Words and photos by Janelle Revord
This was the first time since SXSW that I had attended a show at Empire Control Room– just last month I was there to see Night Terrors of 1927 play a free day show, one day after the night terror of the SXSW tragedy, and this night would end up almost surreal due to some eerie similarities to that last show. The room was dimly lit except for a few muted lights at the bar, a multitude of video projections flashed rhythmically on the surfaces of every wall providing the room with the majority of its light. Last month, like this night, there weren’t too many people gathered in the room just yet. It was easy to read the aura of those who were there to perform and those that were there to bare witness. The low turn out was understandable last month, it was less than half a day after our city had gone through a horrific tragedy. It took quite a bit of convincing to even get me to leave the house that day. This night’s current low turn out was understandable too I suppose, it was only 8:50pm on a Saturday night.
The Asteroid Shop
As 9pm rolled around, things got started and half of the crowd got up off of the boxy black couches lining the walls to take the stage. The Asteroid Shop began without missing a beat. The brainchild of Eric Brendo (ex-Downtown), Asteroid Shop hits heavy and hard, drawing in a well deserved crowd. I think what struck me most was the level of versatility in style each song embodied, all in a well executed, instrumentally driven package tied together with Brendo’s dynamic vocals serving as the bow on top. There were moments where I was brought back to all of the best parts of the 90’s alternative rock movement, others where I’m drifting, carried away by the dreamlike sounds melodically bouncing around between my ears with precision and purpose.
Following The Asteroid Shop was Skater Bangs, a three piece instrumental band who played a set as short as the list of relevant search results when I googled “Skater Bangs.” They literally played about a three song set, which is not to say that they didn’t make those songs count. I could have honestly stood to have heard a longer set to get a better feel for them. The constantly changing visual elements projected on the walls really painted an incredible performance space for musicians who work without a live vocalist, providing somewhere to focus your attention. Empire creates such a visually appealing aesthetic that musical performances, especially instrumental ones, are setting the tone to enhance the scene as if these visualizations had a soundtrack and that’s where I felt Skater Bangs excelled. With my eyes distracted by the projected patterns, my mind was free to wander and create scenes to stories that didn’t exist set to the tones of their music.
That short set was followed by a grand performance by Videoing, whose EP Release Party was to thank for the evening’s line up. The room was thoroughly filled, especially in comparison to just a few short hours ago, the crowd buzzing to celebrate the release of Videoing’s Treasure House EP which earned its spot in my constant rotation of new music after their performance. There were various elements that worked incredibly well, notably the underlying bass and dance beats that through the layers of synth and noise rock elements still had you shaking your ass. I also have a great appreciation for the vocal pairings of Jen Bradley and Adreon Henry, more specifically in the song “The Fence,” which I have not been able to get out of my head for days. Bradley has this great energy to her, translating to the prowess that is her voice. Drawing similarities from such greats like Debby Harry and Shirley Manson, she knocks out pop elements, but can still leave you feeling haunted with a sultry siren’s call.
Closing out the night were Blackstone Rangers, who I had been highly anticipating the performance of after giving both Into The Sea and Descendant more than a fair share of listen throughs. It was before their set, however, that I began seeing the news on my social media feeds that ATXHipsters, Kelly Noel, was killed by a drunk driver. I only had the fortunate pleasure of meeting him a few times, but his anonymous online presence and influence on the Austin community has more than made an impact on my life. I couldn’t help but draw the sickening parallels, flashing back to the last time I was at Empire during SXSW, the overwhelming feelings of grief, anger, fear, all becoming ever present again. Same place, different time, same sad story. I was feeling slightly overwhelmed trying to take it all in, but the performance by Blackstone Rangers put my anxieties at ease. Their performance was damn near therapeutic; it was a fully aesthetic experience. The projections on the walls coupled with enough energy and beats to keep my body in motion provided the perfect soundscape to let my mind run free as the dream-pop wet dream vocal styling of Ruth Smith interwove seamlessly with the layers of synth and drums and guitar. You know a band is doing something right when you not only hear but feel emotion through their music while listening to a song, and this set was full of solid songs that all allowed me to feel during a time when I especially needed to.