THOSE DARLINS/DIAHREA PLANET/SPEEDBOATS

(22 February, 2014; OFF BROADWAY, Saint Louis, MO)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

When reviewing a band live, sometimes things work out, sometimes there are a couple of bumps in the road, sometimes things completely fall apart. This review kinda falls into the “bumps in the road” category. Nothing serious, just a matter of… timing. Planning to meet up with some friends, I was at the venue early. It was then that I found out that not only was the door time an hour later than expected, but there was one more band on the bill than anticipated. All of this meant that – besides a 9:10 starting time – I had time to kill… a lot of time to kill! But… you don’t really care about that, do you? You just wanna know about the show. So…

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

The “extra” band was Speedboats, a newish hometown group whose sound is borderline pop punk, leaning heavier toward a cool California skater punk/stoner rock vibe. The five-piece has a great sense of self-deprecating humor and energy to burn. There was also a huge case of the nerves on display, as singer Greg Crittenden had some problems with his control. Now, how, you may ask, do I know it was “nerves” and not something else? Well… I watched the boys’ sound-check and he didn’t crack at all. There’s actually so much to like about these guys and this is such a minor complaint that, truthfully, besides the guys on stage, I may have been the only other one to notice. The guitar duo of Sean Gartner (stage right) and Karl Stefanski (stage left… where else?) elevated the music to something way past standard pop punk, particularly on a song so new that it didn’t even have an official name yet. The working title is “Roller SK8 or Die,” which as far as I can tell (what lyrics there were weren’t totally clear to these ears), had absolutely nothing to do with rollerskating or death. Speedboats got the crowd into things early on and set up the evening nicely. I seriously expect great things from these guys in the not too distant future.

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Up next was Diarrhea Planet, a band hand-picked by fellow Nashvillains (?) and headliners, Those Darlins. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got absolutely blew me away. Imagine… oh, let’s say, Dead Kennedys… with… let’s go with Eddie Van Halen and then multiply him by four. That’s right: old school California punk with four guitar players continually soloing, shredding and finger-tapping like mad scientists. Founding member Jordan Smith handles most of the vocals, but the other guitarists (Emmett Miller, Brent Toler and Evan Bird) all have their moments. With the rhythm section (drummer Casey Weissbuch and bassist Mike Boyle) holding everything together – in the very loosest sense – the four front line guys were allowed to entertain the fans (and, occasionally, each other) with some of the hottest playing I’ve ever seen, including two of the guys finger-tapping in harmony. Absolutely amazing! This band managed to do something that I haven’t seen for quite some time: They had the crowd moshing, bouncing and bringing back that old school punk pit vibe. At one point, they brought the “least punk person” to the stage to prove that “anyone can be a punk.” They gave Ty the mic and 35 seconds to rant, vent and be punk. He started out with a truly epic scream, but was soon lost in the swirling guitar overload. What a fun show! However – and, please, don’t hold this against me guys – Diarrhea Planet may just be the fourth worst band name ever – right behind Panic! At the Disco, Vampire Weekend and Justin Bieber. Since I have absolutely no idea where the name came from, I’m gonna go with this: It’s a geo-political statement aimed at the leaders of the world. Thankfully, the band elevates the music to a level that transcends the horrible noises of the Disco Vampire Bieber. There latest release is called I’M RICH BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS and is available at all of the usual places. Don’t let the name scare you!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

In Nashville, Those Darlins (as well as Diarrhea Planet) are godlike. In fact, they had a large contingent of their hometown fans front and center at the intimate Off Broadway stage. There were also quite a few folk from upstate Illinois: Chicago and, if I heard right, a suburb called Berwyn. People absolutely love the Darlins… with good reason. The quartet took the stage and the crowd by storm, with the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that has people making five hour drives to see them onstage. Jessi Zazu (who handles most of the vocals) and Nikki Kvarnes continued the guitar showcase, with their own brand of sweet leads and tasty solos. Things seemed to kick into a higher gear with the set’s third song, “Red Light Love,” which – even if you had no idea who Those Darlins are – is a tune that you’re gonna recognize, as it was featured in several commercials for Kia Motors over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, this is where the whole time thing came in to bite me on the posterior: About the time that the band was finishing “Red Light Love,” I received a call telling me that I was needed at home. I love the Darlins, but – and I’m sure they’ll agree – family comes first. I am really sorry that I didn’t have the chance to hear the entire set from Those Darlins. If the rest of the set was as hot as the first three or four songs, I certainly missed a great one!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Before I go, I’ve gotta say something about the venue. Off Broadway is currently one of the best sounding rooms in Saint Louis. The vibe is awesome and laid back, as are the people who work there. Even though Off Broadway is smaller, the closest comparison I can come up with is the late, lamented Mississippi Nights. If you have the chance, get out to Off Broadway for some live music. Check out their schedule here: www.offbroadwaystl.com.


THOSE DARLINS: BLUR THE LINE

(OH WOW DANG RECORDS; 2013)

Those Darlins BLUR THE LINE

BLUR THE LINE, the third album from upstart Nashville band Those Darlins, is the ultimate in outsider Americana. Years ago, this music woulda been called “cowpunk.” After the Darlins’ second full-length, SCREWS GET LOOSE, the face of the band changed as co-founder Kelley Anderson left, replaced by Gentleman Jesse and His Men bassist Adrian Barrera. The band’s sound has changed and evolved with each release, from a rollicking country-tinged rockabilly sound on their debut to a more rocking alternative country sound on SCREWS… to a more restrained insanity on this new album, incorporating rockabilly, country, girl group pop, alternative rock and a myriad of other musical styles. The addition of Barrera has given the group a somewhat tougher sound… a – if you’ll pardon the expression – ballsier sound. However, where the Darlins may have attacked the songs with a certain reckless abandon in the past, they may still perform with abandon… just not quite as reckless as on previous releases. How much of this is due to a maturation within the group (or the comings and goings of members) or, as has been posited elsewhere, better production values will undoubtedly be debated at least until the release of their next set. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that the more controlled attack is a combination of everything cited above. Certainly, in a live setting, the band is still as over-the-top raucous as they’ve always been.

Those Darlins (photo credit: VETA AND THEO)

Those Darlins (photo credit: VETA AND THEO)

Right from the album opener, “Oh God,” what is obvious is that the phrase “screaming guitars” fits as well as any forty dollar word that I can drop here. “That Man” has a girl-group-gone-dreadfully-wrong vibe – including the ubiquitous spoken-word interlude – that immediately makes it one of my absolute favorite tunes from the Darlins yet. The sticky sweet harmonies (from the other two-thirds of the original trio, Jessi Zazu and Nikki Kvarnes, longtime drummer, Linwood Regensburg and new guy, Barrera) throughout BLUR THE LINES’ 12 tracks belay the more-often-than-not venomous intent of the lyrics, which makes for an enjoyably subversive 45 minutes. High spots (uh… higher spots than the overall high spot that is BLUR… ) include (aside from the already discussed “That Man”): the wicked guitar tune, “Oh God”; the lyrically ambiguous “She Blows”; the downer vibe of “Optomist”; “Can’t Think” and its slow grind; the painfully slow, yet powerful “Western Sky” with its sludgy tremelo-drenched guitar; and the strident, walking guitar sound of “Too Slow.” Though I have thoroughly enjoyed Those Darlins’ previous releases, if this is where the band is heading, then… sign me up for album number four!