Futurebirds Fitzgerald's August 2, 2013
Friday night, Athens, Georgia-based alt-country rockers Futurebirds made their way to a crowded Fitzgerald's for a rambunctious showcase of their tunes. The Washington Avenue crowd found itself a bit north of its normal destinations, as people crowded the upstairs venue with their collared shirts and heavily perfumed girlfriends.
Upon arrival, opening band Diarrhea Planet was just finishing their set, with their guitarist shredding his last few notes in the middle of the growing crowd on the floor. It sounded fun, and from what I was told before they're a band not to be missed, but due to prior engagements photographing Courtney Love, I was unable to catch the majority of their set.
While the posted start time of 10 p.m. was more of a guideline -- Futurebirds actually didn't get started until a quarter til 11 -- the bartenders surely didn't seem to mind, as their tip jars were being stuffed at a regular rate. I'm not really sure when Futurebirds became so popular, but they had no problem selling tickets to this show. There must have been a memo passed around the offices of BP or something like that, because the business-casual crowd was out in full force.
The band came on in a fury. Guitars were certainly the theme of the show -- at any given time they had three or four layered over each other. Their songs are more on the country side of indie-alt, but they really seem to shine when they reach almost jam-band territory, hitting highs that I've only seen bands like My Morning Jacket reach.
In fact they did remind me a whole lot of MMJ; one of the guys even looked eerily similar to Jim James. When they slowed things down though, their sound differed from the Louisville rockers and sounded more like their hometown brothers the Drive-By Truckers.
The crowd kind of killed the mood at times, specifically when Futurebirds brought down the tempo of the show. I'm not sure if the majority of the patrons were there to see live music, or because their friends were there for the show, but whatever their motive was, it surely wasn't to pay attention.
I think the band just decided to scrap the slower songs halfway through in favor of the fast-paced, energetic ones because of how loud and chatty the crowd was. It's kind of a bummer that a band has to do that, but in the long run it made for a better, much rowdier show. They somewhat forced everyone to be into it by the end of the show, just due to the sheer energy of their set.
Not that it took much forcing, specifically for any true fan of the band. They never faltered on a single song, and were the picture-perfect example of how a band should behave on any given night with any type of crowd they're dealt. Each member added so much to the band's overall sound, and the way their their different vocal styles mixed added a whole new layer to what Futurebirds offered instrumentally.
The set focused primarily on their newer material from Baba Yaga, a record that has been getting quite a bit of positive press ever since its release earlier in the year. It came across quite well live, but the majority of the crowd was there to hear earlier, already-digested tunes from years past. My favorite of the night was a completely original take on Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart" that could have easily passed for one of their own songs.
It's exciting to catch a band like Futurebirds in this phase of their career. They've clearly made it out of their hometown, and have gained notoriety in a nationwide sense, but still have many rungs on the ladder to climb. It helps that they're from such a well-respected music community such as Athens, and have had the ability to work and tour with many of their influences like Widespread Panic and R.E.M. just because of where their roots lie. They've had several years now to hone their sound, and that comes off loud and clear, especially live.
I'm looking forward to the next couple of years for Futurebirds, as I can see their climb going forever higher. I have a feeling that their past influences will soon be their future contemporaries. As long as they keep releasing quality studio work, and go full-steam on the touring circuit like they have, they'll have no problem filling larger rooms not too much further down the line.
Personal Bias: I fell in love with Futurebirds a few years ago after a showcase at a tiny venue during SXSW. I've been following them ever since.
The Crowd: Washington Avenue meets the University of Georgia with a touch of Montrose sprinkled in for good measure.
Overheard In the Crowd: "They look a little bit more homeless that they did the last time."
Random Notebook Dump: There are so many of those swoop haircuts here. Also, shut the fuck up and enjoy the show.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.