Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cowboy Mouth

American Music Festival
24th Street Stage
Virginia Beach, VA
September 4th, 2009

Cowboy Mouth are one of those rarest of breeds in rock music, the kind who's singer just so happens to also be the band's drummer. You can imagine how difficult it must be to simultaneouly sing, lay down the beats and fills associated with energetic rock music and maintain the kind of stage presence required of a rock n roll frontman. Well let me tell you, if you want to see it done to perfection, then do yourself a favor and go see Cowboy Mouth.

The New Orleans band was in Virginia Beach on Friday night as part of the annual American Music Festival and they provided the laid back beach crowd with a much needed kick in the ass. The aforementioned vocalist/drummer, Fred LeBlanc set the tone early in the set when he left the stage, marched into the crowd, who he was clearly not happy with due to that laid back demeanor, and literally forced them to move closer to the stage. LeBlanc even went so far as to single out one unfortunate attendee who looked a little too comfortable standing in the middle of the crowd smoking a cigar, and dragged him to the front of the stage. He informed us all that "rock n roll is not a spectator sport, it's a participatory event". Preach it brother...I agree whole heartedly!

The band clearly has a personal relationship with their core fans as was evident when those in the know threw red spoons at the band during the song "Everybody Loves Jill". Racing through fun songs like "Joe Strummer" (sample lyric: "why would I wanna be with someone who doesn't know the Clash saved my life...she had to go cause...she didn't know who...Joe Strummer was...Hey!") and the hit "Jenny Says", the band had the crowd jumping, dancing and singing for the entire hour and a half set.

Let me be clear though, Cowboy Mouth is indeed a band and not just an individual. Reginia Zernay did her part on the bass to make that very well understood as she danced around the stage in her white boots, mini-skirt and fishnet stockings, banging her pig-tailed head like a mad woman. Meanwhile, axemen John Thomas Griffith and Jonathan Pretus anchored down the sides of the stage while laying down some serious guitar licks. At times, the band seemed as amused by their singer's antics as the crowd did, laughing along as LeBlanc licked his drumsticks and made comments to the crowd like "I won't bite, but if I do, you'll like it".

By the end of the show, I was left feeling sorry for headliners Sister Hazel. To take nothing away from that band, I would absolutely hate to have to follow a band like Cowboy Mouth, who are clearly at their best in a live setting. As if to express how much they love playing live, Fred explained to the crowd that they would be jumping back in their van at the end of their set to drive to a show in Indianapolis the very next afternoon. Insisting that the crowd live for the moment and put all of their energy into the show, he preached that it isn't about the past because that's over, and it isn't about the future, because that isn't here yet...all you have is right now! As if to drive that point home, LeBlanc explained that he and the rest of Cowboy Mouth would "worry about Indiana when we get to Indiana". How can you not give your all to a band that will be exerting this same amount of energy on a stage 12 hours away in less than 24 hours?

This is my third time witnessing the Cowboy Mouth experience live and each time I've come away with the same mix of feelings and emotions. They truly make you leave your problems at the door and make you simply happy to be alive. At the same time, they make you feel exhausted by watching the sheer exertion that they display onstage. I only wish I could bottle that energy and drink it on Monday morning! If I haven't convinced you to check these guys out yet, then you may not have a pulse. To quote Fred LeBlanc one more time, "the name of the band is...Cowboy Mouth"!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nebula with The Entrance Band and Naam

The Black Cat - Back Bar
Washington, D.C.
August 25th, 2009

Before discussing the Nebula show, I need to first set the stage for you regarding the venue. Now don't misunderstand me, I've seen plenty of shows at The Black Cat, but this was my first foray into the world of the back bar. This place gives you the feeling that you're walking into some sort of modern, punk rock speakeasy. You make your way through the venue's lobby, into the main bar area to the very back of the place, next to the jukebox against the wall (and what a great jukebox it is by the way) where you find a door man waiting to check your I.D. Walking up to the guy, I almost felt like I needed to remember the secret pass code to gain entrance. Once inside, I found myself in a dingy little space no bigger than your average living room, which made the crowd of 30 or 40 people seem enormous. Put plainly, it was great and I couldn't wait to see the bands in such an intimate environment!

The first band to take to the tiny stage was a three piece out of Brooklyn, NY known as Naam. These guys were the perfect opener for what was to be a night chock full of psychedelic, stoner rock. The slow, heavy riffs from vocalist/guitarist Ryan Lugar built to a crescendo that all came crashing down when drummer Eli Pizzuto hit his cymbals hard enough to split my eardrums. The band was so steeped in 70's groove that the guy up front wearing the Heaven & Hell t-shirt must have been in...well...heaven. And to add to that 70's era, garage rock image, Lugar even unstrapped his guitar mid-song at one point in the set, motioned to his bandmates to keep playing, and proceeded to go side-stage to remove a second guitar from its case and strap it on before re-joining the others. No roadies here my friends, this is DIY, van traveling music at its finest! The highlight of the Naam set had to be vocalist/bassist and Captain Caveman look alike John Bundy (great beard!). His method of leaning into the microphone, which was situated about a foot lower than it needed to be, when howling out songs like "Skyling Slip", just added to the overall experience. My one complaint? Turn off the reverb effect on the vocals whenever you're addressing the crowd guys, it's really annoying. But then again, these psychedelic types have never been known for their stage presence because it's all about the music...right?

The Entrance Band
Next onstage was The Entrance Band, fronted by Baltimore native Guy Blakeslee, who's somewhat local status seemed to be evident by the noticeable swell in the crowd. His long dark hair and all white get-up that looked to be made of hemp gave the odd appearance that Jesus had just taken the stage at The Black Cat sporting a pair of Chuck Taylor's. During his mic check (done by himself...again, no roadies!), Guy continuously cooed "oooh, oooh, oooh" in a high pitched tone that sounded absolutely ridiculous. Now I've seen some funny sound checks my friends, but this one was certainly one of the funniest. Rounded out by bassist Paz Lenchantin (yes, the same Paz Lenchantin who played bass in A Perfect Circle and Zwan) and drummer Derek James, The Entrance Band would prove to be the highlight of the night. To take nothing away from Naam and Nebula, this wasn't your typical stoner rock band. Listening to The Entrance Band play, you could hear layers and textures in their music and I swear I could hear multiple sets of voices at times, even though Blakeslee was the only one with a microphone in front of him (no, no I wasn't smoking anything...I promise). Running through songs like "You're So Fine" and "Lookout!" from their new, self-titled album, which is apparently the first to be recorded as a band (past output was glorified solo material from Blakeslee), The Entrance Band held the crowd in a trance. Each individual member of the band lived in their own little world onstage, Guy playing to his amplifier, Paz dancing around like a rock star and Derek wailing away behind his kit, but the sum of their parts musically is what left the indelible impression on this reviewer. In a word...unforgettable.

In a night of power-trios, the headliner was supposed to be the most experienced. Formed back in the late 90's by a couple of ex-Fu Manchu veterans, Nebula has been crafting their brand of Kyuss influenced stoner rock for over a decade. However, when the band took the stage on Tuesday night, the dwindling crowd was informed by bassist Tom Davies that drummer Rob Oswald had left the band the previous night in Baltimore. Amazingly, new drummer Adam Kriney had been recruited almost immediately and he made the overnight trek from New Jersey to Washington DC with his drum kit packed into a U-Haul trailor. Even more unbelievable, Adam spent the day of the show learning the incredibly complex drum parts to five of Nebula's songs. The end result was a blitzkrieg, 20 minute set of garage rock bliss. The new drummer barely missed a beat, even when vocalist/guitarist Eddie Glass coerced him to stay onstage for a 6th song encore, literally teaching him the drum fills on the spot, in front of the audience. Most bands would have cancelled this gig. The fact that Nebula soldiered on and put their faith in a new skinsman, only 24 hours after learning about the departure of their old one, speaks volumes about this band. True road warriors! I look forward to seeing these guys once they've had an opportunity to gel as a solid three piece again.