Second Lovers at Fitzgeralds, 10/19/2013

Second Lovers, Emily Wolfe, Matt Harlan, Yello Echo Fitzgerald's October 19, 2013

Word around town is that the Second Lovers are a band on the rise, and the buzz is starting to pile up in a hurry. Rocks Off bossman Chris Gray wrote last week that the local folk-rock/Americana act is the best group to emerge from the Houston scene of late, which is some tremendously high praise given their competition. On Saturday night, the band headlined a free show downstairs at Fitz to celebrate the release of their new EP, New Mexico, and I figured it was high time to hear for myself just how much of the recent hype was justified.

A rule I try to follow pretty closely is that when there's a free show at Fitzgerald's, it's a good idea to go, and bring friends. Saturday's bill was the kind that could have had even the whiniest excuse-maker in your crew asking when the next gig will be. The first band up was Yello Echo, a bangin' local indie pop-rock group that made me wish I'd showed up on time to catch their entire set. Tardy as I was, I still caught their hard, mean cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and a slower, more plaintive original called "Another Road."

As drummer Chris Basset banged away behind her, front woman Crystal Toliver proved she's got one of the city's most powerful and magnetic sets of pipes. This trio is another interesting and eclectic local group to keep an ear out for, so don't sleep on 'em.

Next up was Matt Harlan, a wistful Hill Country type of dude whom we've spoken about in the past on this here blog. On Saturday, he brought a nice, big band with him, and when Harlan switched from his small-town acoustic to an jangling, big-city Fender, things really got cookin'.

Guitarist Corey Power provided the finest licks of the evening, and backup vocalist Rachel Jones gently harmonized on cuts that sounded like pure Texas. Harlan and company were a good fit for a Second Lovers show, and they played well enough to enough people that I imagine his first gig at Fitzgerald's won't be his last by a long shot.

Third on the bill was Austin exchange student Emily Wolfe, who arrived with a dense batch of gleaming electric pop. The keyboard player in her group provided some sweet harmonies for Wolfe's girlish voice on many of the songs' soft verses, but it was the surprising bursts of amplified power that bellowed out of Wolfe's gorgeous black hollowbody that really got my attention.

As she alternated that dreamy, cooing voice with muscular, ovaries-out rock riffs, it was hard not to get caught up in the pulsing keyboard lines and dynamic drumming. Affecting as the softer bits were, I thought Wolfe sounded best when she was banging hard on that axe; it should be interesting to see how that sound translates at the more stripped-down set she's got scheduled this weekend at MKT Bar.

As pleasing as all the bands had been, it was suddenly hard to remember that I'd come specifically to check out Second Lovers. When the headliners finally took the stage, it was with the unassuming posture of just another act on the bill, rather than the rising local stars that they're fast becoming. Once they lit up those amplifiers, though, no rock-star theatrics were necessary. These guys have songs.

Review continues on the next page.

It was clear right off the bat that guitarist/vocalist Nicolas Morales is one of Houston's major-league talents. His voice was impossibly dynamic, sounding as good at a whisper as it did at a wail. He packed plenty of punch in his red Epiphone, too, pumping out a lot more rock and roll volume than I expected from a group so indebted to Texas country and Americana (whatever that is).

"Hey, more banjo!" called out some card after their first tune concluded. The band smiled at that, but it was a fair request. John Maxwell's banjo and mandolin were often lost in the unbridled rock power of the band, which was ballsy enough to make the likes of Buxton cover their ears, I imagine. Maxwell got a chance to join in on the fury on the best song of the night, the rollicking "Whiskey Woman," which had the crowd whooping and hollering as the band went to town hard and fast.

Fans were just as spellbound by a couple of numbers that Morales played solo, though. It was the rare Houston gig where people shut up, put their phones away and were simply drawn in by a magnetic performance. When the full band cranked back up for the finale, the crowd eagerly obeyed Morales' bidding that they close in for a singalong, providing punky "whoa-oh-oh!" backup vocals to a sharp bit of indie-rock. There were big, toothy smiles everywhere, onstage and off.

Even the announcement that it would be bassist Matt Lopez's final performance with the group couldn't produce a frown. It was just too clear that Second Lovers is onto something, and they're not about to be stopped now. Check out their show at your earliest convenience -- even if, God forbid, you have to pay.

Personal Bias: Still smarting after UH's one-point loss at Reliant.

The Crowd: A jovial collection of indie music lovers.

Overheard in the Crowd: "This is not Ugg boots weather. There is no Ugg boots weather."

Random Notebook Dump: Second Lovers drummer Bryan Hoff makes some incredible, agonized faces as he plays. Fun to watch.


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