On a night when many in Pittsburgh were attending Breaking Benjamin, I was at a small venue, Get Hip, for a DIY show with three bands, one stage, no genres. Sometimes you have to go back to the roots of where you felt the pull of music to have the best experiences.
National shows are like the Wizard of Oz in his chamber with lights and smoke – but if you pull back the curtain you get the reality. A man at his soundboard trying to make sure everything comes across clean, watching the setup and tear down between sets, and the transformation of a person in the crowd into a personality on the stage. Some of us prefer this raw version. The smoke and mirrors aren’t necessary when the draw for us is watching the transformation happen right in front of our eyes. A normal room transformed into so much more than life with only the addition of music, the feeling of seeing someone become just… More. When the magic happens before you without the smoke and mirrors it can be more exciting because it’s real.
Watching amplifiers. take the stage, I settle into my corner and prepare myself for the shoot. Any set that begins with an epilepsy warning will present a photographer with a unique set of challenges. As they begin, flashing bursts of light silence the crowd. The music is soulful and melodic as Si Lewis’s voice and lyrics hypnotize. There is no genre here but a feeling – something like rock, something like Indie, something that has traveled through time and come back with a message. Their light show is equally impressive, programmed in perfect sync with every beat. A gradual build of echoing guitars and haunting sonorous vocals comes to a height and the strobes explode in unison, enveloping us all in an ethereal corona of light and sound. This is poetry come to life; the depth of imagination and dreams wrapped around a forgotten child of rock and roll. As is often the situation after watching these guys take over the stage, the audience had to come back to reality. You can see it happen as eyes begin adjusting to normal light levels, moving about as if coming out of hypnosis, but oh so ready for more.
As my brain transitions to the here and now I see The Shadow Event setting up and I admit my curiosity. I’ve heard of them, never heard them, and earlier in the night I had asked them about their music, to which the reply was a smile and, “We’re…. different.” I like different. As their music begins they are bathed in red, deep shadows where light doesn’t touch, and something almost primal began. I wasn’t expecting this. I see each member of the band losing themselves to the music and while this isn’t your normal radio friendly sound, I close my eyes and take it in. What could have been a clash of sound if taken a step in any other direction, instead melds into each other, creating a harmony as the vocals play. Opening my eyes to the vocalist arching her back, vocal tones and movements reminding me of a wolf serenading the night. Beautiful, striking, with something powerful and provocative. From my left I hear a member of the audience mutter loudly, “Hell yeah!” The music creates it’s own perfect storm and I’m at a loss for terms to describe it, but I want another taste.
The end of the night is near but there’s one more to come. Sikes and the New Violence is the only one I can describe. It’s rap, but metal… if metal was rap… sort of, but not always. There’s always rap, but it’s set to music in a way that makes it more than hip hop. It’s storytelling set to music. I can’t think of a single song of theirs that doesn’t hold real meaning, including my personal favorite “Whatever I Want”. That one seems to be a string of rhyme without meaning to some but if you know the person writing the lyrics so much of it makes sense and to me it’s a very realistic view of DIY music from an artists standpoint. Sikes is in his element as he turns into a madman on stage and… can we just take a minute to appreciate that his guitarist practically dances with his instrument the entire show? Mad rhymes, bass to kill, sexy backing vocals and insane guitar but I spent an entire song watching him dance with the music. Panels light up the back of the stage as graphics, words and portions of video accentuate the music and the feel of the performance. Dark undertones reaching out to grab you, inviting you in to pull up a seat and connect on a level deeper level. Pouring out heart, mind and soul as you dredge up your own memories, reminding you that we’ve all been in that place and came out. Maybe not unscathed but perhaps stronger for having been there.
It seems fitting that a show without genre would create a mindscape of emotions that were difficult to put into words. “They’re a Rock band” is a much easier phrase than, “Ok, let me try to explain what I felt”, but that’s the beauty in this art. A wise man told me on this night, “The line between professional and amateur gets blurry in art.” and went on to talk about how the powers that be don’t seem to know this exists…. and he’s right. We know it exists though, these get-togethers that involve about a hundred friends or so, these nights in places without professional production, where people who are moved by music on a very personal level come to support those who create. This is not that show at your local town hall with your friends band but you know what? Who cares if it was. That’s where you learned to feel it, that connection and excitement. It’s where the mistakes are made and laughs are had, where you came to see what happened next and not the perfect digital output from the latest professionally mastered single. Not knocking anyone’s taste, national shows are awesome and those who make it to that level deserve it, but as for me, I’m usually going to be found where I can still feel that emotion of belonging, even among strangers.
Jana Lee Macheca (aka Lady Jaye) is the owner and editor of First Angel Media as well as professional photographer and writer. Having worked in national and local levels of music media her goal is to provide professional coverage for bands of all levels.