For some reason it's been happening to me more and more lately. "It" is where I walk into a show and unexpectedly see an unknown band that forces me to change my perspectives on popular music and culture. The first culprit was Pittsburgh's Donora (bent nights, March 20), then the positively addictive Maston (more on them later in the year). Now, we have fresh-faced twentysomethings BryanStars.
Innocent-looking, apple-cheeked, relaxed and thoroughly charming, BryanStars (born Bryan Odell) landed a college internship interviewing unknown rock 'n' roll bands. His knack for conversing and exposing said bands through YouTube not only paid off for his subjects (Ever hear of Suicide Silence, Black Veil Brides, or Dead City Lights? Stars got there first) but enabled him to evolve from a mere blogger to an entrepreneur/star maker with a highly influential career.
BryanStars did the sane thing in dropping college, turning his internship into a cybercorporation, packing a bus full of his unknown interviewees, and barnstorming the nation with the intent of connecting with his online fan base. That some of these musicians come from as far away as Finland, South Africa and Sweden proves that BryanStars reach is limitless but the sheer talent, energy and craft displayed on the Chicago stop that hit Reggie's Rock Club a week ago was downright overwhelming. To me it was all something of a shock since I had never seen or heard of any of these people before in my life.
All of the artists on this second tour were unpolished, unprocessed and hungry, which gave them a lack of pretention and distance. What they didn't have in slickness and calculation they more than made up for in heart and sheer verve. Unlike the flood of reality musical competition shows on television with celebrity judges/mentors or the involvement of a major label the prize here was not widespread media exposure but the forging of a close connection to an audience. And that one point changed the nature of the performances entirely. Since connection is what live performance is all about whether the hordes of fans are streaming into the United Center to see the Blackhawks or the Rolling Stones, the point is to become part of a real live personal experience, something you can't get from a computer or a television screen.
Now enough about mass psychology and more about that show. Drake Christopher Henning, aka Catching Your Clouds, may have seemed precocious in his bare feet and hippie gear but his "Dear Pacific" and a cover of Sleeping Sirens' "Roger Rabbit" were crammed with drama and feeling, You would have to be the Tin Man before he met Oz not to get pulled into his spell. Joel Faviere took things to a terrifying level, alhough he was allotted only two songs. One of them, "I Care," was the kind of naked ageless ballad of hurt that becomes an instant classic. Telling the age old scenario of a lover post-breakup who is still obsessed with his ex, "I Care" is the kind of song you would imagine a half juiced Frank Sinatra would sing at 3am in an abandoned bar to a portrait of Ava Gardner. Its the kind of song that they don't write anymore and though this was a rock show an old school torch ballad like it hardly seemed out of place. Faviere is someone to find and watch at all costs.
Sweden's Her Bright Skies was all about something else entirely. The rave-up "Love Kills" with its straight up hook is the kind of muscular four to the floor indulgence that any band worth your time would kill for. Its this years first summertime head rush single and hearing it at full blast is like getting fucked with a polaris missile and experiencing three minutes and twenty six seconds of rowdy bliss. The big ballad "Bonnie and Clyde" may have depended more on Warren Beatty then Melvin Purvis for its outlaw romantic vibe, but damned if the sincerity didn't make it work.
Finland's Snow White's Poison Bite could care less about romance or sincerity. These guys were all about horror movies and the joy of dressing up so when vocalist Jeremy Thirteenth snarled through his smirk that "Everyday is Halloween...'" you couldn't get confused about what they were really about. Eschewing any sense of self-seriousness Snow White's specialty are frolicsome rompers like "Down at the Morgue" which sounded as innocent and bouncy as if it was named "Down at the Mall." Jolly, scruffy, and downright silly as all get out Snow White was a blast of frothy pure fun.
Taking dress-up to a new level, Farewell, My Love, from Arizona and South Africa, was full of sweat, swagger and brio but this band took its glam rock seriously. Frontman Ryan Howell may have resembled a buff goth surfer dude but he acted like a revved up frat boy on a bender. Still, all the eyeliner, long flowing hair and lipstick couldn't mask the brutal sound, fury and snarky bite of "Mirror Mirror." When Howell shrieks "Your biggest fear is when you look in the mirror," you can feel his sympathy toward the recipient of that line under Logan Thayer and Robby Creasey's banshee wail of layered guitars. In the hands of Farewell, My Love, glam rock seemed suddenly new and exciting again. Adam Lambert and Gene Simmons could learn a lesson or two from these guys.