Aaron Behrens and the Midnight Stroll Warehouse Live December 14, 2013
Side projects are far from a new thing. Actually if you think about it, a huge conglomerate of the bands we listen to are, or were originally, the side project of some other band. From Led Zeppelin and Cream, through Temple of the Dog and the Breeders, to Gorillaz and the Dead Weather, some of the best bands of our vast musical history come from other bands. Hell, even Skrillex is a side-project (of a post-hardcore group, at that).
Well, yet another guy with ideas that didn't fit into his original band put together yet another band and headed over to Warehouse Live for a scantily attended Saturday night showcase. Aaron Behrens, the newly shorn vocalist of ever-so-popular Austin dance group Ghostland Observatory, brought his new group of guys, The Midnight Stroll, to a Houston stage for the first time.
The show was nice and short, but what was packed into the 45 minutes the Stroll were onstage was an unexpected onslaught of incredibly fun and danceable indie-rock tunes. There has never been a question to what Behrens can bring to a live stage, and on this night he was undoubtedly front and center from start to finish. What was most surprising was that he seemed to be born to front this band.
Don't worry, Ghostland Observatory aren't going anywhere, but while they're taking a bit of time off, it's really cool to see Behrens putting his efforts into something so good and fitting to what he does best.
Behrens' love for and confidence in these songs was so high from the get-go that it brought an instant ease to the room despite the crowd's meager size. It was much more toned-down than what we've come to expect from Ghostland, but Behrens still brought the same exact amount of energy -- it was the perfect change of pace from the knob-twisting of Behrens' normal collaborator, Thomas Turner, and brought a smoothness to the music that you can't really get out of a synthesizer. They were soulful and on-point, and very Austin. Exactly what you'd expect Behrens' side project to be.
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The music was fun. It was that type of show that all ran together. Not because it was bad, but because you were so into what was going on that you didn't realize that the whole set just went by. I expected it to be sloppy and lacking depth in the material, but it was the complete opposite, more like Behrens had been holding onto these tunes for some time, not necessarily sure if they were right for his normal project, but finally, when GO decided to take a break, he busted them out from wherever he was hiding them. Boom. Polished and ready to go.
Behrens even escaped to his acoustic guitar for a song, one that found him more vulnerable than I've ever seen him. Usually shrouded in hats and braids, and with a wall of sound from Turner, it was a rare but satisfying change of pace to witness such a stripped-down side to the usually indefatigable front man.
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The only thing that GO helped this band with was giving Behrens a name so that such talented musicians would want to work with him. He was able to pick from a pool of Austin's best, which was evident in the set from start to finish. The Midnight Stroll are the hipper, funkier version of what Behrens has been already doing for quite some time, but this time with more instruments and swagger, and less bass and lasers.
Now, with just a handful of shows into their short life as a band, The Midnight Stroll seem as if they've been doing it together for years. That's the sign of a good side project -- one that you know is going to last. While they have some way to go before they really make a dent, their first "stroll" as a band has seemed to go pretty good so far.
Personal Bias: Ghostland Observatory have been closely associated with my music writing ever since I first started reviewing bands in 2007. They were the first band I covered on Breakfast On Tour, and I've written about and photographed them more times than I could count. It was only fitting that I'd review Behrens' first go-round on the solo trail.
Overheard In the Crowd: The bartender telling some guy at the bar next to me to get the fuck out as he was reaching across the bar trying to pour his own Bud Light. Literally right next to the bartender's face. It was so close to the bartender and so noticeable that I didn't think to say anything because I thought he was allowed to do what he was doing. Well, he wasn't, and after dropping his beer and splashing it all over the bar, the bartender finally noticed and grabbed two big security guards to give said guy the boot.
The Crowd: Very small for a Saturday night. The show wasn't really advertised that much, so I think that hurt. It was also rainy and cold as hell, so that probably didn't help either.
Random Notebook Dump: I finally had the chance to see Infinite Apaches, who were playing in the small Green Room right next door. I really dug that 60s/70s psychedelia thing they've got going on. I know they've been on the scene for quite some time now, so it's my bad for missing the bus for so long.
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