"I'm a little nervous about it," Arms Exploding's Michael Short says about playing live. "It's probably going to take a couple of shows for us to get comfortable on stage again."
As I stood there, however, and watched Arms Exploding perform their first show at the Poison Room recently, I had trouble understanding the guitarist's hesitance. The band exuded a focused confidence as they electrically bounced off of each other, and singer Nick Thompson seized control of the stage by flailing himself around poles and into the faces of semi-dazed onlookers.
The group's chemistry with the crowd was immediately apparent, and the seasoned veterans of such classic Cincinnati bands as East Arcadia and Based In Theory proved their readiness to be accepted within the city's musical entourage.
"I think certain people may be surprised with this band in comparison to some of the other music we've played in previous projects," says Thompson. "It's more eclectic. We're like a buffet because we have so many different things to offer."
As clichéd as that might sound, it makes more sense after seeing them play. Each lick is simply a precursor to another lick, then another, until there is a towering cascade of parts that eventually urge themselves to amalgamate into a solidified but spastic piece of music.
The band has a Drive Like Jehu feel to them because they have songs that seem schizophrenic and unending at times, but goddamnit if they don't just make you shake your head in disbelief.
"We have a personal level of expectation with songs we've written," explains bass player Michael Baker. "It's important to prove ourselves within the city, but we also want to play songs that we like and that we appreciate as musicians."
After the demise of East Arcadia in 2003, Short, Thompson, Baker and drummer Jon Goodrich watched their subsequent band, Averroist, follow a similar fate. After adding guitarist Tim Ambrosious, Arms Exploding was hatched in the summer of 2005, and the lick-intensive, Refused-esque group meshed brilliantly together. With the help of local recording engineer Ben Jones, the band recently laid down a primitive but well-recorded demo at their practice space. While that might seem like an insignificant event in the short history of the group, each member admits the excitement they felt after hearing the band out of context for the first time.
"Listening to the recording motivated me even more musically, and I feel like it gave a new breath to the band," explains Short. "It made us want to go and play shows and gave us an idea of what we sounded like and where we wanted to go."
But where do they want to go? One of the first steps Arms Exploding deems necessary is to establish rapport locally by playing at as many different clubs as possible. The group understands that although they have been associated with popular local bands in the past, their new music might require some warming up to because it explores the technical and experimental elements of songwriting, as opposed to the quick, three-minute, hit-you-in-the-face Punk song.
"We just don't think establishing a fan base is going to be as easy as it once was," explains Thompson. "But if we make a concerted effort to play worthwhile, diverse shows at a number of different venues around town, then hopefully we can catch a little praise and have some decent recognition."
I anticipate the live shows will match the intensity of the one I experienced at the Poison Room. The band's lifespan is short, but the camaraderie between its members is obvious. Hell, three of the guys live together, and they've all known each other for close to a decade.
The musical thought process is generally collaborative, and they seem to move in fluid unison on stage, like a band that has been together for several years. Arms Exploding's burgeoning presence within Cincinnati's music scene will become more apparent as the months pass, but I urge everyone to hop on the bandwagon now to avoid getting kicked in the face when trying to climb on next week, next month or next year.
ARMS EXPLODING perform Friday at The Mad Hatter with The Great Depression, Background Music and The Sheds.