If Greek Bacchanalian festivals existed today, delirious dancing would be performed by stark raving madmen and women filled with MDMA instead of wine, listening to the clanging of beats and displaced rhythms, replacing the terrifying ancient custom of uprooting large trees with celebratory joy. Today's partakers of Dionysian worship display their reverence passively, clapping their hands and bobbing their heads.
Moments of overstimulation and elements of gaudiness coupled with pure unadulterated joy lined Thursday night's show at Fitzgerald's, featuring Austin's scintillating Sphynx, Houston musical auteurs Children of Pop, and L.A.'s TV Girl. Madness ensued, in a good way, generating joy felt by all those who welcomed it.
The evening's DJ, Josiah Gabriel, filled Fitzgerald's downstairs with Father's "Look at Wrist" remix. Having too much fun interspersing a variety of trap music between sets, he began the night with Shy Glizzy's sublime "So Awesome." His fine taste in trap set the tone for the evening's nearly unpredictable events. Heads bobbed before the finest interruption occurred.
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Sphynx owned the stage with a hybrid of the finest elements of rock and roll history, from disco to New Wave and '80s hair-rock to '00s post-punk revival. Hair-band histrionics were performed with near-choreographed precision, as the band ran in place in unison, kicked the air like they had a problem with it, and headbanged away with their hair spinning like a wobbly ceiling fan.
The self-described "Two Freddy Mercurys and also Phil Collins," seduced the crowd with brilliant new material, Sphynx standards, and two covers that nearly tore the roof off of Fitz's. Who covers The Outfield's "Your Love" in 2015? Sphynx does, and killed it in a way that made the song officially theirs. The drummer accented the beats, reminding the crowd that collective nostalgia is a narcotic worth taking in moderation. (A "Caught Up In You" cover, gentlemen?)
Transporting nearly ten years into the future, Sphynx performed a cover that takes immeasurable testicular fortitude to pull off. The riff emerged, and the crowd shed its cynical skin when the opening riff of "What Is Love (Baby Don't Hurt Me)" became recognized by the crowd. Both Freddy Mercurys shared vocal duties the entire night, but their execution of Haddaway's often-mocked club anthem demonstrated how far the band has come in just the last few years.
They ended the night using a tried and true cliché abandoned by intellectual indie rockers these days: the endless finale. Where the focus centered on the Freddy Mercurys that evening, Phil Collins briefly stole the spotlight with drum fills that made John Bonham nod with approval from rock and roll's Elysium.
Children of Pop's Chase DeMaster needs to be cloned. In an era where multitasking equals survival, he interfaced with his compositions alone, modifying his vocals, savaging his guitar, and conducting from one song to the next without missing a beat. Recently returned from their brief tour in support of their second pressing of the Pre-Madonna EP, he surprised the crowd with extraordinary new compositions blended together with his finest songs to date.
Children of Pop's compositions are deceptively simple to the untrained ear. Moreover, his jazz-influenced guitar playing, echoing shades of Wes Montgomery and George Benson, accents many of his songs. A true appreciation or knowledge of jazz's treasured history is not required to enjoy Children of Pop's music. But his homage to his many heroes gives his songs a sophistication lacking in much of electronic music's body of work.
Demaster ended the night with 2014's best song, "Jealous Lover," a perfect pop song in a time when perfect pop songs are nearly impossible to create. A moving piece, it reveals an element of his character: humility. Not only is he (possibly) one of Houston's best songwriters, but he is definitely one of Houston's music scene's good guys.
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TV Girl brought the night's bacchanalian festivities to a close with a heavy emphasis on new album French Exit, which offered a glance at how their sound has evolved significantly from their first EP. According to Brad Petering, one of TV Girl's primary songwriters, the difference is that Trung Ngo used to sing the bulk of the songs despite the fact that Petering was writing them.
Being forced to sing, Petering became a better singer out of necessity. Earlier, he stated to me in an email interview, "I feel like the emotional range and complexity of the lyrics have expanded since the start. And [I am] better at making beats, or at least the beats have gotten more idiosyncratic."
The difference between TV Girl's recorded material and their live shows is simple: raw energy. The songs have life breathed into them, freeing them from the constriction of programming and sampling's limitations. The band's best track, and best live track, "Daughter of a Cop," contains a sardonic narrative that matches its succinct samples. The crowd responded to the song in the same way they did to Sphynx's retro covers and Children of Pop's "Jealous Lover": enthusiastically.
The show climaxed with the band revisiting some of its earlier material. Like middle-school preteen kids wearing gaudily mismatched clothes but bearing charismatic personalities, the night's anachronisms were easily overlooked because of the bands' near-perfect performances.
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