12.31.2008

Midnight Hour Live, Time The Fourth

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:30 pm

(Before I get into this post I’d like to throw out congratulations to the Detroit Lions, the first NFL team ever to win 0 games and lose 16 in a single season. Here’s to perfection!)

I went out again to see Midnight Hour at the Detroit Bar on Monday night–their last show there in their December residency. (You can see all my previous posts on Midnight Hour by clicking here.) Unfortunately no TLB readers took me up on my offer to show up and get a free drink, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless.

The opening band was called Janu and the Whale Sharks, a local OC indie band. Brad (my friend and the frontman for Midnight Hour) said that he’d heard good things about them, and he and I were both pretty impressed. They started off with a banjo, which is pretty awesome in and of itself, and we liked their sound. Their Myspace page lists their genre as “Folk Rock / Lyrical / Healing & Easy Listening;” I don’t know what “lyrical” or “healing” music is, but it was definitely folk rock, and it was much better than the type of music that’s typically referred to as “easy listening.” Worth a quick Myspace listen. Dynamite Walls also performed again.

And then Midnight Hour was up. Throughout the Mondays in December, the Detroit Bar had some Christmas lights on the stage, snaking along the floor, wrapping around amps and crawling up mike stands. But tonight they rearranged them, to great effect, and spelled out the band’s name:

The band was great again, of course. I recognized all the songs from the previous weeks, and they played the songs the same way, but their energy and passion in playing makes hearing even the same songs worth it. They also played an encore at the behest of the audience. I mentioned in passing in one of my previous posts that Brad played a solo acoustic encore at two of the shows; the last time I went there weren’t enough cries for an encore to get one. But this time the full band played the encore and that was a pleasant surprise.

I tried to record several videos with my cell phone, but none of them turned out good enough to be postable. So you’ll just have to content yourself with the band’s YouTube channel and the other ways to listen to their music I detailed in this post. I’m excited to get their album when it finally comes out, and see them play more live shows in the near future–hopefully ones that start earlier than 11 pm! I’ll let you know if I hear anything more about the band–if there’s any news about their album or more shows coming up. And in the meantime, have a fun, safe and very Happy New Year!

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12.28.2008

If You Didn't Get Enough Lights This Christmas…

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:59 pm

… go check out the Christmas post at The Rum Creeters. My friend (and soon-to-be in-law) Rachel is one of the contributors, and I always enjoy reading the blog. One of the authors, Erin, discovered a house with an outrageous Christmas light display–timed to music on a radio frequency the house’s owners had apparently bought for the holidays. The lights flash in time and in different groups with the rhythms of the music (the first song is the Peanuts rag “Linus and Lucy,” and the second one is a rock song I don’t recognize). Pretty impressive. Normally I’d embed the videos here, but since I secretly want to promote their blog as well I’ll just give you a link to the post:

The Creeters’ First Christmas

Enjoy, and merry Christmas again!

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12.26.2008

I’ve been out twice more to see Midnight Hour, my friend Brad Lodge’s band–on December 15th and December 22nd. (My first two posts about them can be found here and here.) They have a residency playing at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa every Monday night in December–which means you have one more chance to go out and see them.

Their live show was even better these two times than it was the first time I saw them. The sets were also quite different–they included the three songs from their demo CD again, as well as “Running Away,” but they also introduced several songs they didn’t play the first time, which I appreciated. I imagine that limited sets can be a danger for bands still in the process of writing their first album, but I was grateful to see that Midnight Hour avoided it. It sounded to me like Brad’s voice was a little tired, and he said that he was getting over a cold, but he still led the band with an infectious energy that seemed to be at an even higher level than before. The band was still tight, the music was still great, and although the place was still very loud I brought earplugs this time.

(Bonus aside: Someday I’ll get high fidelity earplugs, which reduce noise without muffling it. Normal earplugs cut out many more high frequencies than low frequencies, so the sound is distorted; hi-fi earplugs are “attenuated” so as to replicate the ear’s natural response and reduce sound at all frequencies. I had thought that so-called “musician’s earplugs,” which are custom-made, were pretty expensive, and upon a bit of research it seems they are; however, Etymotic Research offers a cheap generic alternative in their ETY•Plugs™ (ER•20 High Fidelity Earplugs). Apparently they reduce noise by about 20 decibels at all frequencies, and are available on Etymotic’s website for twelve bucks a pair. They claim that safe, permissible sound exposure to a rock concert at 112 dB increases from five minutes with unprotected ears [i.e. more than five minutes' exposure at that volume endangers your hearing] to 1.25 hours. Hmmm, do I sense a small Christmas gift for myself here…?)

In any case, the main point is that Midnight Hour is a good band, and their live show seems to be getting even better. Due to the strange fact that there were no chairs set up in the bar on the 15th, I shared my table with a girl about my age and her mother, who had found the band online and wanted to check them out. They both enjoyed the two opening bands (Dynamite Walls again and a new band called Y.E.A.R.S., for which I can’t find a website), and although I appreciated Dynamite Walls more and Y.E.A.R.S. wasn’t terrible, I sensed that my two new friends were not too discriminating in their musical tastes. However, they immediately agreed with me that Midnight Hour was clearly the best of the three bands. Again, even though I feel like there are things the band could do better, they are very good at what they do, and I can’t wait for their album and also to see how they mature.

That being said, again, you have one more chance to see them. Detroit Bar (21+), 843 West 19th Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92627, 9:30 pm, Monday, December 29th. No cover. That means it’s a FREE SHOW. Come out and hear some good music for free. You know you want to.

Special offer: If you see me at the show and mention TLB, I’ll buy you a drink! (If you need to know what I look like, click here.) That’s how much I want to see you there–and how good Midnight Hour is.

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12.25.2008

Handbell Quartets For Christmas, Paul Ellsworth

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:28 am

I’ve written before about the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers that I belong to, and their monthly listening pages. For their Christmas edition this year, the featured works were by a young composer named Paul Ellsworth (www.ellsworthcreations.com): two Christmas songs for handbell quartet. I always enjoy handbell music, so I headed over to the YouTube videos linked on the listening page and checked them out. I was pleasantly surprised–they really are for handbell quartet, meaning there are only four people, but they do things with handbells I’ve never seen at speeds I’ve never imagined. Most people, I think, enjoy handbell music, but it’s worth checking out these videos just to see the performers and all the cool stuff they do. Not least of their accomplishments is that these long and complicated arrangements are all memorized–not that they’d have time to look at music anyway. The group is called Five Octave Frenzy, and they’re part of the music department at The Master’s College. The first video is five and a half minutes long, the second is five and a quarter. The performers from left to right are Amanda Madrid, Leslie Ann Tulloch, Hannah Cooper, and the composer himself, Paul Ellsworth.

“Sing We Now A’Wassailing”:

Merry Christmas from all of us (i.e. me) here at The Listening Blog!

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12.22.2008

La Vie En Rose Soundtrack, Christopher Gunning

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:22 pm

Well, so much for posting more consistently….

A few weeks ago, my lovely fiancée and I rented the movie La Vie En Rose and watched it for the first time. It’s a French movie (originally titled La Môme in France), in French with English subtitles, about the “extraordinary life” of the French singer Édith Piaf. The actress who plays Piaf, Marion Cotillard, won a Best Actress Oscar for the role last year–only the second time a foreign film has ever garnered that award. So, between the critical accolades (a draw for me) and the fact that it was French (a draw for Eleanor), we decided we would check it out.

It was a very good movie–very long and very sad, but very good. Cotillard’s performance was heralded as “breathtaking” and “one of the greatest performances on film ever,” and it is certainly a superlative one, especially as Piaf near the end of her life.

Of course, since the movie was about Piaf, much of the score was comprised of her songs–sometimes with Cotillard singing but often the original Piaf recordings. The rest of the score was composed by Christopher Gunning, whose IMDB page reveals no other movies that I recognize–apparently he’s written a lot for TV. I found it interesting that in many of the movie’s moments where the score enters, when it didn’t involve a Piaf song, the composer employed a lone piano with no other instrumentation. Often the rest of the movie’s audio (dialogue, sound effects, etc.) would fade or disappear completely, leaving only a piano playing generally chordal passages in minor keys. It was an interesting touch, and a poignant one. As portrayed in the movie, Piaf had few friends and very few close ones; I wonder if Gunning’s choice of a single instrument was representative of her loneliness. In any case, the score did not make a great impression on me otherwise, but I enjoyed this particular concept and the rest of the movie was excellent.

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12.16.2008

Noël, Josh Groban: Revisited

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:34 pm

First of all, I must apologize (again) for my inconsistent posting of late. I’ve been quite busy over the past 5 days, but I would hate for you, my loyal readers, to feel neglected. So I will endeavor to do a better job in the coming weeks!

My last post, about Josh Groban‘s Christmas CD Noël, garnered five comments (with none from me)–the greatest number of comments I’ve ever gotten from readers, apart from the discussion generated by my first post on comprehensive listening. So, rather than replying to each of the five comments, I thought I’d write a dedicated post for that purpose.

Before I begin, let me say that perhaps I was a bit hasty and a bit harsh in my original judgment of the CD. I still stand by my principle that there’s not much that’s original or interesting in the arrangements, apart from “Little Drummer Boy,” although I’ve since gained a greater appreciation for “What Child Is This?” as well–it has a very appropriate quality of mystery and wonder about it that sets it apart from most of the other tracks. But upon further listening, I admit that the CD is not quite as cheesy as I made it out to be–sentimental, yes, but not (too) cheesy. And, as my lovely fiancée and at least one of my commenters pointed out, sentimentality is part of the whole point of Christmas music, so it can be forgiven perhaps more readily than in other genres.

So much for my preamble. On to the comments! The first one was from an anonymous poster:

The boy soprano on the “Little Drummer Boy” track is actually a girl! More specifically, David Foster’s daughter!

An honest mistake on my part, and one that I feel pretty foolish about. But, especially considering the boys’ choirs on a few other songs, I hope it’s a forgivable one–and come on, didn’t anyone else think it was a boy, without looking at the liner notes? N.B. David Foster is the musician who arranged and played piano on many of the tracks on the CD.

Another anonymous comment:

I always think it’s interesting that Josh’s voice still is trying to be forced into the classical category, when that’s not what he considers himself. While classicaly trained – which continues to this day – his love of music leads him in many directions….

The Christmas album was done at the urging of his fans who’ve wanted one for a few years now. It was fast – but turned out to be brutal to other artists in the record industry proving that Josh’s talent is not to be laughed at.

There are too many facets to this young man to hold him down to one genre, thank goodness. And still, he’s in his own lane.

It’s an interesting comment on our country’s musical culture to note that people try to force Groban’s voice into the classical category–perhaps we think that someone with such a great voice could not, would not or should not be performing in any other! His classical training is certainly evident in his singing, and I’m glad to hear that it continues. As I said in the last post, I would really like to hear him sing some great classical music, but at the same time whatever genre he doesn’t sing is another genre’s gain. It would be great to see him on a Broadway stage, assuming he can act as well. I’m not surprised that the album was done to placate his fans (it seems few popular artists escape a Christmas album these days), but I am glad it turned out better than most. I will check out the albums and YouTube video this commenter suggested (would you care to reveal your identity for this post, loyal reader?). And I agree that Groban is in his own lane.

The third comment was from Ryan Fleming, whom I can always count on for good insights:

I can see how a musician with a college degree in composition can find the arangement of most of Josh’s songs unoriginal or even cheesy; but while it may be unoriginal it still sounds good (in my opinion). I especially love the “inspirational” whole step key changes that you mentioned, especially when there is a break in the music right before hand. And I always find those sappy strings to be such a beautiful addition to any classical/pop music. I think these type of musical additions may be overused, but this is so because of the great impact it can have on a song. I do believe that they add a lot of power and feeling to a song.

As I am fond of saying, clichés are clichés for a reason–it’s because they’re so often true, or, in this case, because they so often work. As Fleming points out, these are all effective musical devices. However, these effective devices have become clichés precisely because they are overused. They do work, but they’ve been done so often that they lose some of their power and effectiveness. When I correctly sang along with the key change in “Little Drummer Boy,” it induced laughter rather than affected emotion because it was so predictable. I agree that they’re all legitimate musically, and that they sound all right; but with such a talent as Groban’s, I would have liked to see some more original arrangements–that is, arrangements that utilized skillful creativity, rather than resorting to hackneyed stuff that everybody does.

Darth_Harbison was the next reader to comment:

I don’t have enough musical knowledge to take issue with most of what you said, but I feel the need to jump to Groban’s defense because (while I don’t personally own any of his CDs) I greatly enjoy his music. I shall therefore refrain from taking issue with any of the musical issues and focus on the Christmas CD . . .

You criticize it as being “unoriginal” in “the most overdone genre of music in contemporary history.” This may be true, but I think that part of the charm of Christmas music is that it’s always pretty much the same. I love it as much as the next person when someone does something really new and creative without really changing anything (ala Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra), but I think a lot of traditional Christmas music could be ruined in the name of “originality.” Of course, this might just be me, since as you know I’m big on tradition.

You also criticized it for sappy sentimentalism . . . And while generally I agree that it’s not a good thing (although I like “You Raise Me Up” a fair amount), I think that, again, it can be forgiven in Christmas music–in fact, I think it’s part of the point. There are, of course, some Christmas songs with enough actual depth that sappy sentimentalism seems almost irreverent (e.g. Joy to the World, perhaps the most brutalized-by-overuse song of all time), but I don’t think that indulging ourselves in enjoying sappy sentimentalism at Christmas is necessarily be a bad thing. The way I see it, as long as we keep in mind (for lack of a less cheesy phrase) the true meaning of Christmas, there’s really no harm in enjoying it as a secular holiday, as well.

And I’m happy that you think Little Drummer Boy is so good, because this CD basically made it one of my favorite Christmas songs.

My response here is basically the same as my response above–too much of a pretty good thing is not as good as just enough of a really good thing. (If that makes any sense…) I do agree that Christmas music can be ruined by originality. A case in point (at least for me) is the movement in recent years of arranging hymns, including Christmas hymns, in a light-jazz style with lots of unusual extended chords (seventh chords, ninth chords, eleventh chords, etc.)–which “O Come All Ye Faithful” on Noël falls into in places. That’s just annoying to me, and just because it’s original doesn’t make it good. However, I’m not advocating radical departures from tradition here. “Little Drummer Boy” is original a
nd creative without departing at all from the essence of the song. It’s just enough originality to spice up the song and set it apart from less worthy arrangements, while not going too far. Originality in moderation. And, as I said above, I suppose my view on its sentimentality is more lenient than in my original post.

And the final comment comes from a self-so-called lurker, Roberta:

OK. I feel the need to comment here even though I just usually just lurk.
I agree with both Darth and Ryan’s comments. Believe it or not, I own the CD. It was the third Christmas album I listened to this year, after Chanticleer and The Cambridge singers. I have to tell you that the reason I bought it is “The Voice.” I think sentimental can be overdone but this album has just the right amount that we expect from a Christmas recording. There are many others that are so sentimental they make me cry – and I don’t mean that in a good way! I have to admit, I always skip the track Josh sings with Faith Hill. That is simply painful for me to listen to. His voice, singing familiar songs makes this a must for my Christmas listening.

Again the sentimentality comes up–and again, I agree that Noël does strike a pretty good balance, upon further reflection. A CD like one by Mannheim Steamroller, as Darth mentioned above, perhaps avoids sentimentality altogether because its ideas are so different and fresh; and CDs that are nothing but sentimentality are so numerous that they need no example. But the present CD in question seems to fall comfortably (with its listeners and with itself) in the middle. And again, as Roberta points out, Groban’s voice is really the primary reason to listen to this CD. The arrangements may not be the best, the guest vocalists may be subpar, but ultimately the CD is carried by Groban’s talent. And that’s enough reason for one listen, at the very least.

So there you have it! Feel free to comment again if you’d like to respond to my responses–and I’d love for the anonymous commenters to reveal their identities, if they so choose. And keep the large numbers of comments a-comin’!

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12.12.2008

Noël, Josh Groban

Posted by AJ Harbison at 2:10 am

My lovely fiancée’s landlady graciously got me a Christmas gift last week, which Eleanor gave to me in her stead. Apparently not knowing too much about my tastes in music, she had purchased Josh Groban‘s Christmas album Noël. But, I cheerfully accepted the gift and thought I’d give it a listen to give myself a broader understanding of Groban’s music.

I’ve certainly heard Groban sing before, and I have to say that he has, hands down, one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. I don’t know much (anything, really) about his history or training, but his voice is exquisite and perfectly balanced, equally at home in soft, crooning lows or powerful highs. His vibrato in particular is nicely controlled and understated, and never overwhelms his tone or pitch, which is one of my primary complaints about opera and similar styles of music. He is 27 as of this writing, which means that his voice has pretty much fully settled (it happens in men around 25) and is only going to mature from this point on. I’m not sure what his future aspirations are (although his Wikipedia page suggests he’s interested in pursuing musical theatre), but he certainly has the foundation to become a truly great singer.

That being said, however, I haven’t been a big fan of his music up to this point. His most popular song, a cover of “You Raise Me Up,” is a pretty sappy song with little real content (perhaps the “Wind Beneath My Wings” of this generation). And the arrangements that he sings tend to be cast from the same mold: cheesy, overly sentimental, scored with sappy strings and plenty of dramatic cymbal rolls and “inspirational” key changes up a whole step.

Noël, mostly, is the same. Of the 13 tracks on the album, ten are Christmas carols or traditional “religious”-type songs and three are secular Christmas songs (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” [that's the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" one] and “Thankful”). Sentimentality and sappiness are present in large doses, and hardly any of the arrangements present original or even really interesting takes on perhaps the most overdone genre of songs in contemporary history.

The only thing that makes the CD worth listening to, in most cases, is Groban’s voice. I should clarify that I don’t say that because the arrangements are bad music per se; it’s just that (as I said) in such an overdone genre, an arrangement with nothing original or interesting to offer is not really worth one’s time. But Groban’s voice makes even the sappiest arrangement tolerable, at the least. It seems like a pretty poor choice (although an inevitable one) to pair him with other singers, as on “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “The First Noel,” because he shows them up so clearly. The latter, which is a duet with Faith Hill, displays this even more so than the former: Faith Hill is by no means a bad singer, but her vocal idioms and constant embellishment seem vulgar next to Groban’s clear and modest style.

There are a few exceptions to the CD’s rule, however–interesting moments here and there that are worth a listen. The boys’ choir that appears on “Silent Night” and “Ave Maria” is excellent and adds a nice shimmering touch. I appreciate the inclusion of two songs in Latin (“Ave Maria” and “Panis Angelicus”) and one in French (“Petit Papa Noël”). And there is one song that clearly stands out from the rest in originality and quality.

“Little Drummer Boy” is far and away the best cut on the record, and the most original in its arrangement. The CD mentions that it features guitarist Andy McKee, and it’s his guitar work that makes the track stand out. I also enjoy the boy soprano on the second verse who sings an echo to Groban’s melody, although I wish he was utilized more–it would have been nice to hear him singing simultaneous harmony as well, or hear his role develop through the song rather than just use him on the one verse. There is also a predictable key change in the middle of the song, which I actually anticipated and correctly sang along with the first time I heard it. But other than those two minor nitpicks, it’s a very good version of a good song.

Overall? Noël is maybe worth a listen or two if you don’t yet have an appreciation for Josh Groban’s voice. Christmas music as a genre has very positive connotations for me, as my mother would start to cycle through her various Christmas CDs after Thanksgiving to herald the Advent season. My first time listening through Noël made me happy because it was the first Christmas CD I’d listened to this year, and it did the trick of getting me in the “holiday spirit.” “Little Drummer Boy” is a track worth listening to, on its own. And as for Groban? I personally wish that I could hear him tackle some really great music–I’d like to know how he’d handle, say, a Handel aria or a Schubert art song. None of the music on this CD is difficult to sing, by any means, and it makes me wonder if his voice is really versatile or if he just sings this type of music really well. We shall see. But for now, a couple of tracks from Noël will make it into my own Christmas rotation. Let me know if any make it into yours!

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12.09.2008

Acapulco Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 2:41 am

Last week my friend and coworker Doug and I went out to eat at an Acapulco restaurant for lunch. It’s billed as a “Mexican Restaurant Y Cantina,” and as you might expect most of the background music they played had lyrics in Spanish. But I remarked to Doug that much of the music, apart from the language of the lyrics, had absolutely nothing in it to distinguish it from mainstream American pop music. The same drum beats, the same chord progressions, the same instrumentation. And the songs I listened to more closely certainly had nothing to distinguish them from American pop music in quality–just the same boring, hackneyed pop that is one of the reasons I despise radio. I love my country, and I’m all for music incorporating elements of other cultures; but I was disappointed to discover that some Mexican pop music has been all but assimilated into some of the lamest and most generic American pop.

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12.06.2008

Midnight Hour Recorded

Posted by AJ Harbison at 6:19 am

I forgot to include in my last post that Midnight Hour’s website, www.midnighthourmusic.com, which is actually a custom-domain-hosted Myspace page, has on it all three songs that are on the demo CD that I’ve been listening to and that I referenced in the post. The three songs are “This Is Where It Ends,” “Becoming Who We Are,” and “Can’t Get Away From You.”

However, I’ve been having some trouble loading the Myspace player on my computer. If this problem happens to you, fear not, because there are other ways you can hear their music (other than the ways I listed in the last post). They also have a Facebook music page, where you can become a fan of theirs and watch two videos of acoustic performances. The two videos are “Becoming Who We Are” and “Queen Annie,” which Brad actually performed solo at the end of the show on Monday and which I enjoyed very much.

And finally you can check them out at their page on PureVolume; there you can find the four songs (the three mentioned above plus “Running Away”) that are on the Myspace page.

So there are your options! Go listen and enjoy!

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12.04.2008

Midnight Hour Live

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:43 am

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I was in a band with a cool guy named Brad Lodge. He played guitar and sang lead vocals in the band, and I played keyboard and guitar.

Fast forward to the present time and the present land. Brad Lodge is still a cool guy, and now he’s the frontman for a very cool band called Midnight Hour. After being signed by Interscope Records, they’ve been in a long phase of writing for their first album; and on Monday night, they played one of their first shows in a year or two.

I went out to see them at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on Monday night–they booked a gig playing there every Monday night in December, along with a band from San Diego called Dynamite Walls. Each of these shows are free, with no cover charge or drink minimum, so you may want to check them out if you like live music. (If you happen to visit the Detroit Bar’s website, though, don’t be fooled–it’s not nearly as nice as the site makes it out to be…)

The music started almost 40 minutes after the scheduled time, so I sat for a while by myself drinking my Jack and Coke and people-watching. I tried comprehensive listening–trying to listen to every sound around me–for a short while. It was an interesting exercise because the only two types of sounds were the DJ’s music playing over the speakers and the many conversations; but I noticed that different conversations would stick out at different times. As I wrote about in my first post on the topic, when I’m trying to listen comprehensively my ears “jump” around to different sounds, in a similar way that your eyes might jump around to follow different movements in an otherwise static scene. I noticed that with conversations as well: a sudden burst of laughter, an emphatic point being made, would draw my ears’ attention for a moment, before they would be drawn to something else.

The first opening band was called PawnShop kings (their capitalization). They were actually quite good–their lyrics were pretty repetitive and didn’t have a lot of substance, but they worked, and I liked the music quite a bit. I’m going to do some more listening and watching around at their Myspace site, and I’ll get back to you.

The second opening band was Dynamite Walls. They were more of a straight-up rock band, and because the bar was a pretty small space, it was way too loud. I enjoy loud music to a small extent, but since my ears are my most valuable asset I try not to enjoy it to any extent that worries me. This extent worried me, so instead of staying in that room I moved back behind the bar to lessen the decibel level. That turned out alright, because I wasn’t particularly impressed with the band anyway, and in the other room I ran into Brad and we got the chance to talk and catch up a bit, since we hadn’t seen each other in a few years. He was excited to see me there, and I was excited to see Midnight Hour perform.

They went on after Dynamite Walls. I’m sorry to say that they were also very loud; but of course I wanted to stay to hear them. Some pretty intense TTS occurred.

The main problem was that the drummer was playing at full force (or something very close), and the space was small enough that the cymbals basically covered everything else. The sound guy also didn’t mix the rest of the band very well, and Brad’s voice didn’t stand out as it should have. One of their Myspace friends named “booz” left a comment on their page saying “detroit…though an awesome place…is too small for you,” and that’s very true on two levels. First, it was just too loud for such a small performance space. And second, they played as a big band and put on a big show even in a small space. I feel like they would have been almost suited to open for Coldplay in the Honda Center by virtue of the way they played. I hear that this was one of U2‘s distinguishing features when they were a young band (i.e. before they became a big band that always played in big places).

I like Midnight Hour’s music a lot. The songwriting is a bit repetitive, but it’s well-written at the same time. It’s simple, but not simplistic, and I think that describes their music as well. The style of the band is definitely rock; Brad compared their sound to a British-type band, and mentioned Coldplay. Listening over the last few days to the free demo EP that they handed out, I am noticing a lot of similarities to Coldplay. Midnight Hour is guitar-based, and occasionally keyboard-based, rock; they’re very high energy; they often have similar beats and drum patterns; Brad sings in falsetto quite a bit and does it very well. The live show was really rocking, and (despite the volume) I enjoyed it very much.

Their most popular song is “Running Away,” which was actually featured on the CBS TV show “The Ghost Whisperer” about two years ago. (You can see the clip from the show featuring the song here; note that the lead singer of course is an actor from the show, and the bass player is secretly JC Chasez of ‘N Sync. Brad does make a sort of cameo, however: you can see him playing the green piano to the right of the lead singer. A video of Midnight Hour performing the song on the show’s set–probably the best performance of the videos linked in this paragraph–can be found here.) Subsequently it became a pretty big hit on the internet and (as far as I know) has remained their fans’ favorite song. It’s a great song–it also has simple words and simple music, but they combine to create a coherent whole and it’s pretty powerful. You can see a video of them performing the song live in the studio here, courtesy of UGO.com (which also has more Midnight Hour videos and fun stuff that you can find on their UGO page). I really like “Running Away,” and I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t on the demo CD; but upon further reflection I decided that this was okay. “Running Away” is the kind of song that I love to listen to so much that I end up listening to it too much and I get sick of it.

Listening to the demo CD, I think that Midnight Hour is a very good band, and they have the potential to become a great band. The difference, it seems to me, is details. The music was by far better than either of the other two bands at Detroit, but it still lacks detail. The guitars and the drums are fine at what they do but they don’t do quite enough. Listening to the CD is like listening to a recording that’s still waiting for a few more instrumental tracks: the foundation is there but it’s a general sound, with very few fine points. One instance of this can often be found in the gaps between vocal lines. Brad will sing a line, and then wait a measure or two before singing the next line. But instead of one of the guitars playing a little riff to fill the space, it’s left open and feels empty. Another example would be the drums: they definitely lay down a solid foundation, but some finer details (changing up the pattern slightly, throwing in some quick extra cymbal work) would do a lot to spice things up. Their mix often feels a bit bottom-heavy, as well–with two (or three) guitars and a bass providing all the musical material other than the voice, some high keyboard or guitar parts would be nice here and there. A little more nuance and subtlety in the lyrics would be appreciated t
oo; much of the time they tell explicitly rather than showing implicitly, when the latter is a key to good songwriting (in my opinion). And–although this is a personal preference rather than an objective critique–I’d like to hear one or two 80s-style shredding guitar solos, because I know the guitarists are capable of them and they would rock. But I would say that if they learn to add more fine details to their music and tweak their sound just a little, it would take their music to the next level.

But I’m still going to listen to them, go to their shows and cheer them on in the meantime–and I’ll recommend ‘em to you, my loyal readers, as well!

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