Last Exit to Houston

Second Lovers Leap Past Americana With Rock Attitude

Second Lovers, The Docs House of Blues May 1, 2015

A plethora of groundbreaking local acts have risen to the surface in the past few years, with The Suffers anointed by David Letterman -- and now ACL Fest -- and Flcon Fcker performing a genre-bending set at Bonnaroo. On the other hand, some bands on the verge of greatness, namely Second Lovers, are in the process of rethinking their artistic trajectory.

Once blithely labeled Americana, they have become more than that neatly tucked label. In fact, after leaving House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room last Friday night, Second Lovers' outlook seemed even more uncertain with regards to their distinctiveness and character.

But before Second Lovers took the stage, The Docs sullied the stage with their cock-rock histrionics, rock-star tropes, and doleful stoner-rock attempts. Entering the Hot Tub Time Machine to venture into rock's glorious riff-heavy past, their Sabbath-fueled riffs and bluesy vocals inspired beer-swilling dance moves and high-pitched screams from the ladies in the crowd.

To be certain, the lead singer, who eerily resembled Dan Auberbach of the Black Keys, asked in between songs, "This song goes out to the ladies. Are there any ladies in the hoooouuussse?!" in an Axl Rose cicada-pitched scream. Naturally, the ladies obliged, responding to the predictable call-and-response crowd interaction made famous by the many bands The Docs have learned to mimic so well.

The best part of their set came at the very end, when they announced that they had only one song left, yet the crowd enjoyed the well-architected rock clichés. With their fans went the crowd, robbing themselves of the genuinely inspired heartfelt tunes from Second Lovers.

Light and shadows consume Second Lovers' approach to songwriting and performance. They are one of the few acts in Houston that possess the skill to dance a delicate balance between straight-ahead rockers and reflective ballads. But they are also a band in crisis, albeit a joyful one, because taking risks has its benefits.

Playing it safe during the first half of their performance, the band wasted no time launching directly into "Woo Woo," where it quickly became evident how much Second Lovers enjoy each other's presence onstage. Pure joy emanates from each of them; if anything, guitarist Thom Truver could easily provide vocals if Nic Morales and Chelsea Renee come down with a sudden case of laryngitis. Truver and John Maxwell sang the words to themselves, captured by the blissful enervation music often provides its creators.

On the other hand, once Morales announced that they were going to play new songs, the risk materialized. Largely departures from their notable Americana and Southern rock sound, "People Talk" blazed a new path for the band by screaming for a horn section, pulling up the tempo by its hair, and injecting a fury that marked uncharted territory for the band. More Replacements than Wilco, more Spoon than Son Volt, Second Lovers have embraced their inner rock attitude. Ultimately, the band seeks to please itself as much as it pleases themselves to serve the audience with delight.

A problem emerged from the new songs, though. Where does John Maxwell, the band's talented multi-instrumentalist, fit in this new schematic? Drummer Josh Hammonds and bassist Sean Spiller's locked-in approach to rhythm has strengthened the band's resolve. Morales and Renee's delicately sweet harmonies have improved and expanded their interwoven melodies. However, the banjo and mandolin sound out of place with their newer material, and "Hold On" evolved like a steady jam in progress, faintly reminiscent of the Afghan Whigs' latter-day soul-inspired songs.

At the end of the night, Second Lovers entreated the crowd to a sublime encore, performing "By the River," a post-hangover, "please God don't let me drink ever again" ballad. There is an esteemed loneliness in Morales' croon that compels an audience to find solace in his misery. Therein lies his gift -- the ability to communicate sadness using earnest means. Their closer, "Daydreamer," lifted the sad, mirthful veil and invigorated the remaining crowd to dance.

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Stephan Wyatt