Sometimes, it seems like everything lines up. In one night you can have four respected musical acts, all still growing in popularity and all playing to hundreds of screaming fans in one historic venue. It's the kind of lineup that brings out kids from far and wide, even kids who don't normally go to shows. It's also the kind of lineup that can spell disaster for a nearby club hosting the Suburban Home Records Tour, featuring Mike Hale, Two Cow Garage and Austin Lucas. And, on a night when it might have been easier to phone it in to a half-full bar, these three artists crammed as much arena-sized rock as they could into those dingy walls and tiny stage.
Mike Hale kicked off the evening, as part of his current On Tour Until I'm Dead tour. I'll be the first to admit I'm not always the biggest fan of Hale. Much of his music sounds very similar to me and has been, on occasion, quite boring. However, it also seems very heartfelt and genuine, so I felt I owed it to him to watch his set, and I'm glad I did. It kicked off with Hale and Austin Lucas singing and playing together on a couple of numbers and their voices harmonized amazingly well together, Hale's low gruff crooning paired against Lucas' higher and more traditional vocals. After Lucas left the stage Hale proceeded to move smoothly through the rest of his set, only stopping on occasion to express gratitude to fellow musicians and everyone who came out and supports his music.
After Hale wrapped up it was time for Two Cow Garage to take the stage. Being the only full band on the tour I was interested to see how the audience and the band would react. My big concern is that Two Cow Garage might reel back their usually ruckus live show to better fit with the two acoustic acts. Luckily, this concern was quite unfounded. As the band started off with "Humble Narrator" it was clear that they were here to rock as hard as they could. Guitarist Micah Schnabel and bassist Shane Sweeney played each song like they were fighting the very stage they were on, bouncing, stomping, jumping and running into equipment and each other. The performance seemed like an odd mix of a religious tent show revival and a punk rock basement show. You could feel the energy come to a head during the bridge of "Folksinger's Heart," as the keyboard solo swept in and Schnabel hopped on one foot with one hand raised to the sky, as if to channel the holy spirit of rock. After Two Cow Garage finished their war with the stage, they announced they would be back to play a few songs with Austin Lucas.
Not one to waste time or opportunity, Lucas didn't even wait for Two Cow Garage to take off their gear before he hopped up on stage and started tuning up. Having seen Lucas at least a half-dozen times before, I knew he had a great show but was completely unprepared to see him with a backing band. Lucas and Two Cow Garage opened with a raging rendition of "Wash My Sins Away." With the band in full swing there wasn't a single moment of downtime during the entire song, seeming to move at a meteoric pace. Even slower songs like "Shoulders" benefited from the full band, expanding the atmosphere so the entire tone didn't need to be carried by Lucas alone. After Two Cow Garage stepped off the stage Lucas commented that it felt strange being on that stage all by himself and asked if it'd be okay if he finished his set in the crowd. Everyone eagerly agreed. From that point on it was a classic Austin Lucas set, where he can take a bar full of strangers and make it seem like you're singing along with your best friends in a living room. Lucas encouraged everyone to sing along, even though "there ain't no camp fire and this ain't fucking 'Kumbaya'." With everyone circled in close, Lucas played favorites like "Sun or Snow," requests like "Kith and Kin" and even played a brand new, yet-to-be-named song. Lucas closed out his set by declaring the last song was about smoking as he marched everyone out to the back patio of the venue so they could smoke, as he closed with "Man Alive," having everyone sing along for the chorus.
As the smoke dissipated and the bar full of people went their separate ways you could tell everyone involved felt the same. You don't need a big stage, fancy lights or a dozen guitars to make a live show memorable. You just need the heart and an unshakable love for what you do. Of course, being really good at what you do doesn't hurt.