Live Concert Reviews: Civil Twilight with Knox Hamilton at The Cutting Room 11/5/15 and Gina Chavez at The Bowery Electric 11/6/15
With JOVM being a (mostly) one-man operation things are often incredibly busy, and of course, frequently there never seems to be enough hours in the day to do everything that I want to do – or feel that I should be doing. After all, at some point we have to sleep, run errands, go to the bathroom and maybe even get laid . . In any case, much like a previous live concert review post, this particular post will go over a couple of shows I’ve attended and covered. There will be a few photos but for the most part, this post will be mostly text and similar to the site’s Northside Festival and New Music Seminar Festival coverage a few months ago.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2015: CIVIL TWILIGHT WITH KNOX HAMILTON at THE CUTTING ROOM
Over the years, I’ve somehow managed to catch a show or some other event at The Cutting Room a handful of times at their old location at the corner West 26th Street and 6th Avenue. And last month marked the first time that I had attended a show at The Cutting Room’s East 32nd Street and Park Avenue South location in about five or six years; in fact, the one previous time I was at the new location, I had caught the roguishly charming Edward Rogers, who was playing songs from a then-new release. Strangely, at the time the venue’s new location hadn’t been officially opened yet – nor had it actually been completed. Several sections of the unfinished room were blocked off by rope and dust covered tarp; in fact, I can still remember walking to an upstairs bathroom, near a roped-off section where a rail would eventually be, and thinking to myself “Oh shit. Why did I drink so much? And I really need to be careful. Holy shit, I really need to be careful.” And although it took me some five or six years to see it, I was impressed to see the finished product when I was at The Cutting Room last month to catch the Cape Town, South Africa-born indie pop sensations Civil Twilight and the Little Rock, AR-based trio Knox Hamilton.
Comprised of Boots Copeland, Cobo Copeland and Drew Buffington, Little Rock, AR-based trio Knox Hamilton have been touring to support their debut EP How’s Your Mind, an effort that pairs what they’ve described on their Facebook fan page as “laid back guitar riffs and catchy bass lines with rhythmic drum beats and soaring vocals to produce a sound that’s as likely to make you visit the beach as it is to move your feet.” And although their material was meant to be rousingly anthemic in the lines of early U2 and Foo Fighters and others, their material lacked discernable or memorable hooks, which made their material feel unfocused and meandering. Worse yet, the material was emotionally superficial, lacked any real emotional depth and was predictable. EP track “Set It On Fire” pairs 80s-inspired cascading synths, angular bass chords and buzzing guitar chords with some dreadfully clichéd lyrics about falling in love that I’ve heard in some time. “Rightfully So” is probably the most overtly danceable songs they played as the song managed to sound as though it drew influence from St. Lucia and Haerts – but sadly, it lacked their swooning Romanticism and without a great hook, it turned what could have been a decent song into a massive misfire.
As I’ve often said to friends and associates, as well as on this blog, it’s one thing to be bad; after all, even having the delusion that you have talent, have something to say and getting up on a stage in front of people, is a stupid but admirable bravery. However, being boring is a mortal sin because time is a precious commodity – and there’s nothing worse than wasting time on something that won’t be remotely memorable. It’s a shame because the guys in the band seemed so incredibly likeable.
Civil Twilight, an indie rock quartet that formed in Cape Town, South Africa and currently based in Nashville, TN, and the band is comprised of brothers Andrew (guitar) and Steven McKeller (bass, lead vocals and keys), Richard Wouters (drums and percussion) and Kevin Dailey (keyboards and backing vocals). Initially, the band began as a trio whose sound was influenced by The Police, early U2, Muse, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead and their material still manages to sound as though it were influenced by those same groups. We’re talking about soaring, anthemic hooks, earnestly, heartfelt and plaintive vocals, guitars played through reverb, cascading synths when necessary but with the brooding atmospherics of The Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree-era U2 with a subtle yet noticeable amount of shoegaze thrown in. It’s a familiar formula – but when done with such earnestness is a winning formula at that. However, to be fair their material stuck so much to that formula that their set felt much like they were covering U2.
Interestingly, the sixth song of their set reminded me quite a bit of Milagres’ fantastic Violent Light – in particular, “Terrifying Sea” and “Column of Streetlight,” and it was probably the most impressive song of the set; to me it showed that the members of the band had some serious chops when they were expanding upon a familiar formula, while possessing a complex and nuanced emotions. Frustratingly, that song was followed by a piano-based, slow-burning ballad that sounded as though they were cribbing off Coldplay –and sadly, it felt like a drastic misfire. Not only was that particular song kind of dull and longwinded, it struck me as being jarringly insincere. Although the set was a bit of a mixed bag based around extremely familiar material, it wasn’t the most terrible thing I’ve seen – and at the very least I was impressed by the band’s tight, jazz-inspired musicianship.
(Photo Caption: Civil Twilight performing at The Cutting Room last month)
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2015: GINA CHAVEZ at THE BOWERY ELECTRIC
The following night, my dear friend C and I were at The Bowery Electric to catch the Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter Gina Chavez. Now if you’ve been frequenting JOVM for some time, you may recall that I’ve written about her a couple of times over the years. Her sophomore effort, up.rooted, which features collaborations with Adrian Quesada, the incredible Grupo Fantasma horn section and a number of Austin-based musicians is, as Chavez has explained in interviews “a rhythmic exploration of who I am” – “a sonic garden of stories from an ethnically mixed woman on a journey to uncover her lost Latin roots.”
Chavez, who is of Mexican and Swiss-German descent, grew up listening to Lyle Lovett, Little Richard, Michael Jackson and other artists that a typical Texan teen would have listened to at the time. Interestingly, according to press notes, Chavez’s musical and personal journey back to her Latin roots was largely influenced and informed by her hometown’s Continental Club, a semester abroad in Buenos Aires, and her continuing work with young, at-risk girls and women in El Salvador. Indeed, the material she played during her set felt like a whirlwind tour of the contemporary sounds of Latin America as the songs draw from cumbia, bossa nova, pop, reggaeton and folk with a winning mix of pluck, charm, humor, sultriness and passion.
“Fire Water,” the set’s second song was a perfect display for Chavez’s effortlessly soulful and seductive vocals paired with a sinuous bass line and blasts of keyboard keys in a song that draws from contemporary American pop and blues, as much as it does from salsa – and is arguably one of the sexiest songs on up.rooted. But by the song’s third set, “Siete-D,” a cumbia-based song that possesses a Walt Whitman-like sense of awe and wonder at the narrator’s immediate surroundings and a soaring, anthemic hook, Chavez had captured the full attention of the crowd. It also helped that she led a boisterous call and response chorus based on what bus drivers used to yell to their passengers as they were about to get on the bus — “Sube!” Adding a necessary playfulness, Chavez mimicked a trumpet during the trumpet solo as she did during her NPR Tiny Desk Session. Later in the set, Chavez played “Miles de Millas,’ a bilingual and breezy cumbia that focuses on a long distance love affair with a urgent and combustible passion, as the narrator tells her love, that she can’t wait to touch, kiss and embrace them after so much time apart. Watching three couples dancing to the song was a swoon-worthy moment.
Throughout Chavez’s set, the songs are clearly crafted but live they feel so dynamic that they felt as though Chavez and her band were jamming during someone’s party. And it actually led to a set that went by so quickly that it somehow felt disappointingly short yet absolutely satisfying.