Bang Bangz, A Sea Es, the Suffers Fitzgerald's March 23, 2013
There's nothing like a little sensory overload to liven up a Saturday night, eh, kids?
Houston trio Bang Bangz held their release party for new album Red City Saturday at Fitzgerald's, and I was blown away by the sheer madness of the night, and the unique sounds both the headliners and opening acts the Suffers and A Sea Es offered to the packed house.
Up first were the Suffers, with their soulful yet upbeat amalgam of jazz, reggae, and ska, and they are a force to be reckoned with. Comprised of current and former members of Los Skarnales, Lower Life Form and Heptic Skeptic, the Suffers were a band born with some bragging rights already under their belt, but they live up to the hype.
Despite being the first band to take the stage Saturday night, the Suffers held a captive audience rapt as they shimmied through a set full of some of the best live music I've heard in quite a while. Singer Kam Franklin's vocals are stunning; she isn't overwhelmed by the eight -- count 'em, eight -- backing instruments, nor is she too polished or poised.
She's the quintessential front lady: flirty, soulful and gleefully aware of how to rock those curves. I'm infinitely jealous of her abilities.
The sheer depth and force of Franklin's pipes was reason enough to indulge in the Suffers' sound, but when you add to it the instrumental mastery of the eight other musicians -- Pat Kelly on keyboard and percussion, Nick Zamora on drums, Jon Durbin on the trumpet, Michael Razo on the saxophone, Kevin Bernier on the guitar, Adam Castaneda on the bass, Jose "Chapi" Luna on percussion, and Alex Zamora on rhythm guitar -- the group creates absolute magic.
A Sea Es was next to take the stage. Looking back, I've found myself stumped as to how to define the group's sound, though -- there's so much intentional discord between the tempos, instruments, and the vocals that pinning down the true source of the sound can be a tedious process. Leader Austin Smith and his bandmates focus on heavily layering the instrumentation around an electro-indie-pop structure, and often leave the vocals as an afterthought.
There's a lack of continuity within ASE's sound that stems from the heavy-handed distortion and colliding, frenetic tempos. The collusion of such elements creates a discord that feels at times like an acid-tripped fever dream, if such a thing can exist. When it works, it's gravity-defying, but when it struggles, it's exhausting.
However, it's impossible to be bored when listening to Smith and his bandmates; their sheer amount of onstage activity is mesmerizing. Smith seemed to take great pride in the process of creating music onstage; he built the tempo of each number piece by piece, allowing for a voyeuristic experience as he recorded and looped each sound, preemptive to the others joining him.
Throngs of audience members were jammin' the fuck out to ASE's set; they've obviously got quite a following, despite their relatively recent birth as a band. Smith wailed and growled the lyrics, but I'll be damned if I can tell you what any of them were. It was way too difficult to hear them over the dizzying collision of distortion and instruments.
To the band's credit, as puzzled as I was about ASE's sound, it was a melodic Rubik's Cube that I wanted to conquer something fierce -- I just failed at that task miserably.
Bang Bangz, whose Red City release party was the cause for all this Fitz celebration, took the stage about midnight, amidst a packed house and some strange-ass black and white videos. (They were cool as hell; I just have no idea what they were.)
Bang Bangz, though, have a brooding, synth-heavy electro-pop sound that tends to be slightly seductive and nostalgic. There's tons of repetitious brooding from Mario Rodriguez and Elizabeth Salazar's vocals, but the melodic complementation of their vocals breaks up Vik Montemayor's soft drum lines, creating a sound that is quite captivating to the imagination.
As they began the set, it was pretty cool to see the juxtaposition of a simple trio compared to the earlier, much larger bands. With just the three of them onstage, Bang Bangz created a quiet, calming vibe that sucked me in from the start -- less sensory overload, more chilled-out journey to nowhere. That's the thing about Bang Bangz; I'm not sure exactly what journey they're selling me on, but I'll jump in for the ride.
It was apparent pretty early on that Salazar's vocals are the load-bearer for this project; Rodriguez brings more of a spoken-word type vibe; he tends to have a conversation with Salazar's lyrics, rather than falling into the same harmonious lines that one would expect. It works quite well on the album, but live the contradiction between the two vocalists can seem brash and unnatural at times.
The tracks seemed much stronger when Salazar carried the vocal weight. When Bang Bangz are onstage, her voice has an elasticity that Rodriguez's lacks; he's a complementation, but not necessarily the root of the sound.
As the Bangz played quite a few tracks off of the new album, I found myself zoning out into this strange world of swirling, calming, and yet slightly frightening sound -- but I think that's what was supposed to be happening. Each track rings eerily of the one before, creating this never-ending wall of sound that is only differentiated by the juxtaposed vocals. It's hard to tell where it ebbs and flows; everything is steeped in continuity.
I dig the spell that the Bangz cast, but it can become almost too repetitious at points, even when played out live. I had hoped that the repetition would find some sort of happy medium with the usual banter of live shows, but even with the playful interaction of Rodriguez and Salazar and the audience, the songs all bled one into the next. It can be slightly dulling to the senses, especially considering that it followed up a very confusing (yet totally interesting) performance by A Sea Es, with their growling and all.
It was still a great cohort of bands, even if I was a little lost on what the hell was happening throughout parts of the night. And I have high hopes fo Bang Bangz -- they have an eerie sound that is capable of dragging the listener out of his or her own personal safety net, and into the electronic underworld that they've dreamt up.
Personal Bias: I tend to like anything that sounds like it should be playing in the W hotel.
The Crowd: Young twentysomethin's and a lot -- a lot -- of couples.
Overheard In the Crowd: "She sure knows how to work those curves, girl!"
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Random Notebook Dump: I've decided the walls of Fitz bleed Lone Star, and often.