The Black and White Years, BLSHS Fitzgerald's January 31, 2014
They say in the business that it's all about who you know, and that couldn't have been truer for Austin art-rockers The Black and White Years. One day you're playing a sparsely attended gig in your hometown and some stranger walks in to give your band a listen. The next thing you know you're sitting at famed Talking Head and Modern Lover Jerry Harrison's house, putting together the songs that will eventually become your first record.
Two albums and several years deeper into their career, The Black and White Years are still working on finding their spot in the musical world, and it's a surprise that they haven't hit it big on a national scale. They have the voice, the songs and the swagger to really take them to that next level, yet a lack of touring and production over the last few years have somewhat held them back. Now, though, a week removed from the release of their latest record, Strange Figurines, it seems like the group has re-energized, gained focus and is ready to take on 2014.
And they have the ability to do just that. The new record has the songs to send them to that next Coachella/Bonnaroo/ACL level, which feels like it's not far from happening. They're going to be Austin's newest comeback story, and with a guaranteed-successful SXSW approaching, their name will start showing up on bigger and bigger marquees throughout the country. If their performance Friday night was any sign of things to come, these young lads have a bright future.
The energy was buzzing throughout the room from the get-go, which was noticeable during the standout opening set by local rookies BLSHS. An indie group that has only been doing their thing for the better part of a year, BLSHS are well worth the trip out the next time they play. Even after just a short time together, they look and sound like a band that has been performing together for quite some time. Michelle Miears' vocal chops over the synthy goodness of Rick Carruth and Chris Gore are the live, in-person translation of 808s and heartbreak, topped off by a whole bunch of dancey goodness.
The room wasn't as busy as a Friday night at Fitz could have been, yet it had just enough people in the room to raise a ruckus and drown out the punk/metal show rattling the ceiling above our heads. With three albums and a handful of EPs under their belt, The Black and White Years had plenty to choose from, but the songs from Strange Figurines were the real burners. Not only are the tunes good, but the band just seemed to really enjoy being on that stage performing them for a new audience.
Their influences are pretty noticeable in their music, drawing from several classic '80s pop and New Wave groups like Harrison's Talking Heads, the Cure and Pet Shop Boys and newer electronic dance groups like Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem and !!!. Mustachioed front man Scott Butler's voice is perfect for the dance-rock genre, and the rest of the band are no slouches either -- each of them has been recognized numerous times at the annual Austin Music Awards during SXSW.
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Friday's performance was pretty spot-on. They kept the crowd moving from start to finish with songs pulled from their entire discography. "Zeroes and Ones," "To Modern Science" and the new tune "Little One" were the set highlights if I had to pick just three -- but truly, the entire performance was pretty great.
I'm not sure what has kept The Black and White Years from truly building their reputation on a national scale, even with the extended hand of Jerry Harrison and being named Austin's best new band back in 2008. It seemed like they almost took a break, whether it was to record their new album or for some other reason, but it seems like they've finally changed paths and are ready to start afresh.
Personal Bias: I first caught The Black and White Years at Utopia Fest in 2011 when they blew me away with a show-stopping late-afternoon set. They literally pulled me out of my seat at my campsite and forced me to walk down to the stage during dinner. Well worth eating a cold burger an hour later.
The Crowd: True fans of the band, friends from the past and a couple newbies who walked away with a new favorite band.
Overheard In the Crowd: "That bassist looks like Jesse Eisenberg" said someone who was thinking the same thing as everyone. Or just me. But really, he did look like Jesse Eisenberg.
Random Notebook Dump: After taking most of December and January off from live music, it's nice to be back in the game. Here's to a busy spring!
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