Friday, May 13, 2016

Concert Review: Texas Hippie Coalition

The release of “Dark Side of Black” marked an important pivot for Texas Hippie Coalition, as the band demonstrated the ability to shift between musical gears while still keeping the engine running without a hitch.  The resultant tour promised to be a celebration of this new found array of possibilities, a chance for fans old and new to relive favorite memories and connect with new ones.

First though, the Sons of Texas.  Formed in 2013 and signed to Razor & Tie (who are quietly putting together a rather interesting roster,) the band just by their mere appearance promised the gathered faithful another set of down-and-dirty southern groove metal.

The band did not disappoint, blasting through a collection of singles from their debut full length “Baptized in the Rio Grande.”  That title track woke the crowd up, flanked by powerful anthems like “Blameshift” and “Pull It and Fire.”  Sons of Texas was essentially given forty minutes to do as much damage as they could, and the band ripped through one end of their setlist and cleanly out the other, leaving behind an audience who may not have been familiar, but flocked to the merch table when it was over.

Here’s the key to their success – nobody likes Sons of Texas more than Sons of Texas does, and when you’re a new band in an unfamiliar part of the country, selling the sizzle, making the fans believe that yours is a show worth investing in, is a huge step in the right direction.  Vocalist Mark Morales reminds of a Texas version of Dani Filth (in appearance only,) and he pairs with bassist Nick Villarreal (who is secretly the heart of this operation,) to lead the band through a pile of good-natured, enjoyable self-aggrandizement.  This is all meant as a compliment.  Sons of Texas knows how to sell Sons of Texas.

And then it was time for the feature performance.  The front of the pit, previously sparsely populated, filled in.  Fans filed down for a better view of the headline show, an act that promised thunder and crushing Texas groove, covering all who had gathered in scads of red dirt.

The set began with “Hands Up,” not a new song to the surprise of many, but one that effectively communicates what the evening’s agenda will be like.  The bass of John Exall thuds like dense rubber as Big Dad Ritch bellows through his choruses and threatening verses, all the while singing into a giant shotgun-shaped mic stand.  This continued through the first new song of the evening “Come Get It,” and then into another crowd favorite, “El Diablo Rojo.”

The moment of greatest anticipation came in the middle though, as the band rolled into “Angel Fall,” the new single from their surprisingly expansive new album.  The song is unlike any other in the Texas Hippie’s catalogue, a pairing of thrash breakdowns and groove verses unlike any they’ve written, so there was a natural curiosity to see it played live.  The Texans (and one Oklahoman,) obliged, crushing out a song equally as dense as its recorded counterpart, guitarist Cord Pool sharp with his riffs and Ritch equally sharp with his verses.

Something was off, though.  The band’s music was as tight and explosive as it had always been, but the set felt workmanlike; the sense of fun was off, the attitude, such a critical piece of the band’s presentation, was wrong.  Eventually, Big Dad Ritch came sullenly to the stage, and, in an emotional display, explained how the band had lost a dear friend unexpectedly just the day before.  It was a vulnerable moment from an artist, and group of artists, who certainly didn’t need to defend themselves, but it turned the rest of the evening, beginning with a sing along of “Hit it Again,” into a different kind of special experience; a sharing of burden between performer and fan alike.  The crowd, enthused before, added empathy now, helping to urge the band on through their pain, showing their appreciation loudly and frequently.

We finished with the requisite “Pissed Off and Mad About It,” one of the rare times in the evening that THC dipped into their back catalogue.  It was an excellent, gritty performance through difficult circumstances, put on by a group of consummate professionals.  Their effort is appreciated.  Godspeed, gentlemen.

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