I arrived at the Bottom Lounge to one of the most pleasant surprises in my lengthy concert-going life. For months it had just been Sparta and Brazil on the posters and such for the show, and by the time the day of the show rolled around I assumed it was just them two, a more than awesome enough line-up. It turns out that they had managed to book Chicago's own The Ghost at the last minute, adding icing on an already tasty cake of a show.
So, as usual, and especially so considering they were just notified of the show hours earlier, the Ghost rocked. Their intensity and great songwriting wasn't lost on anyone; their sound is very much based on alternatingly subdued and harsh screams over melodic guitar, with brooding bass and driving drums behind it, but in a much more dynamic and enjoyable way than many of their emocore contemporaries. They sometimes remind me of Small Brown Bike in songwriting and performance, a huge compliment to anyone who knew their music. They also played a couple of songs off of their much-delayed second album (coming out June 1st), which sounds like it's going to be a worthy follow-up to This is a Hospital. One or two of the new songs sounded a little bit rough, but I figure they haven't been playing them too much since recording. Older songs like 'Diffuser' and 'They Came to See You' have never sounded better though. Either way, they rocked, and completed the trifecta of quality, underrated bands playing the show that night.
Next up was Brazil. I was initially introduced to their "At The Drive-In meets Yes" sound while seeing them open for Kissing Chaos at the fireside a year or two back, playing to about fifteen people. They played their hearts out at that show, and songs like 'Life/Death' came across awesomely live. They've still never quite matched that initial level of cohesiveness in all of the times I've seen them since, but they still put on a consistently good show. They have a fairly unique sound (as you can probably tell from that quote above), with a bit of splashy keyboard thrown in to distinguish them even further from any post-punk comparisons. In fact, the keyboard seems to be the basis from which each song is constructed, especially dictating the tone for each song (shall we rock? shall we roll?). Another standout feature is their vocalist Johnathon Newby - while he doesn't have the stage presence or vocal range of similar frontmen, he definitely thinks he does, which actually goes a long way in terms of intensity. It's hard not to appreciate someone screaming their heart out with such conviction. They played mostly new songs (they've just released their second album), about half of which were great (especially the faster ones, and their long, rockin' closer, the name of which I don't know), and half of which were...well, they weren't good live. I don't know how they'll come across on CD, but the tricky drum and vocal timing just couldn't be done justice so casually. Overall, they managed to disappoint again a little bit, but I'd still definitely recommend picking up their debut EP Dasein and possibly their new cd A Hostage And The Meaning of Life. You might like them a lot more live, but I feel that their recorded body of work represents them a lot better. Or more consistently, at the least.
Ah, Sparta. I was really happy to see them playing at a small venue again, especially after opening for the likes of Pearl Jam last summer. Yuck. I can't imagine them enjoying playing to such a huge audience; they seem like such an intimate band to me. Or at least, one that enjoys playing more intimate shows. Some clever idiots have come up with cute little phrases such as "The Mars Volta make At The Drive-In look like Sparta". Regardless of where they '"rank" amongst the three interrelated bands, that's really selling Sparta short. They are their own band, and they rock. A Lot. And that was very apparent last night. After a long set up, and some technical trouble during their first song (Jim, singing - "Cut your rib.....woahhh...*all the music fades out, cue laughter by the band and the audience*), they rocketed into a blistering set, over an hour of old favorites and new soon-to-be favorites. Their "wall of rock" on songs like 'Sans Cosm', 'Red Alibi', and 'Assemble the Empire' was totally intact, after I wrongly assumed they might be bored of playing the same songs for two years. But they tore into them with as much intensity and drive as ever, the crowd screaming every word. They also displayed the more intricate guitar work they are capable of in songs like 'Glasshouse Tarot' and 'Light Burns Clear'. And man, did their new songs OWN. After hearing some of these songs, their upcoming album Porcelain (sometime in July) has shot to the top of my albums to look forward to this year. As explained to the crowd, these new songs are mainly about their home city, El Paso, and all the emotions and responses it involves for them. And they come across as 'close to home' as you'd imagine, rocking as hard as they did on their last album, with even more at stake and even more personality coming through. They've made the songs even more varied, and, if possible, even more rock. Their closer, 'Air', was hotly anticipated all night, and consequently explosive in execution. It's unfortunate that next time I'll almost definitely be seeing them in somewhat larger venue again, but I'm grateful that they gave fans the chance to appreciate them face-to-face this time around. And appreciate them I did. Top notch set, top notch band.