Tag Archives: Indie

REVIEW: Splashes Of Beauty — Celebrating 9 Years Of Hot Local Music At The 2018 Apache Lake Music Festival (Oct. 26 & 27)

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Day 1 — October 26

Roosevelt, AZ — As the pavement came to an abrupt halt on Apache Trail, it became apparent to me that my Mustang probably wasn’t the best choice of transportation for my journey to the Apache Lake Music Festival. This would be my first trip to the annual event celebrating it’s ninth anniversary in 2018. Every year, hundreds of attendees brave the treacherous cliffside dirt road winding through the mountains over single lane bridges to get to the Apache Lake Marina. The drive is excessively bumpy and requires near constant brake pressure during the 10 mile descent through the second half of the journey.

I arrived late Friday morning around 9:45 am. Pulling up to the venue was a relief, considering I was still physically shaking from fishtailing around a hairpin corner mere feet from an impossibly high loft on the mountain just minutes before my arrival.  Being my first time, I wasn’t really sure where to go or what to expect.

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Apache Lake Marina
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

After scouting the least densely populated area of the beach, I settled on a spot atop the boat ramp. In the parking lot, a house boat sat atop the pavement overlooking the beach. It didn’t appear as though it was placed there recently, making it seem almost perfectly normal. I couldn’t tell if it was a prop at first or if someone lived there full time. It was definitely occupied so I figured it was probably the safest place to park. I began the endless back-and-forth walk from my car to the site to set up my tent and fill it with my belongings. Blankets, pillows, snacks, pot, pillows, backpack, microphone, laptop, more pot, more pillows, chapstick, mandolin…

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

As I finished setting up my tent and dumping my gear into the unzipped opening, I heard the sound system up the hill come to life on the main stage. Cell service is almost completely devoid in the area due to its remote location, so I couldn’t pull up the schedule online to see who the first act was. I decided to drop what I was doing, to trek up the hill to try to find a program or flier with a lineup and check out the first act. This would become a theme throughout the weekend; the back-and-forth up and down the thigh-murdering hill, to and from the main stage.

Apache Lake Music Festival 2018 Poster - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Apache Lake Music Festival 2018 Poster
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga
Click to Enlarge

Several groans later and I was back at the venue, heading down the short hallway from the entrance toward the sound system outside the rear doors. Haley Green was checking sound. The engineers were adjusting levels. All of the usual warm-ups were in play as more familiar faces began to appear.

Sara Robinson was on the patio of the cantina sitting across from Tempe music legend, a hatless Paul “PC” Cardone. She arrived early in the morning after heading out at 11:00 PM the night before, recounting a veritable Murphy’s Law of road trips along the way. After chatting a bit, Sara and I made plans to meet later before her performance to gift my plus one ticket to a friend of hers who couldn’t afford to come.

Sitting just a few feet away was the ever-present and always friendly Ryan Edmonds, longtime doorman at the legendary Sail Inn of Tempe and Cactus Jacks in Ahwatukee. After catching up a bit, the thirst was too much to bear. I badly needed a four-dollar gallon of water, and the convenience store was more than happy to oblige. I soon realized I forgot my phone at my campsite and headed back to drop off the water and grab some Fig Newtons.

Back at my campsite, I retrieved my cell phone and began rearranging my sleeping gear for maximum comfort. I figured this was the perfect time to smoke that J that had been burning a hole in my pocket, so I sat on the edge of the boat ramp and lit up. It was an absolutely serene day. Seventy-four degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The lake was stunning. After I finished medicating, I did the dumbest thing possible in that situation… I laid down. The temptation to sprawl on my bevy of pillows was simply too much to ignore.

Haley Green - Photo Credit: Joel Ekdahl
Haley Green
Photography:
Joel Ekdahl, Orange Grove
© All Rights Reserved

As I lay on my back staring up at the silhouette of mesquite branches, I began to drift off to the sound of Haley’s docile tones with the sun kissing my cheeks and the breeze bouncing off the cool water of Apache lake, wafting through the mesh of my borrowed palace. There were drum circles in the distance, dogs barking and people laughing. I never quite lost consciousness, but I was in that in-between phase of sleep when something stirred me to my senses. The most beautiful voice started to fill my tent. I immediately bolted upright, put my shoes on and once again, trekked up the hill.

House of Stairs is a Jazz collective from Phoenix. Vocalist and looping artist Holly Pyle has the voice of an angel, reminiscent of the late Cranberries songbird Delores O’Riordan. The soulful vibe of their music is befitting of the environment. The keys danced through the criminally small crowd witnessing this performance, but drew even more attendees in from the parking lot. Soon, a handful of people were swaying in front of the stage. Call it the “medicine”, but I was absolutely transfixed. Before long, their set was over, and I’m convinced it was far too short. It also seemed too early on the first day of the festival to put a group of this calibre on stage as there wasn’t quite a large enough audience yet to appreciate their brilliance.

House of Stairs - Photo Credit: Joel Ekdahl
Holly Pyle (Vocalist), House of Stairs
Photography:
Joel Ekdahl, Orange Grove
© All Rights Reserved

Soon after they left the stage, The Edisons were up next checking sound, and I abandoned any attempt at taking halfway decent photos with my iPhone. From my distant place at the lone picnic table, I spotted Joel Ekdahl of Manic Monkeys and Exploding Oranges at stage right taking photos. I was relieved to find shade in the VIP area backstage, but more importantly, FREE WATER. The Edisons performance was equally as impressive as House of Stairs. Indie Synth Rock becomes my flavor of the day.

The Edisons - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
The Edisons
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

I eventually went back at the tent, attempting to make spotty communication with my festival host, Banter lead vocalist Kim Capria. Ali A and The Agency were killing it in the background as I cursed Verizon because my service was worse in the building than it was on the beach. Kim left Tempe with lead guitarist (and one of Burning Hot Events’ music journalists) Brandon Biallas around 1:00 in the afternoon, and I was growing a bit concerned. This was when I learned there were two routes one could take to Apache Lake. The shorter treacherous route or the longer, safer route. They had chosen the latter. Once we had established that they would be arriving shortly, I thought it would probably be a good idea to be there to greet them when they arrived. So again, it was up that damn hill.

Seriously, how did Brandon Biallas get System of a Down for his first concert review?! Dude can write, so check him out.

At this point, it was close to 4:00 PM. Playing inside at the cantina was the perpetually shoeless Tommie Victor, sliding his socked toe across the synth board that compels his guitar toward the ethereal. I met Tommie at a Future Loves Past show at Yucca Tap Room years ago when I was in the midst of creating a cartoon with an animator friend of mine. I had a character I was developing at the time and I thought he would be the perfect voice for it. The cartoon fell flat, but I was glad I added Tommie on Facebook. He’s truly a talented artist, albeit a little eccentric. This is a guy that really does move in whatever the direction the wind is blowing. Tommie has also performed on my radio show “Gonz After Curfew” twice, and we’re anxious to get him back in the studio again for a third appearance. The Banter trio was scheduled to play at 4:30, and still no sign of Kim. At about ten after, I finally get a text, “Here!”

Kim and Brandon walked in at exactly 4:15, just 15 minutes shy of their performance. They were still awaiting drummer Spencer Ferrarin. We hugged our hellos and mutually bitched about the journey, and before I know it, Spencer materializes and is pretty much ready to go. Bassist Miles Tippet sat out the trio performance, but was milling about the grounds somewhere. The Banter’s set was fantastic. Kim was on point and the boys were in tune. “This is probably my favorite performance ever,” she tells the crowded bar. After they finish up, we made plans to go down to my tent and move it to their campsite. Luckily, it wasn’t that far at all.

Banter - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Kim Capria (Vocalist/Guitarist), Banter
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

I was relieved that the tent I borrowed basically folds up into a compact log, making it easier to carry down to the beach. I was a little disappointed though. The Sugar Thieves were on and I really wanted to see them, but it was getting dark and we didn’t have much daylight left. My late father was a fan of theirs before I was. He introduced me to their music at Blues Blast one year. Although he passed away a couple of years ago, I still try to make it to as many of their shows as I can. I could still hear Mikey’s growl echoing through our shanty town as we worked feverishly to unload trunks and inflate blow-up mattresses, so it wasn’t a total bummer. After a brief rest and quick change, we were back up the hill again for The Woodworks.

The Woodworks - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Meghan “Solo” Lounsbury (Vocalist/Guitarist), The Woodworks
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

Lead shredder and belter Meghan “Solo” Lounsbury was in the VIP area getting ready to take the stage. I drank more free water and suddenly noticed a prop staring at me. It was a giant baby’s face with a traffic light for a torso, on a pair of mannequin legs. It’s perfect. The Woodworks are one of the more unique staples in the music scene, bringing only the crunchiest of grooves. Solo dressed Cleopatra-esque, complete with Egyptian headdress. To open the show, the band brought up Future Exes guitarist and solo artist in his own right, Page the Village Idiot, kicking things off with his own personal brand of weird. If you’ve never seen him, you’re definitely missing out. This was around the time that things got a little hazy.

Page the Village Idiot - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Page the Village Idiot
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

“These uh mah shoes,
and thissa mah hat…” 
– Page Davis

 

The day had been long, the hikes longer. I was exhausted. I stayed for the entire incredible performance but I don’t remember how or when I got back to camp. I vaguely remember an Adam climbing the walls of the indoor stage, but I don’t recall if it was during The Psychedelephants. What I do recall was that they played an amazing set in that hot room wearing long sleeves. Spencer beat the drums like they owed him money, and Miles left enough sweat on the stage to put out a fire. Danger Paul kept the rhythm, and Calin Gross shredded faces.

At some point, we were all just kind of “there” again, sitting in a circle on the beach. By that time, Miles had also materialized. He began plucking his acoustic bass as Brandon strummed away on my mandolin, and it progressed into a full on jam session with Kim singing the lyrics of a song I’ve never heard before. Throughout the night, there were conversations on topics ranging from individual band performances to our preferences of dying by falling off a cliff versus being eaten alive.

A random kayaker, who stumbled upon the festival and got too drunk to paddle back to where he launched, slept next to the fire that Scott and Max started with his help. The stars never looked brighter and campfire never smelled so good. Out on the lake, the swaying beacon of an anchored sailboat cast a singular blue glow as the inhabitants hooted and whistled to beachwalkers in the moonlight. Everything seemed perfect. This is exactly the spirit this festival seeks to inspire. The same laughter, chatter and spontaneous acoustic jam sessions from my nap earlier echoed through the night from the other campsites across the marina as we all sporadically fell asleep to the water lapping at the shores under the vast sky.

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

 

Day 2  — October 27

I slept in the next morning. I didn’t wake up until close to 10:00 AM. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is highly unusual. I’m a restless sleeper and an early riser. I felt so at peace out there that I kind of just let my surroundings awaken me. Kim made bratwursts for breakfast on a borrowed camping stove and served up cold brew coffee with almond milk for anyone who needed it. After two full cups, I made the two dollar sacrifice at the convenience store for a third cup of coffee with plenty of powdered creamer and sugar.

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

Back at camp there were more jokes, jams, philosophies on life and chocolate salty balls — as a journalist, I think it’s important to note that Brandon put them in his mouth. I was told they were delicious. Apparently they were made of oatmeal but I never got an opportunity to confirm. Spencer reemerged and declared that he still hadn’t gone to sleep. We laughed some more and basically spent an exorbitant amount of time just being lazy. One of my favorite things about these weekend-long events is how amazed everyone is to see one another the next morning.

Nick Gonzaga
Nick Gonzaga

“Dude, oh my god! You were soooo out of it last night, man…”

Photo Credit:Nick Gonzaga
Brandon Biallas, Spencer Ferrarin, and Calin Gross
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

Once I had regained my motivation, I made a point to trek back up to see Future Exes. Something that isn’t immediately apparent to many festival attendees is that a lot of the staff is comprised of volunteers; some of those volunteers are actually band members. Roni Marie is the lead vocalist of Future Exes, and one of the lead event volunteers and organizers. Throughout the entire weekend Roni was omnipresent, sporting the yellow vest and walkie talkie. She’s one of the people making sure all of the gears are turning and everything runs smoothly.

Future Exes is always a great band to see. Page is an amazing guitarist, and Roni is one of the most sultry singers in the community. After the festival, she tells me, “There’s much more [work] behind the scenes before, during, and after the event that most people don’t see… We are all for sure proud of this year’s event and our music community as a whole. There’s so much love!”  Their daylight performance on day two was as awesome as it always is. During one tune, Roni stepped off the stage into the arms of PC in one of the more memorable moments of the festival. These are all people that absolutely love and care for one another and it shows.

Future Exes - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Roni Marie (Vocalist), Future Exes; and Paul “PC” Cardone
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

After finishing their set, the band welcomed Hyperbella up to the stage, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, this is yet another band that I have totally overlooked. Like House of Stairs, they’re soulful, funky, and sophisticated all rolled into one. Vocalist and guitarist Cassidy Bates strokes her Gibson Firebird like a feline extension of her arm. Her harmony with Carly Bates on the keyboard is heart-melting, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re both insanely beautiful women. All swooning aside, drummer Marcus Leatham and bassist Brenden McBride (also of Wyves) are no slouches either. As a whole, they’re tight and in sync with an almost Bobby Caldwell-like essence, and they absolutely left me wanting more. I spoke briefly with Cassidy after their performance and she couldn’t have been more humble. Don’t make the same mistake I did with this band. Do NOT sleep on them. They’re one hundred percent worth whatever the cover is at the door if you can catch them.

Hyperbella - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Cassidy Hilgers (Vocalist/Guitarist), Hyperbella
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

Back at the cantina, another performance from Tommie Victor with a fantastic cover of Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” for an appreciative audience. Joel Ekdahl took a break from his camera to play an acoustic set shortly before the Banter’s second performance of the weekend. Kim wore her Kill Bill jumpsuit and several people remarked “She really does look like Uma Thurman!” With exhaustion once again creeping in and increasing pain crawling up my legs, I wandered back outside to the mainstage as the sun was disappearing on the horizon to catch the next act.

Banter - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Banter, feat. Calin Gross of The Psychedelephants on Slide Guitar Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

Wyves has just come off the release of their second studio album R U OK? Cory Gloden, guitarist for Dry River Yacht Club, is ever the frontman, pumping the tired and inebriated full of newfound energy. This is the point where I completely gave up moving for awhile, and take a seat backstage to watch them absolutely murder it. Not only do they sound amazing, but they have so much style. These guys are legit rock stars. Looking over to my right, I saw that Page had the same idea and was looking worn out in a seat of his own. I attempted to take a photo of him before he pointed to my lens and asked “Are you watching me melt?’ with a hearty laugh.

Wyves - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Nick Sterling (Guitarist/Vocalist), Wyves
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

During one of their last songs, I suddenly realized just how full my bladder was and I slowly made my way indoors to the mensroom. Upon opening the door, another man rushed past me and I was hit with a wall of odor that stung my nostrils. Guys were covering their eyes at the urinals and making faces like children who had just bitten into a lemon for the first time. It literally smelled like piss and vinegar. I noped right around into the other direction and took my chances outside in the wild. The smell was so bad I had to pee in the bushes. When I returned, Wyves had sadly finished up and Banana Gun was now lugging their gear onstage. From a laughable distance I saw the familiar glow of an afro and I knew that Marc Norman had arrived.

Banana Gun is one of those bands that makes it impossible not to embarrass yourself because you can’t resist the urge to dance. Their most recent album Dance Monkey Down in Faux Town is phenomenal. It’s also available on vinyl. Seriously, go buy it. I had to pick one up in person at a sweltering show at Yucca Tap Room this summer to get mine. You can order it directly from their website, so you have no excuse. Kevin’s dreads hang ankle length and swing like whips across the stage at times. Kyle’s sax punctuates every song like an exclamation point. This band is seriously just too good. From the first notes of their set, the whole place is up and jumping once again but the soles of my feet are getting the better of me and I remain seated.

Banana Gun - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Kevin Lloyd (Vocalist/Guitarist), Banana Gun
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

A few of us regrouped and decide to headed back down to camp. I knew in my heart that there was just no way I would be able to make it back up once we settled back down at the beach. I was so thoroughly sore. The moment I laid down on the army cot in the center of camp, I knew it was over and started to drift off, but something awoke me as I was on the cusp of my slumber. It was the sound of heaving. I had no idea where it was coming from until I decided to go investigate. Standing next to our campfire was the same kayaker who had crashed at our site the night before. He brought a friend who had apparently partaken in way too much of the festival.

When things settled down and I was sure our new stowaway was ok, I went back up the hill for the closing of the festival, because nobody wants to watch another guy puke up pot brownies. I just couldn’t bring myself to miss out on the closing acts. Xixa (pronounces “Tsitsa”, not “Sheesha”) from Tucson did an amazing job, but I feel bad that I was too exhausted to truly appreciate it. I went into the cantina to catch Marc’s show, only to find out that it didn’t last long and I had missed it. From there, I waited for Page to close out the bar, but he never showed. I went into the next room to the indoor stage to try to catch Japhy’s Decent, but it was so crowded and hot that I gave up and went back to my tent for good.

Or so I thought.

The one we called “Tiffany” half of the time woke us all up when she got back to camp, trying to get anyone she could to come to the hotel party with her. After pretending to be Brandon by throwing my voice in the dark for some time, I finally relented and accompanied her to the party. I’m glad I did. It was really an amazing thing to see such a group of artists sitting around, playing music with each other, talking about life and the creative process. Drum and guitar notes bounced off the canyon walls like a symphony, settling on the water. I was very lucky to be there, and to be welcomed by a truly loving collective of independent artists. I’m not sure how long I stayed, but it was long enough to smoke a joint with these beautiful souls and get back in bed shortly before 4:00 AM.

 

Packing Up

The very next morning I was stirred from my sleep once again, but this time by the most beautiful smell known to man. As I unzipped my tent and poked my head out, our camp mate Alisha asked if I wanted a piece of bacon. “Yeah, I need a piece of water too,” I replied. With her dreads in a tower atop her head, she peeled a couple of pieces of the sweet pork flesh off of her plate and handed them to me. I ate them with my bare hands. Soon, everyone began to exit their tents like Who people in Whoville on Christmas morning. Bacon had saved us all.

My initial plan was to pack it all up get on the road post haste, but once again, we were having such a great time talking and recounting the weekend that my sense of urgency to leave had faded, if it was ever there at all. I overheard someone say, “I feel like Marc Norman looks. My inner Norman is strong.” Calin played slide guitar on an old, painted acoustic that sat untouched for much of the weekend, Miles was at the shore teaching Tracy how to skip stones, and Spencer packed bowls and passed them around. My heart was impossibly full.

 

“No, but that was the right motion! You almost got it.” – Miles Tippet

 

As all good things, the Apache Lake Music festival had to come to an end, and as much as we lamented, it was time to leave. Something I neglected to think about is just how hard it is to get dirt out of a tent. It’s like trying to get a pick out of an acoustic guitar. After making one more sweep of our campsite for trash, we were in our cars and I was following Kim’s car out of the the marina. I decided to give the long route out a shot since the short way in was so nerve racking. For the most part it remained wide enough for two lanes, save for a bridge. After reaching the Roosevelt Dam and getting back on the main highway, we made a quick pit stop at an IGA grocery store to use the restroom and clean our windshield. Getting out of the car was physically painful. My thighs were on fire. Standing and walking have never been so difficult.

Shortly after our collective relief, were back on the road. Once we made the left turn onto highway 87 toward Mesa, I immediately burned out and left Kim and Brandon in my rearview mirror. My need for a shower was far too great to further soak in anymore scenery. From the Bush Highway to Usery Pass, I was soon back on the 202 southbound, heading toward my home in Gilbert, reliving the sights and the sounds I had consumed that only the Apache Lake Music Festival can deliver.

Apache Lake Music Festival - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Apache Lake Music Festival | Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

REVIEW: Portugal. The Man Kicked It Like It Was 1986 at The Van Buren 10-12-17

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PHOENIX – Thursday, October 12th, was a much-anticipated night for fans of indie rock band Portugal. The Man. While many people may have heard of Portugal. The Man, or PTM for short, over the years since their inception in 2004, the band truly found fame after releasing their hit single “Feel It Still” from their new album, Woodstock. Almost overnight, “Feel It Still” became a widely played hit and currently sits at a comfortable 6th place spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list, inclusive of all genres of music.

This unexpected and sudden boost in attention may explain why their show at The Van Buren quickly sold out, and it may also explain a shirt they had on display at their merchandise booth with the message, “I LIKED PORTUGAL. THE MAN BEFORE THEY SOLD OUT.” This was just one of many interesting shirts and various other accessories they had on sale, with some items featuring their iconic and fascinatingly styled artwork. The lead singer, John Gourley, is the artist, and his style is quite unique.

The Van Buren is a new establishment, but it is quickly establishing its dominance in the Phoenix Metro area. Many people visited The Van Buren for the first time on Thursday evening, and many people in the crowd could be overheard discussing how great this new space is. Since the show was entirely sold out, they had the house cleared out as much as possible and even set up an auxiliary bar located house right, close to the side exits to the restrooms. This made for 3 bars inside to complement the bars out on the patio. The crowd was definitely hydrated, and the drinks were flowing — everyone was getting ready for the time of their lives.

The Chamanas

By the time The Chamanas started playing, the house was filling up fast. People were well lubricated, and cans of PBR could be seen in hands throughout the rapidly-growing crowd. While they were enjoying their beverages, The Chamanas treated them to a soothing mix of several of their distinctly varied songs. Paulina Reza, lead singer of The Chamanas, has a beautiful voice and a powerful set of lungs which she employed to their fullest throughout the show.

The Chamanas are considered a “Fronterizo pop fusion ensemble,” and their name is part English, part Spanish, and part portmanteau; all together, they represent a physical manifestation of the magical, spiritual qualities that music may sometimes bring into the world. Their goal? To change the way people may think or feel by bringing a positive outlook and spreading love through their songs. What better way to celebrate the idea of people coming together across borders to celebrate common interests and emotions? The members come from both Juarez, Chihuahua, and El Paso, Texas, making this a fantastic fusion of cultures, languages, and styles.

Reza brings vocals that are at once unique, but also reminiscent of many famous singers who may not be well known in the US. In fact, the style of her voice in many of her songs brings hints of Jeanette, the famous British-Spanish pop artist who spent much of her own musical career bridging cultural gaps through music. The rest of The Chamanas are also reminiscent of similarly-minded bands, such as Calexico, who will be playing at the upcoming Lost Lake Festival on Friday, October 20th, as well as Chicano Batman, who will be playing at The Van Buren on Saturday, November 4th.

During The Chamanas’s performance, Reza took a moment to tell the crowd, “We love music. We love to do this.” She continued to share positive thoughts like this throughout their performance, both in Spanish and English; “Music is the answer,” she said; it can become a cure for discrimination across the country.

Towards the end of The Chamanas’s time on stage, Reza also shared that, when using Portugal. The Man’s recording studio, Sonic Ranch, they became quite friendly with one another. After a while, PTM asked The Chamanas to perform some of their songs in Spanish to help bridge the gaps between genres and cultures. Reza and the band were thrilled to do so.

This lead to a stunning rendition of “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” in mostly Spanish, with a few famous lines still in the original English — most notably, the lyrics from the chorus that are the same as the title of the song. They also played their version of “Feel It Still,” which was phenomenal as well. This was a great way to get the crowd excited for Portugal. The Man, and Reza further hyped the crowd by asking if they were excited to see PTM later. The crowd screamed their approval.

Portugal. The Man

After a short break consisting of eager fans pressing ever-closer together towards the stage, the lights went out, and “Unchained Melody” by Righteous Brothers began to play. The crowd’s eager cheers soon gave way to gentle swaying, and a few people pulled out their lighters. Several others joined with their cell phones, but the effect was not the same. Some began to sing along, especially as the song reached its climax, so to speak:

“Are you
Still mine
I need your love
I need your love
Godspeed your love to me”

Just as the song reached the peak of its climactic crescendo, one of the Portugal. The Man logos was projected onto the backdrop along with their title, “The Lords of Portland.” Their desert kingdom awaited them.

Following their royal title was a message for their loyal subjects: “We are not very good at stage banter, so tonight’s performance will feature some slogans written by our management. Thank you for your continued understanding. PTM.” They followed this projected message with a verbal greeting: “What’s up Phoenix? We’re Portugal. The Man.” Immediately after this, they went right into their cover of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” complete with ominous bells preceding stellar instrumentals.Those guys can rock out with the best of them.

The next song in PTM’s lineup was their second most famous song, “Purple Yellow Red & Blue.” It was clear that fans in the crowd loved hearing one of their favorite songs performed live, and many sang along. While much of the song was the same as the radio or album versions, they did add quite a few instrumental intermissions. This showed off their passion for progressive rock, which they would dive into again frequently throughout the remainder of the show.

Their penchant for progressive rock is rivaled by their love of psychedelic rock, so of course they had to cover Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” — if the singing heard from the crowd was any indication, the rest of the room definitely seemed to approve of this addition to the show. “Hey, teachers, leave those kids alone!” This was quite fitting because many might say Portugal. The Man is quite similar to a contemporary version of Pink Floyd, though they definitely have their own, signature style.

To couple with all the alternative, psychedelic, progressive, and experimental tunes Portugal. The Man were playing, they treated the crowd to an equally-psychedelic light show, complete with a section of “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” transitioning into an entrancing display of alternating rainbows reaching out towards the audience. Naturally, they also threw in purple, yellow, red, and blue lights, perfectly timed with their accompanying lyrics.

Hypnotic lasers, flashing lights, and rainbow hues were not the only visual accoutrements during the show; Portugal. The Man brought some fascinating visuals to display on the backdrop behind them. These frequently featured nightmarish images of bodies, heads, and eyes, and each song had a unique combination of one or many of these features. Diamonds and other geometric shapes also found their way into the visual feast on the projector. One thing is for certain — these graphics were unforgettable, hollow eyes and all.

As advertised, occasionally, the “management” threw up more messages throughout the show. Some of these messages stated things like, “We are Portugal. The Man! Just making sure you’re at the right concert,” and “Thank you for buying and/or stealing our new album.” Their self-awareness and reticence (or perhaps just pure love for playing music) were quite refreshing, and these textual messages were more than enough stage banter for this show.

Other amusing messages included the following series: “Smokin’ Weed???” “Gettin F*cked Up???” “Discussing Politics at Family Gatherings” and, finally, “That’s F*ckin’ Bad Ass.” The most important message throughout the entire show, however, was most likely the message that read, “That’s right kids. No computers up here. Just live instruments.”

After playing “Feel It Still” and many other hit songs, and after bringing some Woodstock vibes to Phoenix, it was time for a Portugal. The Man style encore. The crowd was greeted with a customized PTM version of the old-school “Indian-head test pattern” that used to play on broadcast TV: “Please Stand By.” Fans of the Fallout video game series may also recognize it quite well. This take on the interim between main show and encore was different and, again, self-aware, but everyone knew they’d be coming back out for a few more songs anyway. They must have wanted to be efficient about it.

Almost as soon as Portugal. The Man had swept into The Van Buren, the show was over. After their last song, the band quickly dispersed and left the stage without as much as a farewell. However, this is their style, so this is the way it must be. PTM fans were not bothered by this one bit, and many could be heard after the show eagerly chatting about how this was “the best concert of all time.” One thing is for sure: they put on a damn good show, and Phoenix is definitely feeling it still.

REVIEW: MUTEMATH’s “Play Dead” Live Brings New Life to The Van Buren 10-10-17

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PHOENIX – Tuesday, October 10th, was yet another perfect early-fall evening in downtown Phoenix. MUTEMATH, during the latter half of their US “Play Dead Live” Tour, graced The Van Buren with their ethereal presence. Joined by the relatively new band ROMES and Tennessee indie rock band Colony House. Together, they filled The Van Buren with an interesting mix of different styles of music, approaches to live performance, and interaction with fans.

ROMES

ROMES was first up; these young musicians came to Phoenix all the way from Toronto, Ontario and Wicklow, Ireland — all four met while attending school over the pond. This was their first time in Phoenix, and their enthusiasm and excitement to be at The Van Buren was palpable. The lead singer, Jacob Alexander, even sported a Phoenix Suns t-shirt to show his love for the city.

The members of ROMES had a few lights, including a lit-up sign of the band’s name, behind them on stage, but they relied mostly on their stage presence and energy to entertain the crowd. Their music was an interesting mix of styles, and they identify as indie, alternative, soul-pop or alternative pop. Their single, “Believe,” is a great introduction to their unique style. While they may be relatively new to the music scene, they have just released their self-titled debut album on October 6th.

The handsome and talented @romes hanging out with us at @thevanburenphx for their first visit to Phoenix

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Jacob Alexander, Nicolas Amadeus, James Tebbitt, and Andrew Keyes provided fantastic stage presence, energy, instrumentals, and vocals to the crowd. Their performance was a great warm-up for the incredible MUTEMATH show to come later, but ROMES certainly could hold their own. It was clear these guys are quite close, and you could feel the camaraderie on stage as they played their favorite songs. Their smiles were infectious, and their positive, friendly, welcoming aura certainly set the mood for the rest of the evening.

@romes rocked the stage at @thevanburenphx as the first opening band this evening

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Colony House

After a short break, Colony House’s time had come. Their set-up was a bit irregular, with the drummer on stage right and close to the audience. This provided everyone with a clear view of each band member’s performance, which was a nice addition. They certainly made excellent use of the entire stage. They also displayed a huge sign with their band name and logo behind them, which many in the audience thought looked a bit like a nice coffee shop or brand’s logo. They also provided a moderate amount of stage lighting, including what appeared to be four lighthouse beacons. At the very least, the audience could rest assured that no boats would be approaching too closely during the show.

@colonyhouse was the second opening band this evening at @thevanburenphx — eagerly awaiting @mutemath now!

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Colony House is from Franklin, Tennessee, which is also home to MUTEMATH lead singer Paul Meany’s record label, Teleprompt Records. While Colony House is not a part of this record label, it is clear they are quite close with MUTEMATH. They performed admirably, further lighting the fire under the crowd and increasing the energy. The highlight of their show was their hit song, “Silhouettes,” and the crowd certainly sang along with them. Later on in the show, the lead singer Caleb Chapman told the crowd to sing along with another song; after all, “it sounds so much better with your voices in it.” This was a nice way to get the audience involved.

@colonyhouse performimg their hit song “Silhouettes” at @thevanburenphx

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Colony House is considered indie rock, and they currently have two albums out. The most recent, Only The Lonely, was released in January of this year. Some of the singles off the new album are “You Know It,” “Lovely,” and “This Beautiful Life.” Chapman, his brother Will Chapman, and their friends Scott Mills and Parke Cottrell have been playing music together since high school, and once again, it was clear they are close with one another, just like ROMES. It is always wonderful to see a band composed of members who genuinely seem to love and respect one another.

Once Colony House was done playing, it was time for another break. This time, the break was a bit longer than last; MUTEMATH had a lot of equipment to set up. During this recess, the crowd continued to increase size as latecomers finally arrived to The Van Buren. Slowly but surely, people started packing in closer and closer to the stage, eager with anticipation. Meanwhile, The Van Buren was setting up for what was to be a truly impressive light show, projecting light towards the stage from the back of the house, illuminating the backdrop as well as the crowd.

MUTEMATH

After what seemed an eternity, New Orleans-based MUTEMATH finally arrived on stage. The crowd instantly went wild, and they were greeted by a band clad in purely white outfits. Aside from looking uniform in their comfortable outfits, their attire also served to complement the visuals being projected on to the stage and the massive silver backdrop. Their first song was “War,” joined by plenty of interesting visuals that either matched the song or captured the audience’s attention — soldiers, rising fists, a spiral galaxy, and various machines of war. Fans of the band who have seen the music video for this song may have recognized some of the imagery.

MUTEMATH continued the show with very different images across the board; each song brought something new, and just about every color of the rainbow was covered in the light show. In fact, this concert was less live music and more performance art. The band itself, primarily Meany, performed admirably. Their energy levels were truly unprecedented — perhaps even over 9000. They were all over the stage, dancing and playing all sorts of instruments, aside from the drummer. It was interesting to watch multi-instrumentalists performing a menagerie of fascinating instruments.

Meany’s featured instrument of choice seems to be the keytar, which he plays exceptionally well. Mixed with his bizarrely charming dance moves, unconventional voice, and the entrancing light show, the keytar is clearly the perfect weapon of choice for this artist. Later on, however, he also played his Rhodes keyboard, electric guitar, a bizarre stringed electronic instrument, and even the drums along with 2 other band members.

Meany did not just rely on his dancing and singing to entertain the crowd. He also resorted to surprise attacks in the way of headstands on top of his keyboard, the swinging of an LED light on a chord to mimic the display on the projector, getting up close and personal with the front row of fans, standing on top of his keyboard to absorb graphics being projected onto himself and the stage, and a few more surprises.

One of the most touching moments of the show was the shocking moment when Amelia Meany, Paul’s daughter, came out on stage. She had ear protection, for anyone who might worry about her little ears. She joined her dad in singing the song “Pixie Oaks,” containing these lyrics in its chorus:

My Amelia, my Amelia,
My Amelia, my Amelia,
She’s a killer, she’s a healer,
I believe her, my Amelia…

While the true meaning of the song is likely a personal thing, it is clear that his daughter has inspired much of his recent music and lyrics. She seems like an awesome kid, and her dance skills may one day rival her father’s.

In the middle of the show, MUTEMATH seemed to be finished. They had played for about an hour, after all, and vacated the stage. The crowd was not happy with this and continued to cheer for quite a few moments. After a short break of ambient background music and interesting graphics projected onto the screen, MUTEMATH came back on stage. What at first appeared to be an encore turned out to be an entire second act, so this must have been an intermission of sorts. Nobody in the audience was upset by the second hour of music, of course.

During the second half of the show, Meany, Todd Gummerman, Jonathan Allen, and their new drummer David Hutchinson somehow increased their energy levels and truly blew the crowd away. Their stage presence is nearly unparalleled, and for those up front, it was a fully immersive experience. Aside from Meany getting up close and personal with those close to the front at various points in the show, he also pulled out that interesting stringed electronic instrument and let a few people in the crowd play it with him. He passed it out to the crowd, let it float on the sea of hands for a while, and then quickly took it back.


The second most touching moment of the show came when Meany decided to jump down into the crowd while singing. When he wasn’t too focused on vocals, he began handing out high fives to those in the crowd. He proceeded down the center of the crowd, coming across a lucky individual whom he high fived and then proceeded to embrace him in what must have been one of the best hugs ever given. A few others in the crowd wanted in on this, so he gave out several more hugs before heading back to the stage. Those who received a hug seemed to be stunned in disbelief due to this intimate moment Meany shared with them.

While there were many incredible moments throughout the show, one thing is for certain — MUTEMATH rocked The Van Buren well into the night, providing an experience the crowd will not soon forget. They may have lost their beloved drummer, Darren King, and his iconic duct-taped headphones during live shows, but the new drummer did an admirable job. In fact, there was so much going on during the show that it was easy for people to forget about Darren King’s unfortunate departure from the band.

While the show blew everyone away, it was not without its faults. One attendee and long-time MUTEMATH fan, Jim S., mentioned a few concerns: “The live mix wasn’t great. The vocals were washed out. Might have to do with the mic technique.” Despite this minor concern, he was not at all let down. He proceeded to say, “The music complimented the stage presence. They have some really amazing songs and they sound good live, other than the mic mixing, but the stage presence really put the whole show over the top.” This was perfectly put, and a few others who attended the show agreed with Jim after discussing it once the show was over.

MUTEMATH is in a league of their own. They’ve gone through so many changes since 2002, and they have had some tough times, but fans old and new alike are so happy MUTEMATH is still making music and touring. In fact, people in Phoenix already seem to be prepared for their next stop — hopefully at The Van Buren again! Their new album, Play Dead, was just released last month and is a worthy successor to Vitals. Five albums and counting so far, and fans are certain to be eagerly awaiting new songs and albums in the future.