Who needs a national headliner, anyway?

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(grainy) photo of Geri X, by Julie Garisto (some more amateur pics at the bottom)

Geri X’s CD release party, with Will Quinlan and the Diviners; Have Gun, Will Travel; and the Beauvilles offered bay area music lovers the real deal concert experience without the Ticketmaster prices and Steroid buffoons in yellow shirts.

Getting out to the show was a challenge. I had been ill for some five weeks with a nasty bout of bronchitis. I was very ill at Christmastime and relapsed after New Year’s.

I’ve hesitated to go out for a big night out since the beginning of December — just little bits here and there.

Once I arrived at the State show I was glad I went. I felt a warm, friendly vibe — as comforting as chamomile tea.  My friend who met me there showed up late and I didn’t care.

The crowd wasn’t scene-heavy at all. The lobby and theater were filled with people all ages. You see, I hang with the Tampa folks and the St. Pete folks, and from what I saw, there was a distillation of both, plus a hundred or more faces I’ve never seen before. I saw 18-year-olds MySpacing on their phone during the Beauvilles show. I saw 50-ish dudes in baseball caps you’d usually bump into at Hooters. 

Creative Loafing editor/writer and former colleague Eric Snider greeted me with a smile at the bar and was thrilled at the turnout. He had gone out on a limb to write a cover story on Geri X. Cover stories on local musicians are virtually unheard of in the newspaper biz. Unless someone’s been maimed, has a rare terminal disease, got signed or is headlining the Warped Tour, it’s difficult to get the green light on an in-depth feature, let alone a cover feature, of local music artists.

It’s really a misconception that people are not curious about local musicians. I think if anything, people want to know who the celebrities are in their own back yards, so they can point them out in restaurants and tell their friends they met them.

Anyway, back to show.

All four acts were superstars, in my book. They played their hearts out, conducted themselves professionally and were just a few minutes behind schedule, a miracle of time management at local music gigs, an observation of Snider’s, too, in his Creative Loafing blog.

Will Quinlan opened the show with his haunting roots-rock ballads and rockers.  His ensemble’s subtle patchwork of rock instruments and old-fashioned strings filled the space with soulfully intricate and passionate folk rock. Quinlan poured a lot of soul searching and heartbreak into his current CD, Navasota. Partially for this reason, his performances of the album’s tunes have resonated more passionately and honestly than in past instances I’ve seen him.

The sound was killer.  Come to think of it, “sound” and “killer” are two words I don’t normally use in a sentence when referring to the State. Cheers to the new ownership. 

The setup did justice to Quinlan on acoustic & electric guitars, harmonica and lead vocals; Scott Anderson’s swoon-worthy lap steel and electric accompaniments; former Sugar Oak Soraya Zaumeyer’s pretty harmonies and keyboards;  Brian Lane’s infectiously thumping upright bass; and Jesse Martin’s meaty beats.

Didn’t spot Diviner Alex Spoto, also of Roppongi’s Ace, on fiddle. Turns out his clutch gave out on the way to the show. Damn.

Beauvilles brought a different appeal but were equally stunning. The shiny light show, from white to black to soft colors, succinctly showcased the band’s big rock presence.

Their rock was voluminous and powerful. If I could encapsulate the Beauvilles sound, it’s what Coldplay would sound like if they didn’t put me to sleep. Let’s just say it’s Coldplay with some ass in it!

And boy what a performance. Frontman Shawn Kyle was like a shampoo commercial in action. If I had a nickel for every hair whip, I’d buy myself a vacation to Europe.

I don’t say that to diminish the power of his showmanship. Kyle is over the top but that’s how he rolls. He’s honestly so. He’s a Rock Star with capital letters.  Kyle’s passionately unique, egoistic, moody, expressive and an animated guy both on and off the stage. He’s dazzling to watch but sometimes too much of a world unto himself. While it’s jaw-dropping and rock-star-tastic to watch Kyle throw guitars around, he could stand to connect with the audience, like taking time to make eye contact with his bandmates and audience. It seemed his eyes were closed the whole time.

The band that had no trouble reaching and grabbing everyone in their midst, the band that took my breath away: Have Gun, Will Travel.

I could totally picture the guys on an Austin City Limits stage, playing to thousands. Their rootsy but poppy rock has an unmistakeably universal approach, meaning they don’t fall on Americana cliches.

I didn’t realize how grabby they are — both literally and metaphorically.  I didn’t get all that while listening to the band’s CD, Casting Shadows Tall As Giants, which is great, one of the best of the year,  but doesn’t translate their visceral power on stage.

Live, HGWT killed it. The audience was roused, clapping and singing along to Blessing and a Curse and its indelible chant. The rousing, Mexican Western-tinged number had the entire audience up and moving.

Frontman Burke strides a balance between modesty and all-out showmanship. He made use of the entire stage and shook hands with audience members, but he wasn’t the only showstopper. 

Sidled up to Burke in a theatrical bromance was viola player Joshua Hernandez, who ran around, got cozy, got raucous and ended the show with a signature slam on the crash cymbal with his bow.

Right after the stupendous spectacle, I passed my friend and former coworker Scott Harrell on the way out to the lobby. I greeted him but was semi-speechless. All I could muster was, “That was some shit.”

He parrotted back, somewhat quizzically, “That was some shit!”

Turns out he didn’t see the performance. He was just on his way in after hanging out outside, debating the sorry state of America with Snider.

Geri X came on with no announcement but a warm audience reception. She seemed genuinely pleased to play to a packed house, flanked by the gorgeous slideshow presentation of Sonshine Ward. Ward says she typed in keywords like Civil War Era, black and white, old photographs, etc. and looked up forest, birds and architecture to find the others. They were images she thought went well with the words of Geri X’s songs.

Onstage, Geri X is understated but enchanting. She has a voice that reaches inside you. It’s young but knowing, naked but protective. Her subtle rasp and dynamic range offers the fragility of Fiona Apple meets the sexy toughness of Kim Deal.

Yes, the stage presence thing could use some beefing up, like Snider remarked, but she’s young, and her introspective tunes might look stilted if gussied up Kate Bush-style. Geri X plus jazz hands. Don’t see it.

Backing up Ms. X were two stellar players, her official band — Matt Bennett, also of Win Win Winter, on drums and boyfriend Greg Roteik on bass.

All in all, the bands were all great. The successful all-locals night was a love fest.

Attending was Ryan Wendell Bauer, who was awestruck by the show’s success, the talent and good vibes. 

The experimental-comedic musician described the whole thing as “heartening.”

Heartening, indeed.

4 responses to “Who needs a national headliner, anyway?

  1. Julie,

    Thanks for the shower of kind words and a scene vet’s review of what was one of the best shows / events I’ve ever had the pleasure of being part of. The magical success of the evening was due to many people, bands and media outlets pulling together and pooling our efforts to create awareness of something special that was going on right here in our own town. National headliner? We’ve got ‘em!

  2. Good stuff, Julie. Totally agree it was a success. I was really impressed with the professionalism of the whole event (bands, venue, organizers, etc.) as well as the size and supportive vibe of the crowd. Both sides did their part. I wish it didn’t take an “event” to draw a decent crowd out to hear local acts (or for the media to give them coverage, lest I be labelled a finger-pointer), but I also realize that’s not going to change overnight. If the only thing this show accomplished was to convince a few more people to turn up at the next locals-only NWB gig, then that’s still a step in the right direction. But I think it accomplished far more — not the least of which is that I had a blast.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I should have given proper praise to the organizers of the event, the media promotion and spirited collaboration. Marshall, I like what you said about these artists truly being national headliners.

  4. Truth a hell of a show, if it weren’t for the media, we wouldn’t have known about it at all!

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