I have been looking forward to seeing The Black Sands since I was made aware that Al Howard of The Heavy Guilt had a second band when I interviewed him back in February. Plus I rarely miss The Guilt, plus I have been meaning to check out Soda Bar, plus it was Friday, plus…. well, you get it.
First up was Sundrop Electric, I wasn’t familiar with them and was still kind of acclimating to the vibe of the night. I went to this one solo and always feel a
little lot dweebish standing around awkwardly alone. But then the music rescues me. This first band did a good job of starting the night with energy and enthusiasm.
Next up was The Black Sands. I. was. too. damn. excited. The seven-piece band, featuring four members of The Heavy Guilt plus three other talented musicians, somehow fit all their gear and persons onto the modest stage. I’ve just become familiar with the music on their debut album (available for purchase online here). The first striking thing about the sound is how singer Heather Marie Janiga’s velvet voice sounds like it was made to sing this brand of blues-folk-rock. Her delicate twang offers power when needed and softer notes with the same ease. Percussionist and lyricist Al Howard offers his signature passion for sound from ensuring Janiga’s microphone was set up properly before they began to wailing hard enough on a tambourine to break it within minutes. He is captivating. Josh Rice, Jenny Merullo and Sean Martin of The Heavy Guilt all bring their poise and precision to this outfit and deliver the goods, as always. David Lowie and Johnny Janiga rounded out the sound on bass and guitar. The music is full of soul and depth, while still offering something accessible and danceable. I think I’m smitten. “Walkin’ with a Gun” hasn’t stopped playing on my Spotify in two days – the tune rocks. “1977” offers some of the softer nuances of The Black Sands’ sound, but is equally enjoyable and offers very skilful key work by Rice. (Catch these peeps at The Griffin on Friday May 4th for their CD release along with The Heavy Guilt and The New Kinetics. Hells yeah.)
Hills Like Elephants followed next, celebrating the release of their debut CD, The Endless Charade. My first thought- more keyboards! Yes! I have a crush on the piano (entertaining the idea of learning it myself one of these days). These guys had a lot of fired up energy and definitely impressed the crowd. Since I’m not as familiar with HLE a lot of the songs blended together for me, a side effect of being a new comer. The sound is reminiscent of Cold War Kids and Spoon- both bands that I love- so I dug it. Sean Davenport’s voice has a unique essence to it that offers shades of Jeff Buckley at times.
Last, but entirely not least, The Heavy Guilt finished with a late night set that started close to midnight. I can’t say enough good things about this band, and just when I think I’ve seen them at their best, they improve. This set was the most cohesive I’ve seen the group. The song choices were on point, offering all the things that make them a great band. From rocking the shit outta “Summer Came” to soft crooning on “Wyoming” to a grand finale of The Stooge’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – it was all incredibly well done. This band gives you a reason to keep coming back and I have yet to turn someone onto them and not see them impressed. I think they call that staying power or awesomeness. One of those.
Sounds to Sample from Sundrop Electric, The Black Sands, Hills Like Elephants and The Heavy Guilt: