Calling it a showcase only mildly suggests the perplexing variety of bands at RecordBar last night. Only the sound guy and I must’ve seen and heard it all. There was Them Damned Young Livers chanting J-E-S-U-S like a megachurch congregation rooting at a drag race; Federation of Horsepower summoning the old monster-truck heroes of the Thunder Nationals; the Vi Tran Band dreaming of the high school hop; Hammerlord inspiring brotherly choke slams; and Hearts of Darkness cramming a rainbow of 13 jazz/soul/hip-hop/funk/Afro-beat artists onto a stage no bigger than a six-plex stoop. I couldn’t look away.
Only a few got to witness the good-old boys in Them Damned Young Livers spit in each other's eyes, spill beer, disassemble their instruments, sing think
, and still manage to buzzsaw through tight numbers that snap in between gasoline hip-hop and metal bluegrass. Even when the drummer’s snare came loose, he hoisted it like a giant dinner bell and kept drumming. The impossibly loud J-E-S-U-S chant came at the end of the set. The song is about a guy praying to Jesus to not get pulled over, because he can’t afford another DUI. With a bit of clever sound painting, the song actually revs up and goes drunk-driving through a frantic chorus.
Living way beyond the promise of its name, Federation of Horsepower was competitively louder and proudly more restrained, like a good monster-truck driver. The massively amplified guitar and drum combustion never stopped for an hour straight. The few of us who saw it were either too scared or physically crushed into our seats, like those pancaked cars that the monster trucks always fail on purpose to clear.
The first smile and color of the evening were worn by Vi Tran of the Vi Tran Band. Despite the tart, Dylan-esque frame, the young singer-songwriter likes big Bon Jovi melodies and big country guitars. He played it as loud and tough as a Glee character. But sandwiched in between groups who find inspiration in everything from wolves to war, the Vi Tran band was the eerily peaceful eye in the evening’s storm.
Hammerlord showed us how easy it is to like metal. While the frontman growler may sound like a demon in songs, he talks like an angel in between. The band’s metal is matter-of-fact, delivered with a lightheartedness that lends a jolt of jubilation rather than a club of apocalypse to the songs. The crowd began to grow as the singer’s taunting gestures worked on the wallflowers, and they spilled into Hammerlord’s teeth. The only real danger was the completely nonviolent, botched choke slam that ensued during a double-kick drum. The two men, real as wrestlers, got up and hugged.
People must’ve waited all night for Hearts of Darkness. RecordBar filled to near capacity, and the stage could suddenly fit 13 people plus a saxophone section, a percussion section, a trio of soul singers, and a king-size rapper. Like a rebooted Sly and the Family Stone, Hearts of Darkness is the relentless ecstasy of a funky, brassy big band that punches danceable holes of common-sense refrain about everyday people for everyone. Everyone danced dances that seemed to come from trash cans, clubs, hoedowns, go-goes, and speakeasies. It was everyone’s music, and no one can reject a gift like that, no matter how unexpected.