Thursday, June 24, 2010

Concert Review: Abel and some others

By Nick
In my town there is a serious deficit of musical entertainment. Besides the symphony orchestra, (which only plays that longhair roundmouth music, and doesn't play during the summer), the music venues mostly tend to be sleazy bars that book third rate country singers and rock bands whose claim to fame was that the singer of some eighties hair band was briefly a member before he went on to join [Insert Famous Eighties Hair Band Here]. However, for those of us who don't want to go see bands with names like Tragikly White or The Rednek Groov Team, there is hope. There is a Christian homeless ministry based downtown called I Love Evelyn, which is sort of a Jesus People outfit, albeit without incense, beads, or Keith Green. The way that this group raises money and "awareness", is through holding concerts featuring different Christian rock bands and local musicians who don't want to play "Pour Some Sugar On Me". This simultaneously helps solve Texarkana's homeless problem, and its lack of musical entertainment. Sort of.
I Love Evelyn concerts also have another good thing going for them-you get to see Texarkana's weird crowd come out of the woodwork. Whereas in a big city these circus-esque folk would be more ubiquitous, here in Texarkana it is rare for me to see them, probably because they never go to Wal-Mart. If you see anyone who doesn't have long hair, piercings, tatoos, blue hair, skinny jeans, or expensive looking clothes, it's probably either me or a musician's parent. I felt the same way at the House of Heroes concert that I went to last year. I think I'm too normal for this kind of music.

The first band, and the main reason I came, was Israel and For Dreams Alike. I have a personal motive in this, having been friends with Israel in junior high. I had seen him play an acoustic set opening for The Glorious Unseen (Better unseen.), but I had never seen a full band performance. He did not disappoint...much. After one of those super-long soundchecks, Israel and the band started off with one of those soaring power-chord drenched Coldplay-type songs. Only this was better than Coldplay or any similar arena rock, and (dare I say it?), almost as good as U2. OK, maybe not that good, but still. He played a song with a cool harmonics intro, incorporated one of the arias from Carmen into another, and incorporates tempo changes and stuff.

I have to give the downside though. This is musiccriticism, after all. I could not hear the vocals on most of the songs. I guess that's a given for small venues and this kind of music, but I like to hear the vocals and understand the words. Secondly, and more importantly, all of his songs seemed to drag on in the sort of slower arena rock way. His first song was decent enough, but it seemed to go on and on and on, and it wasn't the sort of fast driving song that you want to get audiences interested. All his songs seemed to have about the same beat, a flaw which seems to infect most Christian music, and there was almost no syncopation. I mean, isn't that what makes it rock?
The biggest flaw, though, was not in the band, but the audience. Through the whole set, and all of the rest of the bands, they either sat on picnic tables, or leaned up against the wall, and just blankly stared at the stage. That's it. There was no sort of enthusiasm whatsoever. It was not just this concert either. When I went to see House of Heroes there were people standing three feet away from the stage either stock-still or texting people on their phones. Is the Christian Rock community made up entirely of Baptists? I doubt it. So why doesn't anyone dance, clap, sway, hold up a lighter, smile, or anything else? This might answer the question: Then again it may not. Still, the site of people at a rock concert sitting still and staring glumly like it was the London Symphony Orchestra made me mad. Especially, because I'm a rhythmic guy, and I want to clap my hands, tap my feet, bang my head, etc., when I'm at a concert. Since no one else was doing anything remotely close to this, I felt like I would be drawing undue attention to myself if I busted out some sweet moves. So I didn't.

And I promise you, the bass player wearing the headband is not gay.
Israel's set ended and most of the teenage girls left, which was disapointing. The next band on tap was She's The Antagonist, which was a one man show featuring some guy on the guitar. First, I'll give the upsides. During this guy's entire set I sat at the same table as the guys in the headliner band. This was cool. The one musician who comprises She's The Antagonist, Keith Tubbs, is a pretty good acoustic guitar picker, and seems like a nice guy, so I don't mean to attack him personally, just musically.
To be honest, though, just seeing this guy made me mad. I felt like going onstage and beating him up. He was very small and pale to begin, and his large mess of hair (I imagine his mom calling it a "rat's nest") didn't help. Plus he was wearing some Daisy Dukes. Please, if you're a guy, dress in such a way that I can tell you're a guy if I see you from behind.
And then he started to sing. This guy's voice was simply awful. It sounded like Mushmouth mixed with a kid on crack. Bob Dylan could run circles around this guy. His modulation was terrible. Fans may say that he is "experimental", but I've heard two year olds experimenting with a pot and a wooden spoon. Doesn't mean it's good to listen to. Lyrically, he seemed to want to cram everything he could into a song. It sounded like the most pretentious Bob Dylan song to the nth power. The guy's lyrics seemed to betray a snarky and holier-than-thou. Most of his songs came back to the theme of "I'm an artist and no one understands me. People say they don't like my songs, but that's just because they don't listen to them." No, brother, people don't like your songs because they are awful. Play stuff like "Folsom Prison Blues" that people can understand and then they will like your music.
Many of the songs were also disturbing.Every song seems to be about death (and not in a Holy Sonnet X kind of way), and much of the theological content was creepy and unbiblical sounding. An example of this would be the one where in the song God says something to the effect of "I put you here, but then I'm going to leave you, but I'll come back when you die." I could (and probably will) do an expose' on Christian emo/alternative rock theology, much of which is weird, unsound, and depressing. And when I wasn't hearing depressing, wacked-out theology or meditations on death, I heard just plain lyrical tripe.You can't out-do songs with lines like "A grizzly bear walked up the stairs", (This guy must have a rhyming dictionary by his bedside) and "The President sits in his chair while homeless men die" (Last time I checked it wasn't the president's job to take care of homeless people, but obviously I know less than "the artist").
"I feel like puking!" he sung halfway through his performance, and I wanted to shout "So do I!" However, politeness prevented me.
His set lasted way too long, which probably led to Abel's set seeming kind of short. However, to his credit, he was a good guitar picker and a nice guy, and would probably be a good backup guitarist for some other singer. A solo career would not be good for him, or for the world's ears, unless there's some major change in his style.

Hey, but at least he's enthusiastic, which is more than I can say for the crowd.
After that execrable, and overly long performance from She's The Antagonist, which to be honest was the closest that music has ever gotten to causing me physical pain, (Maybe it's an emo wrist-slitting thing: Pain Music.),the headliner band, Abel, a group from NYC, took the stage. They were also sort of an arena rock band. (the buzzword for this is ambient.) Their sound was similar to Mutemath, although not close enough to be called copycat.They had more guitar solos than Mutemath, and their lyrics were more explicitly Christian, but Mutemath is the closest comparison. Other than one song where it seemed like they were getting off,(and I couldn't tell if that was on purpose or not), the musicianship seemed solid, the vocals were good, and the bass player was really getting into it. I found out after the concert that he usually has a mic, but since he didn't have one that night he just sang without one.

The group was good, but they weren't that good. Now don't get me wrong: they had some nice songs, and I bought their EP and T-shirt, but they don't seem to have anything special that set them apart from the pack of U2/Coldplay style Christian music, other than the fact that they were in Texarkana that night. I would have also hoped for some better onstage presence. The singer didn't talk much, mainly just saying "Thanks" after every song, and some band interaction would have made it seem much more real and nice. Good bands play, great bands steal the show. However, I shouldn't be too harsh on them, as they are a new band, and I haven't listened to their EP yet. Perhaps they are better in studio than onstage.

After Abel's set (of which I remember very little-it all sounded very similar.), The Ember Days, a supposedly amazing worship band, was supposed to play, but they weren't there. The story was that their bus had broken down. I personally think that they were really abducted by aliens, but that's just my theory. It was already late when they were supposed to play anyway, thanks to She's The Antagonist's mind-bogglingly long set, so I wasn't too disappointed. I talked with the singer from Abel, bought a CD, (which I will review later), and a T-shirt, and went home.

Summary: Israel and For Dreams Alike's set was the best of all (I've thought that both times I've seen him.) It must have been really disappointing to the other bands to see the first act draw the largest crowds. She's The Antagonist was horrendous, begging your pardon, Abel was good arena rock, and The Ember Days didn't even show up, so the best I can say was that they weren't bad. House of Heroes is coming to Texarkana July 11, so I'll probably be going to another I Love Evelyn Concert soon. I'll remember to dye my hair blue and put an earring in my tongue so I won't feel weird.


  1. Wow! This is so cool! You're awesome man! Thank you so much! Great critisism and insight!

  2. I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon your blog, but I agree with everything you say. The music scene here is dead. Bands want to play, and there is nowhere to play. Great reviews, a little too honest, but great reviews nonetheless :)

  3. @ Zachshallburn: Quite Right, the music scene here is dead. Part of what is the problem is lack of interest-although there are plenty of cool indie-type bands, there aren't enough people who like that kind of music. There need to be some bands who can appeal both to indies and maybe to a sort of adult alternative, i.e. Matchbox 20/Pearl Jam/etc. audience. This could be a start. Too Honest? Well, I try not to be rude or anything, but I believe that honesty is better than flattery. Whatever doesn't kill you makes your stronger.