My good friend Fat Nick and I made a three-hour drive last Friday to see three amazing acts perform: Fifth Hour Hero (on their last tour before breaking up,) Tim Barry and his backing band, and Smoke or Fire.
Fifth Hour Hero sound checked and immediately opened their set with "My Sympathies" from their most recent, and in my opinion, best record, Not Revenge...Just a Vicious Crush. If you don't own this release, or any of their others, you should be ashamed of yourself, and should immediately click over to No Idea Records' website, and buy them! Aside from a few songs they stuck pretty much to material from the aforementioned album. The band members were laughing and joking the entire set, and it was nice to be able to watch this band go out on a good note. I'll certainly miss them; I'm just glad I got to see them one last time. The set was quite energetic, despite the low temperature of the room thanks to what seemed to be a near-total lack of heating.
Tim Barry was up next, and was definitely the set I looked forward to the most. From the time he self-released a demo in 2005, I was completely hooked on Mr. Barry's storytelling style of songwriting. I grew up with a family friend around who loved Johnny Cash, and subsequently, as he was around quite a bit, I started listening to The Man In Black from an early age. The way Tim Barry delivers his songs is eerily similar to Mr. Cash. That's a bold statement to make, comparing the singer of a punk band gone country solo to the legend of Johnny Cash, but I do think it's a fair one to make. With a backing band comprised of friends and family members (Tim's sister Caitlin plays the violin live), he seems just as at ease in this type of setting as he does at an Avail show. The set list was rounded out nicely with a varied selection of songs from both his self-released demo (later re-issued by Dancing in the Dark Records as Laurel St. Demo 2005), and his 2006 Suburban Home Records release Rivanna Junction. The crowd reaction to some of these songs was impressive, to say the least.
Smoke or Fire's new record, This Sinking Ship is far heavier on melody than its predecessor was. In a live setting, these songs were delivered with the same fervor as any of the band's previous material. The band bounced back and forth between tracks from both records without missing a beat, and the crowd in the Punxsatawney Community Center matched the band's intensity throughout their set. This was not the best set I've ever seen the band play, but even just a "good" set from Smoke or Fire tends to be more energetic and fun than some bands playing at their peak. Another set of live Smoke or Fire jams in the can -- here's to many more.