Friday · Madison Theater
What do you call a band that rocks and pops as much as it twangs, specializes in crystalline harmonies and plays songs that can crack smiles and break hearts in equal measure?
If you're from Southern California, it's called the Eagles. But if you're from Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada, it's called Emerson Drive.
When the band started in 1995, they were called 12-Gauge and had a couple of Canadian chart hits under that banner. But after coming south to capitalize on their home success, they found a Rap group had already claimed the name. They re-christened themselves Emerson Drive in honor of a local Alberta road and took off from there.
Change has been a constant for Emerson Drive. In addition to their name, the band has shifted members a number of times over the past 13 years (only lead vocalist Brad Mates remains from the 12-Gauge days) and they dropped their early stage persona of dusters and rifles after the Columbine tragedy.
ED's first two albums came out on DreamWorks and their initial singles, "I Should Be Sleeping" and "Fall Into Me," were Top 10 hits. Their eponymous debut album in 2002 was also a smash.
The band's follow-up, 2004's What If?, did well but didn't produce the same single success and they were dropped.
Turns out, parting ways with DreamWorks might have been the best thing for Emerson Drive. The band was seen by singer/songwriter Josh Leo and Alabama member Teddy Gentry, who offered to co-produce ED's next album. That led to their signing with Nashville indie Midas Records.
Emerson Drive's third album, 2006's Countrified, was a hit with fans and scored the band their first Grammy nomination for the song "Moments," a touching reflection on homelessness and life. Dubbed "Turbograss" by Gentry during the Countrified sessions, Emerson Drive is reportedly working from their new Nashville base on a new album slated for release sometime this year. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.)
God Is an Astronaut
Sunday · The Mad Hatter
There was a time when Celtic music was little more than endless jukebox quarters devoted to the Irish Rovers' "The Unicorn" or, for the more esoteric, a revisiting of the considerable catalog of the Chieftains.
While Ireland's traditional Folk heritage is alive and healthy, there is so much more to Irish music in the modern context and God is an Astronaut is the mesmerizing proof.
The Glen of the Downs trio formed in 2002, offering an instrumental sound that combined the bombast of Prog and the delicacy and grace of Celtic Folk, with the resulting hybrid blazing at the intersection of King Crimson, Mogwai and Aerogramme.
From the beginning, GIAA has been fiercely independent in sound and operation, releasing their three albums (2003's The End of the Beginning, 2004's All Is Violent, All Is Bright and last year's Far From Refuge) and one EP (A Moment of Stillness) on their own Revive label. The band has enjoyed considerable critical and commercial success, with their albums notching significant sales at home and their captivating videos receiving widespread airplay on MTV in Europe and the UK (where music videos are still actually played and appreciated — take heed, New York).
As their last two albums indicate, GIAA is a formidable live entity and sell-out crowds throughout Ireland and across Europe will attest to the majestic power and fragile vulnerability of the band's stage presentation.
The tour that brings God Is an Astronaut to the area is the band's first American circuit ever, and their show at the Mad Hatter is one of only 10 shows in the entire country, making this a rare opportunity to see this compelling and evocative band in the atmosphere where they shimmer with a dense beauty. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.)