Also appearing: Michael Guthrie Band, Love Tractor, Athens The Band, Free Mountain, Geoff Guthrie, Karbomb, Chop Top, Curley Maple, Burns Like Fire, Thunderchief, So It Goes, Seth Hendershot, Rick Fowler Band, Gabriela Mejias and Sleeper Years
By Chris McKay
The first show from a new band is always a tricky thing. The thing is, this one wasn't.
The Spinoffs came together last summer as Bryan J. Howard, Ian Werden and I were asked to play on a track called “Lucky Stars” by Kathy Kirbo (which was recorded for the upcoming Athens Burning movie soundtrack). The four of us got together a couple of times, worked out the tune and recorded it. Over the next few months, we didn't see each other.
Suddenly, we not only had the opportunity to play, but at a great show in memory of our friend Jon Guthrie. We couldn't (nor would we have wanted to) say “no”. The problem is, we didn't have any songs. Heck, we didn't have a name until 5 days before the show.
Over a few weeks, we worked up another of Kathy's songs called “Stars Go On”. I can honestly say that it's one of my favorite songs that I've ever been lucky enough to perform and help develop. I hope one day we get to do a full-fledged recording. It's a guitar epic of the scale that I've always wanted to write, but never could on my own. Kathy Kirbo can and has.
Deciding we needed more than 2 songs to play live, Kathy suggested “Wide Bicycle” from the second Critical Darlings album, Satisfactionista . Honestly, I didn't really want to do a Darlings song in this new environment, but Kathy's enthusiasm for the song (coupled with the facts that it was rarely ever performed and that we simply needed another tune) was enough to convince me to go ahead. It's also kind of cool that I'm the only one playing it the Darlings' way as everyone else in this band came up with their own variations on the theme.
On November 18, I wrote a pretty little acoustic tune called “You Belong To Me” and within a few days, I had an idea for a dark, ominous version of it, which I offered to The Spinoffs in early December. It was a bit tricky (especially under such a tight deadline), but we did get it together even though we hadn't planned on performing it tonight.
Those 4 songs came to exist for The Spinoffs in that order and on December 18, 2010, we went out and played those 4 songs in that order.
Granted, this new beginning doesn't mean that my band is gone, it just means that I have a new project to enjoy and inspire me. All of us have other projects.
As for me, I needed a break from the Critical Darlings for a few months. Now that I've had that break, I'm ready to jump back into that as well, but for now (and whenever the opportunity presents), I'm happy to be a Spinoff.
As far as this evening went, I'll begin with my Facebook status that was posted immediately after soundcheck:
“My night is made already. I just had the honor of playing in a pickup band for soundcheck with Michael Guthrie and Kevin Sweeney jamming on The Beatles, Gene Vincent and Led Zeppelin. The rest of the night is just tasty, tasty icing.”
That's so true. Even before showtime, it already felt like a family reunion, even with the people that I didn't know. Since we were all there for Jon, at the very least, we all shared a musical relative. At sound check we dashed through admittedly sloppy versions of Led Zeppelin's “The Lemon Song”, The Beatles' “One After 909” and Gene Vincent's “Be Bop A Lula”. We were having fun, though.
I don't dare get into all the details of the other acts that played, because I would leave something important out, but I didn't see a single act that wasn't killer in one way or another. And truth be told, I was a bit nervous to play on a stage with so many other amazing guitarists, especially for a first show where 3/4 of the material that I would be playing didn't have solos firmly written.
As it was a backline show, we didn't get to use our own amps. I did have my magical pedalboard, plugged right in and was ready to go. It was cool to never have to think or worry about the other members. Kathy and I wound up on stage left and right respectively with Bryan in the middle. This was just due to the amp set up, I think, but it wound up being right. I needed my space on the one side. I had to burn some energy.
Bryan introduced us and we leaped right into “Lucky Stars”. It's Kathy's tune, but Bryan and I both sing on it as well. It's cool introducing this new band with something that features all of us. Plus, it's a nice, jumping tune - a return to power pop for me. I was especially happy that right at the beginning of my first solo, people started running down to the front of the stage. To this point, the night had been semi-sedate, but a line formed against us and they cheered us on. It was just the bump I needed, especially since the mix was definitely odd. I could hardly even hear Ian back on the drum kit, but Bryan helped keep me on the beat with his steady bass-playing. This whole time, I was trying not to go too crazy since 3/4 of my band hadn't really seen how I tend to get onstage, but I was still taking up my side of the stage fully. I think we nailed “Lucky Stars”.
We then segued into the slow burning “Stars Go On”, which is my personal favorite from The Spinoffs so far. For me, it evokes the biggest rock of all time. I hear Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Pink Floyd. This is another one of Kathy's and she's mentioned it as Cocteau Twins inspired. That should show how differently we hear the same songs. Whatever inspired it, or it has become, I love "Stars Go On" so much. The lyrics were perfect to dedicate to Jon Guthrie. I actually shortened my solo a bit tonight, but the song still clocked in at close to 8 minutes. It's no problem for me. It's a big song by all terms and I don't want to try to chop off an arm or leg of the song just to fit it into a box.
As Kathy switched guitars, I introduced the band and “Wide Bicycle”. Now, it was my turn to front the band for the last 2 songs. “Wide Bicycle” went over well enough and I was satisfied with it, but I'm feeling much less for it than the other 3 songs. I do love what The Spinoffs have done with it and am happy to play it, but I'd rather be doing the songs we've done together.
We closed out our first mini-set with “You Belong To Me”. It was only a few days before that we'd decided that we would try to have it ready to perform. This is my newest song and a different, darker arrangement than the acoustic version at my site. This is still being worked out. It's so slow, deliberate and heavy. I keep calling it “The Monster”. To me, it still sounds like what I've done in the past, but it's also different from any of the others. It's obsessive. It starts on the edge, pulls back, then keeps alternating until the frenzy of the ending.
The last bit of "You Belong To Me" is sonically explosive (and expulsive) live. And that's not merely metaphorical. It's total chaos and yes, it sounds like an explosion by the end. The pent up potential compulsion of the lyric is turned loose in a musical way. Kathy and I pull together briefly for four measures of dissonant harmony, but after that, it's noise with the rhythm section being the only thing making sense out of it. I went to that Other Place during this, which was nice considering I was the one who made the biggest mistake of the night during the first chorus. Luckily, everyone covered me.
I enjoyed my time up there. It was my first live performance (short of a couple of one-off single song guest appearances with Kite To The Moon) in six months. Not only that, it was playing new music that I feel strongly about, with musicians that I'm proud to have on stage around me. As the song ended, my guitar was still thundering. I was worked up enough to barely be able to contain myself. I left the stage and the band with the guitars still rumbling. Kathy said the good nights.
The Spinoffs' Set List (December 18, 2010). Click title to watch videos of each song from this show.
Once my adrenaline calmed down and I got back out in the crowd, I kept hearing how well it went down. Everyone seems psyched for The Spinoffs. Now, it's Bryan's turn to bring in the next 2 songs. Kathy and I both have plenty to choose from out of our undone catalogs. My favorite comments had to do with how well people thought Kathy's and my voice blended. I also noted the comment about our intertwined guitar playing sounding “orchestral”. I've always wanted that.
I then relaxed and enjoyed the night. There was so much great music and the vibe was even better than the music (if that's possible). There were plenty of hugs and camaraderie. The whole night was alternately rocking, emotionally moving and inspiring. It was simply the perfect beginning to The Spinoffs and I hope this little side project goes on and on like the stars that Kathy conjured for the song.
Thanks to Kate Powell for videotaping. Thanks to Amanda McKay for the photos. Thanks to Jimmy Anderson for stage managing. Thanks to Asa Leffer and the 40 Watt staff for the sound and thanks to Cole Taylor for lights. Thanks to all the friends that made it out.
But most of all, thanks to the Guthrie family for having us out.