This is a review of Amid The Crash CD Release Party on Friday, December 5, 2008.
Song List: The Only Road I Know, 'Til I Return, The Great Endeavor, Might Fall, Another Day, Waiting For You
In a city where you can find an indie band CD release party as easily as a decent Tex-Mex restaurant (and I've gone to dozens of both), on Friday night I saw one of the best entirely homegrown CD release shows since arriving in Austin seventeen years ago. The phrase, "can you come to my/our/my-boyfriend's/this-dude's/a-kickass CD release party," can result in many things. But usually, it involves a small gathering of friends and family at any one of Austin's many downtown music venues. You fight traffic, pay for parking, pay your cover, then watch the band play in a dirty, smelly room (at midnight on a Sunday) in which they've had about 20 minutes to throw their gear onstage and pray that the sound guy's worked the venue for more than a week. Then, if all goes well, their weeks of rehearsal isn't sabotaged by a terrible mix and you get about five minutes to visit with the band before the next band (usually of an entirely different genre) plays and your buddy's band needs to rush their gear out into their double-parked cars before they're towed. Charming, ain't it?
Amid The Crash has been there and done that in their former existence as Room 213. Now, a bit older and wiser, taking more pride in their music than to roll the dice with a venue over which they have no control of environment/sound/time/date/etc., Amid The Crash put together a stellar CD release performance. Through their ties at Austin Christian Fellowship, and with the gracious help of a number of devoted friends, the band planned and pulled off a flawless night of music and celebration of their self-titled debut CD. Utilizing the church's youth building, the band took a full week (a step-up from 20 minutes!) to set-up—they tweaked the stage, sound, lights, projection screen, and prepared a multi-camera video shoot of the entire show. They also set-up a well-laid-out atrium complete with food, beverages, and merchandise booth that you might find at a U2 or KISS show: multiple flatscreen TVs cycling through photos of the band, traditional CD/shirt/sticker sales, and a laptop computer available for either signing-up on the mailing list or ordering a CD online from CDBaby.com.
So there's the set-up and blueprint for other bands reading this. Let's get into the show...
The Austin Christian Fellowship youth building morphs very well into an impressive mid-size (300+ capacity) music hall. The lighting rigs are better than most Austin music venues and an impressive-sized projection screen serves as a backdrop behind the stage. The ample free parking is a pleasant change from downtown or SoCo, as well. So perhaps local bands could look into utilizing this venue, though without a draw of at least 100, the room would swallow you up.
The stage layout is open, sans curtains, raised about two feet above the room floor. Amid The Crash enters the room from the back of the building to the applause and delight of the crowd. Drummer Ty Cobb's kit sits stage left, facing center stage toward lead singer and guitarist JR Taylor. Bassist Jim Shields takes stage right. The band tears immediately into "The Only Road I Know," a smooth, driving opener played even tighter and crisper than I remember their impressive shows during the Room 213 days. The projection screen broadcasts a beautiful view of a bright daytime partly cloudy sky, a vision as crystal clear as the band's flawless opening-number performance.
"'Til I Return" begins with Shields laying down a pulsating 16th-note bass line that drives right into a dizzying bass/lead-guitar harmony with Taylor's voice soaring impressively above it all. The crowd delights in the music, pushed to the limit with Cobb's machine-gun-perfect drum chops wowing the crowd, who now comfortably fill the room. Between songs Taylor speaks seriously, almost somberly, sharing his thoughts and beliefs that inspire each song's lyrics.
Leading into "Might Fall," he quotes John 8:32, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Continuing, "even though my chains have been broken, I cling to them. If I weren't so afraid of falling, I could let go. But I just can't shake this fear that I might fall." Accompanying Taylor's intense spiritual inspiration is Amid The Crash's jaw-dropping musicianship, displayed prominently throughout "Might Fall." Music critiques routinely use "blistering" to describing picking technique like Taylor's. The song recesses into airy sections with the above lyrics, then peaks into multiple frenzies of razor-sharp stops and starts.
Amid The Crash hasn't put together a pop show—this crowd may not walk away singing a chorus to any one particular song, which almost seems to be intended. These aren't pop songs. Taylor has written a collection of six 3-to-6-minute lessons...his own lessons, certainly, but not ones he's yet mastered. Just as writing is a process, so are these songs. They're not to be decoded immediately, revealing a single, simple, ultimate answer. Instead, the listener learns just as Taylor has: always taking in more, but never becoming all-knowing.
Leading into the final song, Taylor conveys, "This song touches the heart of the Amid The Crash. How long must we continue to see children starving? How long must we lose those we love? We're waiting for you." The closing number is the most exploratory of them all—Taylor singing in falsetto, a more plodding and less precise rhythmic structure, and in a major key (at least to begin with) as opposed to some darker vibes in other songs. As Taylor explodes into lightning fast arpeggios, a crowd of teen boys front-and-center simultaneously drop their jaws in awe, looking at each other in disbelief, one mouthing, "did you see that?!" The boys were wowed as I am, though they may hope to shred as Taylor has, whereas I hope that independent bands take notice of this entire evening: Amid The Crash has set the bar incredibly high when it comes to pulling off an impressive and successful CD release show. They haven't settled for any aspect of what the music scene offers to new bands. They have taken musical matters into their own hands and created a performance worthy of the time and effort put into Amid The Crash.