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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    ryan fleming on 12.04.2008

    You mentioned that your ears are your most valuable asset. Does this mean that you would rather be blind than deaf? I always find this an interesting question to ask people. Most people would rather keep there sight, so I wanted to know if you would rather keep your hearing??

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