There's something about the Riot Room that encourages heavy drinking and loosened inhibitions. Maybe it's the zillion well-curated taps and the endearingly ripped seat cushions lining the wall; you instantly feel that if you're going to get anything out of the night, you need to have a decent buzz going. Luckily, Friday night's Showcase lineup inside the Riot Room fully encouraged such revelry.
Gentleman Savage kicked off the night just as the last few rays of sunshine were flittering through the windows. The weird twilight of an early set was actually a nice pairing to Gentleman Savage's mellow, verging-on-psychedelic pop, and the band handled the sparse room as gracefully as though it were playing to a packed audience. The hazy guitar waves and well-executed vocal harmonies came off a little like the Beatles meets the Beach Boys.
By the time Not a Planet took the stage, the Riot Room had fleshed out a little more, and the indie-rock three-piece was ready to bring a whole new kind of energy to the evening. Lead singer and guitarist Nathan Corsi confidently looked the part in white denim, a crisp white oxford, and some red suspenders. The band led the crowd through an impressive set that lasted over an hour. Corsi proved a captivating frontman, and it wasn't just because he was dressed up like a white dwarf star. (Planet humor, get it? No? Ah, well... ) On the band's Independent Music Award-nominated
song "Turn Me On," Corsi's elastic rock vocals were on full display, stretching to a remarkable falsetto before descending again to rumble among the heavy guitars.
Not a Planet's biggest fan was stage right: a ponytailed dude who was rocking out on some mean air guitar for most of the set. Seriously, it looked like he was about to jump on the stage with the band and tear into it with them. It was still a little early in the evening to be totally wasted, so I got the feeling that he was probably just the guy at a show who does that kind of thing. There was a precious moment when he got really excited and screamed, "Yeah!" at the end of a song, and then William Sturges (on bass guitar) roared back at him, and then they just screamed at each other for a while, which was kind of cute. There was also a barefoot drunk girl, who was dancing solo in front of the stage. She wasn't carrying any shoes.
The band did a good job of reminding everyone in the audience to cast their votes for The Pitch Music Awards, with drummer Liam Sumnicht promising "change" if elected, and Corsi vowing to get "soda machines in every lobby."
Antennas Up was the third band on roster inside the Riot Room. It's hard to know what musical category to slot the four-piece into. On one hand, the fresh, punchy tracks and clear-cut vocals from frontman Kyle Akers put them firmly in the power-pop genre. On the other, half the songs from Antennas Up have enough encoded bleeps and blips to make you feel like you've just been dropped into an old-school computer game (or maybe a Postal Service show). The result is an oddly charming mix of electro-pop that feels like it was lifted from your favorite late '80s flick, given some modern flair and a haircut, and dropped into your best playlist.
And the dudes of Antennas Up are total pros. They're also adorably nerdy in their chinos and button-up shirts. Even when Akers is singing about the slim hopes of love on "Pretenders," he does so cheerfully, amid a gentle ahhhh-ing chorus and upbeat guitar riffs. It sort of feels like the most bittersweet moment of your high school life has been isolated, and you're remembering it through the sweet pop hooks that Antennas Up provides.
Next up was Sons of Great Dane. With their longish hair and half-grown beards and general hipster unkemptness, the group has a look that's a whole lot more country than it actually sounds. Lead singer Brett Windler has vocals that are about as traditionally pop-worthy as they come, and his songs have all the necessary hooks, but the heavy emphasis on guitar riffs has Sons of Great Dane at times teetering on the edge of roots rock. This all makes for a dynamic and entertaining set, which the line of meticulously dressed females in front seemed to be enjoying quite thoroughly. It should be mentioned that Sons of Great Dane just seems like a group of super nice guys - the kind you just want to hang around a bonfire with and drink whiskey and listen to them pass a guitar around - and they use that energy to their advantage. It's just very easy to want to be around them and hear them play.
The last band on the inside bill for the Riot Room was Hammerlord, and they took the stage around 1 a.m. By that point in the evening, the few blocks surrounding the Riot Room had swelled to a new threshold of boozy and boisterous. Buskers stood on corners. Bouncers puffed out their chests as new arrivals staggered toward their darkened doorways. The night air carried a tangible whiff of sweat, beer and other chemicals. (Some might call that the smell of romance, but I digress.)
It was around that delightful witching hour that Hammerlord took over, and while the metal band was definitely a departure from the other acts that had been featured in the Riot Room until then, they ran the venue like kings. Frontman Stevie Cruz is magnetic, and he wasted no time in establishing control of the stage as he balanced fearlessly on speakers, leaned into the crowd and showered close attendees with sweat from his drenched hair.
"We thank you for giving us the chance to be responsible heavy-metal motherfuckers," Cruz said, early in the band's set, referencing their position in the lineup. Hammerlord kept a breakneck pace throughout, pulling mightily on some thrash elements and relentlessly assaulting the crowd with its fierce sound. The audience was all about it. I tried to find the barefoot drunk girl to see how she was responding to Hammerlord, but she had disappeared...and I took that as my cue, too.