By Blake Mitchem
The Rebel Lounge, a smallish venue between old town Scottsdale and downtown Phoenix, is the place where I had seen my first show. It wasn't called the Rebel Lounge then, however it was called the Mason Jar. Which is why I was so excited to hear local concert promoter Stephen "Psyko Steve" Chillton had bought the place. As I pulled into the parking lot, anticipation was building not only for the show but for the venue itself. I walked in and straight back to the bar, grabbed a PBR and headed to the patio to await the middle band, The Rocketboys.
As I heard the loud swell of an electric guitar from inside, I left the conversation I was having and pushed my way to the front. The show was sold out and there was barely room to stand but I managed to find a pocket near stage left. The Rocketboys are about the tightest live band there is. Each note hitting perfectly in the pocket of its correct location on the staff. You don't need to have heard them before to know this band takes their live show seriously and planned every portion to happen exactly as it should. Lead singer Josh Campbell, brandishing a suit jacket, rocked back and forth on the stage dancing toward the drums and then swaying effortlessly back to the mic. It was surprising to say the least since the sound could just as easily have been coming from five men sitting on stools in a studio space gently focusing on every note. The energy was an explosion. This is the second time this band has made it through Phoenix and I hope it won't be the last. The crowd was somewhat engaged but more surprised that, coming to see Dustin Kensrue, fate and luck would also provide them with The Rocketboys. They finished with a sing along "Thumper" as Campbell jumped to the front of the stage trying to engage the crowd. Some joined in, mostly for the fact that no one at this show had yet heard of The Rocketboys, though I doubt many will soon forget.
Dustin Kensrue took the stage next opening with the song "Ruby" in full band fashion. Kensrue's voice is raspy and strong, bringing it down to crackling brokenness and back up again like a flamethrower. He has enough experience touring the world with his other project Thrice that its no large task for him to fill up a space like the Rebel Lounge. His presence is enormous. The band left the stage after several songs leaving Kensrue alone with his acoustic guitar and harmonica. I doubt anyone noticed the band had left considering how fully and emotionally he swept through each song. He kept the set light, talking back and forth with the crowd and mentioning Thrice here and there. Everyone was engaged with the show like a conversation. There was a beautiful exchange happening.
However, the mood shifted when Kensrue played a highly emotional song called "It's Not Enough". The crowd was suddenly listening instead of interacting. Kensrue is an artist that can command attention at the right moment. I for one am thankful for that. The vibe in the room had to change for people to engage with the deeper elements of the songs he was about to play. It's as if he gently said, "The time for talking is over, now it is time to listen." And listen we did. Every ear was directly locked on what Kensrue was doing and not an eye blinked.
After an impressive fifteen songs, to my complete and utter delight Kensrue promptly announced The Rocketboys would be joining him on stage. As they shuffled around him, grabbing instruments and setting up quickly, Kensrue said matter of fact-like, "We're going to play my favorite song off Please Come Home," to which an audience member yelled "That's a big statement, Dustin!" Kensrue, through his laughter, responded "Dude, it's only eight songs. This song is just so much fun to play-" he pause for a second and smirked "-with a band as good as this one," as he gestured to The Rocketboys. Everyone knew it was true. No one was surprised to learn which song he was taking about: it was "Blanket of Ghosts". Campbell played the bluesy guitar solo slightly different, which left me with goosebumps. There's a certain tastefulness that the blues require and he nailed it. Kensrue was good about sharing that moment with them. He didn't have to hold back and wait for them; they kept up just fine, leaving Kensrue to perform freely with the confidence that every note would be struck perfectly.
Dustin Kensrue's set ended after an astonishing eighteen songs, returning briefly for an encore which included Miley Cyrus' song "Wrecking Ball". He spent a few moments throughout plugging his show with Thrice on September 25th at Tempe Beach Park. Based on the show tonight, that Thrice will be a show you won't want to miss.