Wednesday October 28, 2009


Caledonia Lounge

Athens, GA



By Chris McKay



(Frank and Josh photos by Ed Nichols)

 It’s several days past this gig and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. It was the best mix we’ve ever had at the Caledonia (Thanks, Gene) and I know we played extremely well. What I’m not used to is the “music shows” as I’ve begun calling them. I enjoyed it particularly because it wasn’t about the over-the-top rock show as much as about playing our butts off, which we did.

Instead of confronting the audience, we were more lost in ourselves. I think the musical results of that were exactly what I’d hoped to achieve. We had no set list and early in the show, we decided to just take our chances, fling away any rules or expectations and just play. Heck, Frank and I didn’t even change into stage clothes. I’m sure we won’t make a habit of that but tonight, it seemed like the way to go.

Of the seven songs in this short set, nearly half had never been done. We even tagged on the outtro to a song we haven’t finished working up at the end of the rarely played “I Know Too Much”. I was surprised at how strong an opener it turned out to be.

We followed it with “Sadder Day”, which is a “gotta have” in the show for me still. I always enjoy it. I think we’ve finally hit our stride with it as a 3-piece. After that, I asked those in the room if they wanted the usual stuff or for us to go out on a limb and experiment. They encouraged the latter.

So for the first time ever, we took off into a spastic version of the newly-voted-in “That Excites Me”. It really does come to life onstage. I had hoped it would. I would’ve never thought that our friends would vote this odd little tune into the rotation, but it’s there and again, you’re right! I was apparently wrong again as I never would’ve given it the chance it deserved.

(Photo by Ed Nichols)


Just to up the ante, we successfully segued “That Excites Me” into another one that the three of us have never done. “This Is The Night The World Changes” felt strong even as Josh left out the drum roll that leads into the chorus. Again, I’m happy this was voted in (at least for the live show). We’ll see if I feel the same about it for an album but for shows, this is a fun one to have at the ready.

I was about ready to lead us back into songs we know, but Josh wanted to bust out “Pepper” for its debut. Just before we started, I looked back at him and said, “You know we don’t have an ending for this yet”. He smiled and said, “We’ll work something out”. I flubbed a lyric or two trying to learn the foot-pedal dance and it didn’t quite feel as strong as I’d hoped, but it’s possible that I feel that way because of my little screw ups more than for any other reason.

At the end of the song, we cut into half-time and went off on a jam. Yes, The Critical Darlings were "jamming", or at least as close as we'll ever get. Can you believe it? We bravely leapt out into an unscripted, who-knows-what’s-going-to-happen-next bit that pushed and pulled between a bluesy, funkish vibe and a syncopated Zeppelin inspired stop-start riff. It was fun for me and definitely something new for us. I was in my own world and I assume the other guys were too. For a while, I didn’t know or care where I was. I was just playing.

I wonder what we’ll do with this one as it develops. For the next while, I guess we'll continue to make it up as we go along. What’s the point in figuring it out when it felt so good to just wing it?

After that was done, I asked Josh what he wanted to do next. He requested “Scared Of Myself”, so that’s where we went. Funnily enough, Frank slipped a couple of times on this one. I thought it was hysterical that he nailed the songs we’ve never done and missed a note or two on one that we do at virtually every show.

Following the extended jams at the end of “I Know Too Much” and “Pepper”, we were already running low on time, so I said our goodbyes, thank you’s and launched into “Phony”. It was its usual self. As big and ridiculous as “Phony” has always been, it didn’t feel as hot to me tonight. I think it was because I was missing the challenge of not knowing where we were going or what we were doing. There was a little extra edge on many of the songs tonight as we were pushing each other as musicians. We definitely couldn’t rely on muscle memory or anything other than the moment. We captured it tonight.

I wonder if this will be a totally unique gig in our history. My hope is that we can incorporate this new-found experimentalism into the more polished and "worked on" elements of the show. It’ll be an adventure to find the balance between the two. We are evolving yet again and this is a vital part of it.

We’ll just do what we do and let other people figure out what it is. They always know better than we do anyway! We’ve never been able to define ourselves or understand it as well as our friends. Then we can have it explained to us!


Photo by Ed Nichols


Set List
 1. I Know Too Much (For My Own Good) / Something In The World Outtro Jam
2. Sadder Day
3. That Excites Me
4. This Is The Night The World Changes
5. Pepper
6. Scared Of Myself
7. Phony


Click here for more pics of Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings at Caledonia Lounge.


Photo by Ed Nichols


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All photographs by Amanda McKay unless otherwise indicated. Copyright 2009.