Text by Adrian Gandara
Photos by Ashley Bradley
On Saturday, all eight members of the band crammed onto what felt like the tiny Red River Street stage — big fish, little Barracuda. At the door, people without tickets were being turned away from the sold-out show. Inside, it felt like everyone was there. Even the mayor had turned out the night before, so pumped for the release of the album St. Mojo, he officially proclaimed April 1, 2017 as “Sweet Spirit Day” — no joke.
Everyone was there. The over-40 crowd had come out in force. They stuck around like wallflowers for raging punks FOOLS and Chicago-trio Absolutely Not before emerging from the shadows as anticipation built for Sweet Spirit. I saw a very pragmatic woman take a fold-out chair and disappear into the audience.
When the band left the stage later that night, amid the applause, voices in the crowd yelled “We love you,” “We love you so much,” “I love you.” Have you ever had the terrible misfortune of loving someone bigger than yourself? Someone deep down you knew was going places? Ok, maybe I’ve always been a cynic in love, but like intrusive thoughts, you can’t help but think it. That night, it felt like this was the start (or continuing anyway) of bigger things for the band. Someone’s “start” is someone else’s “end.” I can’t tell you how big Sweet Spirit is, or where they’re going from here. I can tell you that just after midnight the night of April 1, Sabrina Ellis walked up to the mic and said, “Happy Sweet Spirit Day.” They opened with “Take Me To A Party.” The band took requests, played some covers, played some crowdpleasers — they are the sort of band that has crowdpleasers, lots of them.
An hour later it was all over. The band lay down their instruments. Ellis joked she doesn’t make the rules: “I’m not the boss, I’m just bossy.”
Except in the audience a feeling was generating.
So the band crammed back on the little stage again. They played “Stay With Me,” and then one last song. “Oh wait, let me hold you,” Ellis sang. The instruments built to a high and stopped as she yelled out “Wait,” hitting these soulful notes the sweaty locals might never hear so intimately again. The music built up one last time. Ellis screamed, “Stay.”
Shout out to FOOLS. I know the word “tight” gets thrown around a lot, but what else can you say about a band that pause and smash notes on a dime. P.S. your drummer is a machine. Shout out to the guy in the green shirt dancing his heart out to FOOLS — you know who you are.
Absolutely Not is, technically speaking, sonically batshit insane. Donnie Moore’s voice is so high and taut, like an E-string ready to snap; sometimes it did. The sharp keys sounded like new wave on meth. Underneath all this crazy, the cavernous kick drum and floor tom are bottomless. Lows and highs — somewhere in the middle, the audience took it all in.