The Stage Frights, Ending the VIcious Cycle Numbers September 24, 2011
The Stage Frights are only on their fourth show, but between the husband and wife team of Larry Rainwater and Spleen there are decades of experience in goth musical excellence. Previously they've brought Houston two sensational deathrock acts, Ex-Voto and Ardour of Angels, and now their branching out into something very different.
The first notable divergence in the band is the movement of Larry and Spleen to more supporting roles as guitarist and bassist, respectively. They've relinquished their position as formidable front people to newcomer Jonny Splat on vocals as well as adding Barry Calnan on the drums and eschewing the programmed percussion that was the norm in previous incarnations.
The second change is that rock, more than goth, makes up the key component of the music.
Though the band as yet lacks the polished precision and presence of Ex-Voto, they do bring a new kind of frenetic energy and downright dirtiness to their performance. Splat is still a very green showman who sometimes seems to hesitate as if unsure if he has permission to own the stage, but the overall potential he exhibits is overwhelming. If he is cautious about claiming his kingdom, he at least doesn't hesitate to open the throttle on his vocals.
In fact, if we had to pin down a comparison we'd say that Splat has all the makings of an Axl Rose. Part of it is the skinny heat he's poured into his vinyl pants, but part of it is also being tuned into whatever cosmic force channels awesome rock and roll to us humble humans.
Rock is the real key here. Stage Frights aren't aiming for some desperate attempt to recreate a misremembered defining sub-branch of early goth. Instead, they have gone far back into the realm of Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper in order to approach the birth of goth with forward rather than reverse momentum.
Here they are helped by the solid band genius of Rainwater and Spleen. Both have taken their ancillary roles to heart, acting as black marble pedestals of beauty and craft for the throne of their singer to be erected upon. Their own incredible vocals shore up the rough places in the lyrics, Spleen's banshee wail and Rainwater's stormy baritone rounding out choruses like a damned choir.
For change-ups, Rainwater busted out some truly incredible guitar solos in most every song. A bassist by training, he only picked up the guitar a year ago and has already mastered the lost art of the rocking goth shred. The result is the best rock-based goth act since the Cult.
Unfortunately, we don't think that the audience was quite prepared for what they got. A prevalence of EBM acts and ethereal sets from Faith and the Muse over the last couple of years may have done some permanent damage to the goth scene's rock detector.
They were quick to applaud, appreciative and even warm, but the Stage Fright's stated goal of making drunk people dance didn't come to fruition. No worries, there'll be plenty of opportunities to reawaken the inner banger in all of us.
If there is any real flaw to the band, it's that whenever Rainwater and Spleen helm a new project they tend to write a brilliant song to start with... then fall in love with it so much they write it nine more times. It seems to take them a little bit to get comfortable enough to put together a more varied set like the last Ex-Voto album Antioch. We're hoping for a bit more variety in the future, and many more shows to sample it at.
After a brief interlude for the crowd to leave the safety of the dark risers and dance to the Banshees doing "Spellbound," Toby Rider and his band Ending the Vicious Cycle from Fort Worth charged.
Like Rainwater, Rider is a long time veteran of spooky music who cut his fangs in the LA scene back in the '80s and '90s. The comparison ends there, for the two bands are united by little more than shared instrumentation, impeccable fashion sense, and eyeliner.
Where the Stage Frights came at the audience with the rage and timidity of a first time rapist, EVC sought a more seductive path. It was not uncommon to watch Rider lose himself in his own fingerstyle guitar lines, only awakening to croon his choruses at the last second.
We wish there was a gothic prom so that EVC could play it. As we jotted down notes and bat doodles, we happened to notice that behind us every single girl in the club was dancing. All of them.
Every last one was writhing like their pants suddenly didn't fit terribly well in the crotch. As EVC progressed through "Ghosts" and "Scream," the apparently irresistible attraction the band exudes only grew. Frankly, it was a little frightening to watch.
Somewhere between the Stage Frights set and EVC taking the stage, the sound system went noticeably sour, robbing Rider of a great deal of his vocal tricks in the form of feedback as well as rooting the band firmly to whatever safe haven they could find that would not make that whining sound.
Nonetheless, they soldiered on with consummate professionalism, never breaking stride and step by step drawing the crowd closer and closer.
Shades of the Cure, touches of Bauhaus, and the occasionally Wayne Hussey-esque guitar line, EVC is somewhat of an archetypal goth band. Where those who have come before have blazed trails they have set up shop, improving the landscape as they go. What they lacked in the Stage Frights' black tar heroin kick they make up in refinement and elegance.
It's a softer approach, but an effective one that apparently dampened more black underwear than when Hurricane Ike compromised the roof of Erotic Cabaret.
Personal Bias: The chances of us not enjoying anything Rainwater and Spleen do were infinitesimal, and Rider's been too long at this game to not live up to expectations.
The Crowd: Good mix of young and old goth scenesters, along with a suprising number of normals.
Overheard In the Crowd: "He's mine!"
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Random Notebook Dump: Written conversation with the EVC fill-in bass player's girlfriend.
Rocks Off: Name --->?
Girlfriend: Sean Detra.
RO: Other band?
GF: None. DJ.
RO: DJ who sightreads bass music?
RO: Seen everything now.