teen Rocket” from the newest album and “Plane vs. Tank vs. Submarine” from the s/t album, featured Ben on acoustic guitar, and that really brought out the above comparisons. It also allowed for the audience to hear Brianna’s keyboard which was frustratingly low or not present in the mix. It will be interesting to see if they do more in this vein, more mature and really focusing on the strengths that that two budding musicians have to offer.
Overall, the show was a great success, an emo/indie/punk/rock show on a Monday at a venue not normally known to host this type of music, and in what many consider a “b-market” like Charlotte. There was nothing “b-market” about this show and the turnout, and there was nothing inherently “Monday” about the audience’s reaction to any of the bands. Sheena Ozzella, of Lemuria, at one point spoke about how it was a relief, after a few rough nights, at how receptive and polite the crowd was in Charlotte, and how the venue had been one of the most accommodating of the tour. Now how is that for a glowing positive review of Charlotte?