The Holy Fire with Felix Culpa
Wednesday · The Mad Hatter
Are there any bands that actually embrace the term "Emo"? I've had bands get mad at me for calling them Emo in print, and there's no limit to, uh, Emo bands who proclaim their non-Emo-ness in interviews. I bet even Emo Phillips denies his first name at this point.
The Holy Fire are not Emo. They say it (in a recent cover story article in Detroit weekly, Metro Times) and, having listened to their recent EP, In the Name of the World, I second that emotion. The Detroit four-piece has a melodic sound that is juiced-up Indie Rock with engaging bombast and sublime rhythmic and guitar intricacies. Their music has an arena-ready energy with a right-in-front-of-your-face immediacy that'll singe your nose-hairs. But there are hypnotic undertows (via some engaging guitar interplay and creative drumming), imaginative arrangement craftiness and a startling, classic catchiness that surpasses many of their peers.
The Fire sparked in 2003, as guitarist/singer Sean Hoen and drummer Nick Marko began working on songs together for fun. Bassist Nathan Miller, who played with Hoen in the more abrasive, "Post Hardcore" band Thoughts of Ionesco, solidified the core of the band (guitarist Erik Maluchnik joined only more recently) and they ventured to Toronto to record a self-titled, self-released EP (later re-issued by Detroit indie label, Down Peninsula Audio).
That EP and steady touring helped the group garner more attention and they ultimately joined the roster at rising-star label, The Militia Group, home to fellow up-and-comers like The Appleseed Cast, Lovedrug and Copeland. Earlier this year, the label released their first Militia Group offering, the aforementioned In the Name of the World, which was produced by Flaming Lips bassist Michael Ivins.
The group's increased profile has led to even more touring (they were last in town opening for ElectroRock faves Metric at Bogart's this spring), which, in turn, has caused their fan base to increase with every show. It's not that Emo fans won't enjoy The Holy Fire (and most of the Militia Group's roster); it's just that this brand of stimulating Rock & Roll doesn't deserve the pigeonhole and transcends the whiny-teenager implications of the tag. (Mike Breen)
Thursday · Southgate House
For the second time in a year, Richard Thompson visits our fair city for a solo show at the Southgate House. The label of "legend" gets overused these days quite a bit, but there's no doubt that Thompson deserves that billing.
Having started his career way back in the '60s with Fairport Convention, and after myriad solo releases since then, Thompson still brings the magic in his live performances, especially when playing solo. He's promoting his new acoustic disc, Front Parlour Ballads, on this tour.
If you're familiar with Thompson, then you're already aware that, pound for pound, he's one of the best guitarists of any genre in the world. Between his effortless acoustic fingerpicking and the stinging vibrato of his electric leads, his instrumental virtuosity knows no bounds. In fact, his guitar prowess can intimidate fellow musicians, who continually must ask how he makes it look so easy. Like many veteran artists of a similar stature, Thompson's output has been inconsistent at times. He has a bad habit of relying on novelty numbers too much. But uneven quality control is probably to be expected when you have released upwards of 20 records through the decades. He has also produced a handful of classics, ranging from I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, his first release as a duo with his then-wife Linda, to Shoot Out the Lights, their last record together and a document of the breakup of their marriage, to Rumor and Sigh, the solo album that revived his career in the early '90s.
Thompson capably blends multiple genres in his performances. Sit back and revel in his mastery of the idioms of Folk balladry, Victorian dancehall music, Country waltzes and the lean rockers that stoke his sets in concert. And his particularly droll, British sense of humor doesn't hurt either. All in all, Thompson can do pretty much what he wants onstage and still get away with it. In his element, he's a musician to behold. (Gregory Gaston)
Strays Don't Sleep
Monday · Bogart's
Strays Don't Sleep started out modestly, when singer/songwriter Matthew Ryan approached Neilson Hubbard about writing together, with the idea of putting out a bonus EP through their Web sites for fans. Ryan is a Pennsylvania native who moved to Nashville in the early '90s; a few years later, he was the center of a bidding war, eventually landing with A&M. Major-label consolidation led to Ryan losing his contract, but he went the indie route and has maintained a loyal cult following in the U.S. and the U.K. Hubbard, who was raised in Mississippi, never played the major-label flirtation game; he released three solo efforts to solid critical praise while also doing production work.
Despite somewhat different career paths, musically, Ryan and Hubbard's solo works share many qualities. Ryan's melodic, rootsier sound has led to comparisons with Springsteen and Tom Waits (yes, he has a gravelly voice), while Hubbard's last album, 2003's Sing Into Me, was lauded for its sparse, Southern Gothic grace and poignant candor. They both love Leonard Cohen and Scottish cult heroes The Blue Nile and they both have a masterly balance of pure Pop instincts and a deep, emotive elegance akin to Big Star.
With Strays Don't Sleep, their similarities and differences collide for a beautiful, toweringly ambient collection of glistening, ethereal Pop. Thrilled by the artistic doors opened for each through the collaboration, the duo's "write a couple of songs for fun" concept was thrown out and an ambitious nine-song, self-titled CD (due in stores this Tuesday) and full band emerged. Given the visceral, cinematic scope of the band's aural vignettes, it makes perfect sense that their debut features a bonus DVD, featuring short films for each of the album's songs, directed by various up-and-coming indie filmmakers.
Listening to their somber, sober songs, you get the feeling of laying on the beach at midnight, as warm, soft waves wash over you at lulling intervals. But this isn't "Soft Rock," thanks to the gruff splendor of the duo's vocals, the quirkily lean, high-ceilinged arrangements and the magnetic poetry of the lyrics. The tracks are engagingly layered, but it's no wall-of-sound (more a silk-curtain-blowing-in-the-breeze-of-sound). "Pretty Girl" is a strangely sweet love ode to a transsexual, "Cars and History" is laced with tentative optimism, tinged with a little modern, war-mindset paranoia and "Love Don't Owe You Anything" swells with the airy atmospherics of Eno-produced U2. "For Blue Skies" is a moving standout, with gut-wrenched, lost-love lyrics drizzled over a toy-piano trickle and the thin, clicking pulse of a drum machine. Strays Don't Sleep proves that the best songwriters don't need bells, whistles, sirens or other gimmicks to create something riveting, eternal and inspiring. (MB)