September 22nd, 2009
The show tonight at the Black Cat was a perfect example of two things: 1) why you should always show up early and catch opening acts and 2) how important it is for young bands, like Kill Hannah and Paper Route, to play in the opening slot before an established act, rather than tour on their own. Regarding number 1, there have been so many times when I’ve shown up early for a show and just been blown away by an opening band who I either didn’t know at all or had heard very little of prior to the show. As for number 2, too often, I have gone to shows where the main act is touring off their debut album (or maybe even their sophomore release) and they just don’t have enough music and/or enough of a fan base to support their own tour. Tonight’s show was a perfect example of why both of these tenets are true.
Unfortunately for me, I nearly flubbed number 1, showing up just in time to catch the last two songs of Paper Route’s set. Regardless, I was immediately impressed by this band from Nashville, TN. Despite only having five people onstage, the shear number of instruments and depth of the sound made it seem like you were watching twice that many people create the dense, dreamy pop music that filled the venue. Aside from the full size drum set that sat center stage, the band also had a separate, stand-up bass drum sitting to the left and a smaller, almost toy-like drum set on a riser set off to the right. In addition to these instruments, there were two guitars, a set of keyboards and an effects machine (if that’s what you call it?) onstage. Bottom line, there was so much filling the Black Cat’s main stage, it barely left room for the band members. And when the band’s drummer scaled that riser to wail away on the smaller, toy-like kit, he was nearly hitting his head on the club’s ceiling. These guys had literally packed the stage to the rafters. Regarding the music, let me just say this, in the course of two songs I was driven to buy Paper Route’s LP, EP and a t-shirt. These guys were incredible. I understand they're heading out on the road with Paramore next, so hopefully they’ll get the recognition they deserve on that tour. They definitely earned a new fan with me.
This band was a perfect example of point number 2 from above. Kill Hannah are a band that I’ve heard quite a bit on alternative rock radio, but quite frankly never had much interest in what I was hearing. Had these guys been on their own tour, I more than likely would not have paid to see them. However, given that they were opening for She Wants Revenge, here I stood front and center as they took the stage, and my impression after seeing them in a live setting has changed dramatically.
Upon seeing the five band members as they took the stage, my very first thought was that they must be from Chicago and lo and behold, I was right. These guys just have that old school industrial; Wax Trax Records look to them, a la Sister Machine Gun. Vocalist Mat Devine marched to the beat of his own drum, wearing a white hoodie (with hood up), suspenders and red boots. The rest of the band members, guitarists Dan Wiese and Gil Baram, bassist Greg Corner and drummer Elias Mallin were clad in black and sported arm bands that depicted a heart in crosshairs. I have to mention that the guitars and bass all had bright white lights installed inside of them, giving an eerie glow that shot back into the crowd at all times…nice touch boys.
Being unfamiliar to the band, save for the few songs I’ve heard on the radio, their music struck me as a kind of industrial pop. The sound was incredibly thick and heavy, which made Devine’s sensitive vocal styling stand out. Speaking of the vocalist, his crowd interaction and presence were incredible as he stalked the stage, holding hands with the occasional front row female as he sang twisted lullabies like the hit “Lips like Morphine”. Mat couldn’t pass up a photo op either, as he snatched a camera from one girl, leaned down beside her and snapped a picture of the two them, all without missing a single line of the song.
The band’s set was heavy off their forthcoming album “Wake up the Sleepers”, as they played “New York City Speed”, “Strobe Lights” and the first single “Radio”, which Devine explained is about their decision to finally leave their hometown of Chicago. My eyes were glued to the stage for the entire set and for the second time tonight, I found myself becoming a fan of a band I had otherwise not known much about. Kill Hannah’s energy and confidence onstage were undeniable, so much so that it was hard to believe when Mat Devine mentioned this was the first time in 6 and a half years of touring that his band had played the legendary Black Cat. Let’s hope it won’t be that long before they return.
She Wants Revenge
Unfortunately, headliners She Wants Revenge weren't able to match the energy of their two openers. Having seen this band open for Depeche Mode a few years back in a much larger venue, I was left feeling a little disappointed seeing them in this setting. Whereas in the larger venue, the focus was more on their ethereal, yet danceable rock, at the Black Cat the band's lack of stage presence became painfully evident. This, combined with the fact that She Wants Revenge were intent on playing songs off two independantly released EP's (2008's "Save Your Soul" and this year's "Up and Down"), which the crowd (including myself) seemed unfamiliar with, led to a somewhat lackluster experience.
When the band did decide to play tracks off their two full length albums, noteably hits like "These Things", "Tear You Apart" and "True Romance", the crowd came alive, dancing, jumping and flailing around like you would expect. She Wants Revenge seemed as though they were trying to shed the two-man electronica style that they've become known for, replacing it with a more traditional, organic guitar/bass/drums type of rock sound. At times when listening to vocalist/guitarist Justin Warfield and keyboard/programming/vocals/everything else player Adam Bravin, I felt like I was hearing a slightly heavier version of Prince. The results were sadly underwhelming. I really wanted to like this performance because I'm such a huge fan of the band, but at the end of the night, I was just thankful that I'd gotten to see Paper Route and Kill Hannah. Not a good sign if you're the headliner.