We arrived just as Upstanding Youth was getting heavy into their set. Perhaps it was my focus on hellos and getting beers in me, but they faded to the background until the final two songs. By then, I had zeroed in on the music and found it to be a light, woodsy blend. They could very easily play in any setting, which I feel is a huge advantage in this town. I could use a few more listens before settling into any deep opinions, though.
Next was Raised by Wolves (or, as we often put it, Something About Wolves). I’ve seen these two indie-turned-folk/country gentlemen a few times before, but these meetings are too few and too far between. Tonight they were in rare form, often ad-libbing names from the crowd in with great effect. Their heavy, sort-of-honkey-tonk, sort-of-indie rock came out in every heart straining, glass raising lyric and the inclusion of a few guest singers (here’s to you, John Ridgeway) only amplified the singer’s amazing vocal talent. Their drinking song, Hair of the Dog, had every person in the bar singing along, and their heart-felt How Low Can You Go brought the pained howls of a hundred depressed moments. Finally deciding on the bass-kick pedal arrangement in lieu of the singer/guitarist stomping on bare stage will undoubtedly extend this slow-fiddle/rhythmic guitar duo’s longevity. And thankfully, for I could listen to these folk’s music every night.
After that, HEP favorite Narwhal was up. Now, the double-guitar-and-drum three piece had set up a brutal schedule for this weekend. This show was actually their second of the night, as they had rocked out at an art show at Mercury Bar just half an hour before arriving at Anna Banana’s. If they were tired, however, it didn’t show in the playing at all. They were fast and tight, as is their signature, and any tiny misstep was easily covered up by the other members. The biggest problem came in the form of the always-too-quiet microphone Erica was attempting to shriek through. This issue, however, enhanced the overall performance for me, though, as I witnessed a band not only hold but enthuse a crowd without the thing that first attracted me to them: the witty lyrics and harsh vocals. A small, friendly pit opened up and the almost instrumental songs kept everything moving for their full setlist (which included a song written a mere day before) and the demanded encore. Narwhal, you once again have proven why I love you.
Now was the time, however. Black Square, the big man on campus for this event, took the stage and I was happy to see their reportedly departed trombone player (who had recorded with them for the CD this party was all about) was there sporting a brand new wedding ring (congrats guys, if you should read this). They got right into it and it was a fight to maintain a front spot as they spread their ska loveliness across the room. It was loud, tight, and (even at the end of a night of dancing) invigorating. While I was fairly winded at the end of Narwhal, there was literally not one inch of my clothing not drenched halfway through Square’s epically long setlist. All of the fan favorites were played, shoutouts and thanks given, solos granted, and, best of all, a crowd that was more than willing to show their appreciation by going nuts. Not that there was any danger beyond the random errant elbow or accidental headbutt; all people who slipped on concrete floor covered in beer were caught before they hit the ground and brought up to rejoin the fray immediately (this includes yours truly who is eternally grateful).
To share my honest opinion, Black Square can mix it up with any national level punk-ska band today. The lyrics are inventive, the guitar is simultaneously rhythmic and interesting, the brass lifts up the sound instead of bogging it down, and the drummer throws down fills on a whim I would have to practice for weeks. At the time of this writing I still have not listened to the CD release (ears are still ringing), but, if their live shows are any indication of the end result, I am sure this will be a breakout moment for a truly stand-up band. And, to be honest once more, Josh (lead singer and guitarist) deserves to reap the rewards for the hard work he has put into this scene.
If it’s worth anything, I raise my glass to you, buddy, and all those who make this small culture what it is. You deserve all the praise in the world, though you also easily deserve the $10 I traded for the album. I know I’m gonna love it.
Thanks: Anna Banana crew (especially Michael, you always give me great joy and beer), all the bands, Emily of Downbeat fame, and my two friends who decided to come along on a work day. All of you made this a night I will remember for years to come.