By Jason Shoff
Sundays are normally days I don’t go to shows. Typically it’s the day I recover from both the hectic work week and the Friday and Saturday nights I usually spend out on the town, so the most I ever do is get out of bed at around noon and turn on the TV to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos and Family Feud. But yesterday I made an exception, as the Crescent Ballroom featured one of their strongest local bills in recent memory, at least in my opinion. From relative newcomers The Lonesome Wilderness and rising stars Pro-Teens to indie rock darlings Saddles and the veteran staple of the scene that is Field Tripp, it was an extremely solid line-up of bands from front to back. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Field Tripp decided to put a nice cherry on top of the whole event by giving out a FREE compilation of b-sides and rarities to the first one-hundred concertgoers. Sounds like the recipe for a fun night, right?
After wolfing down a burrito and playing a round of Sunday Night Trivia with some fellow Hear & Now writers, I walked into the venue right before show time at 8:30 to find maybe about a handful of people inside. Now I wasn’t expecting a sold-out crowd, as it was a local show on a Sunday night (and neither was Crescent, apparently, as they had half of the ballroom blocked off), but it would have been nice to have seen some more people there. Their loss, though, as they missed a highly enjoyable set from The Lonesome Wilderness.
This is a band that I’ve wanted to see for some time, and they didn’t disappoint, as they sounded like they’d be a perfect fit for the “Best of Twang” playlist that was posted on the blog last week. Their sound is pretty tried and true: folk-infused rock numbers centered around simple yet very melodic chord progressions with some stinging electric guitar leads layered over top. Vocalist/guitarist Joe Golfen has a higher-pitched voice that reminds me quite a bit of Built to Spill's Doug Martsch, and their set has a nice, balanced mix of mid-tempo numbers and absolute barnburners, with the lilting island sounds of the aptly named “Tropicana” adding a nice change of pace from the alt-country stylings of the rest of their material. Overall, the Lonesome Wilderness showed a lot of potential, and I look forward to seeing how they develop and grow their sound in the near future.
Thankfully, the room started to fill up a bit more before Pro-Teens hit the stage, and one listen to their set makes it easy to see why they’d draw people in. They’re quickly becoming one of my favorite acts in town, creating a beach-infused brand of indie pop that’s upbeat, fun, and just downright catchy as hell. This is largely thanks to songwriter Andy Phipps (formerly of St. Ranger), who has a skillful ability to take the surf rock sound and effortlessly infuse his own songwriting style and quirks into it. Plus, his voice, with its tinges of Jeff Buckley, adds an interesting dynamic to his tunes that helps further set the band apart from their other counterparts. And on top of all of this, he’s surrounded himself with an ensemble that adds just the right amount of texture and color to the songs without overdoing it with superfluous instrumentation (and bonus points to them for finding a percussionist that reminds me of a long-haired Andy Samberg). In short, they’re the perfect band for the summer season, and they really need to head into a studio and record a proper album before it’s over (though they do have a few songs up on their Bandcamp page if you want a taste of what they sound like).
Speaking of bands that have proper albums, it felt so good to hear the sounds of Saddles live again. When Shell Art came out in 2013, it was easily my favorite local release of that year, and I definitely wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Whereas a lot of self-recorded albums can sound lo-fi to the point of being a hindrance, burying crucial elements of a band’s sound, Shell Art actually sounds like a professional-grade record while also having the catchy songs to match. So, when they took a small break from playing shows to focus on recording their next album, I didn’t mind: Hell, take as much time off as you want if it means producing another album as expertly crafted as the last. But thankfully they’re playing shows somewhat regularly again, which means people can rediscover what makes Saddles such a great band. And if you haven’t seen them live, it’s a must because the live energy really takes the songs, as great as they sound on the album, up to another level. “Bloody Summer,” with keyboards from new member Matt Klassen, becomes even funkier; “Bathroom Stalls” becomes an absolute epic with an extended jammed out coda; and “Brothels” sounds for all the world like a lost indie rock single from the early 2000s. They even debuted a brand new song, “Comfort,” and if its absolutely infectious power pop sound is any indication of how the rest of their new material sounds, Saddles’ new album can’t come soon enough.
Field Tripp then closed the night, with bandleader Dan Tripp thanking “all six people who showed up” to watch them play. Thankfully, a few more people came back in once they started their set, but the fact that more people weren’t there to watch one of the best all-out rock bands in town is just downright depressing to me. On top of being one of the nicest and most downright genuine guys in the entire scene, he’s by far one of my favorite local guitarists with his playing fueled by a passion and a raw intensity that’s downright guttural at times.
But if there’s one frustrating part about Field Tripp, it’s that he can’t seem to keep a consistent line-up together for too long, with his band changing at least a half dozen times since I’ve been following them. But to his credit, he always manages to find top-notch musicians willing to play with him, and his most recent line-up of drummer Dan Cooper, bassist Andrew Bates (who replaces the recently-departed Jess Pruitt) and guitarist/vocalist Cassidy Hilgers (of Tempe scene stalwarts Sister Lip) just might be his best line-up yet. Hilgers, in particular, really brings an added element to the table, both with her guitar playing (her twangy Rickenbacker rhythms provide a great counterpoint to Dan’s more abrasive style, particularly on the country punk stomper “John Wayne”) and especially with her vocals. Not only did she add some much needed harmonies throughout their set, but she sang absolutely gorgeously on the Field Tripp staple “The Awards Ceremony” (which featured a scathing solo from Dan that would make Neil Young proud) and caterwauled her way through their version of “Everybody’s Looking at Their Phone,” which they recently recorded for a Related Records compilation (seriously, she was screaming so loud that was concerned that she might pop a vocal cord).
But the overall chemistry of this latest version of Field Tripp is infectious, and the energy that they all bring to the songs adds an element that the three EPs Field Tripp released last year (as enjoyable as they are) just don’t capture. The aforementioned “John Wayne” and “Bloodhound,” for example, both get a vicious, much needed punk rock sneer; “Shotgun in the Hole” loses the 8-bit rhythm track and becomes the snarling rocker it deserves to be; “Ride of My Life” gets coated in a Velvet Underground sheen; and longtime FT stalwarts like “Paid Time Off” and “What’d You Say” sound for all the world like lost Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory outtakes.
The real highlight of the set, however, came when Field Tripp debuted their cover of LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” which they managed to turn into an R&B-style ballad with the help of Hilger’s keyboard playing and Tripp’s passionately delivered vocal, with him occasionally replacing “New York” with “Phoenix” (maybe he hasn’t heard of the awesome new venues that have opened up around town?). This was then segued effortlessly (and brilliantly) into the Les is Mormon guitar epic “Nothing is as Fun,” which features a chorus so catchy, and a sentiment so universal, that you can’t help but sing along. And apparently Hilgers must have heard me singing, because towards the end of the song she turned her microphone right into my face and urged me to sing into it. Then, within seconds, I was joined by a chorus of other people who couldn’t help but sing along to it, as well. And that, in a nutshell, is the power of the Field Tripp sound: it just utterly captivates you and hits you right in the gut, like all the best rock music does. Now hopefully this line-up can stay together long enough and record the classic album that I know Field Tripp can make.