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  FIVE-EIGHT W/ Big Fish Ensemble  
  Star Bar  
  Little Five Points, Atlanta, GA  
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Writing a review of a concert - even a couple of days later - takes some of the immediacy away from the experience. The distance dulls the strengths and mitigates the weaknesses. So, someday, I'm going to take my laptop to a concert and write up my impressions as I go along. It'll be disjointed (not to mention exceedingly geeky), but it'll be a honest reaction.

Anyway, when Zythos and I went to The Star Bar to see Five-Eight, we were expecting the place to be packed - the venue isn't that big, and neither Five-Eight nor the opener play out much. So I was certainly surprised to see Big Fish Ensemble taking the stage to a smallish crowd.

Big Fish Ensemble are one of those bands I've always meant to see, but haven't. They're an Atlanta band that's been around for years, and have a reputation for playing really great live shows. Truth be told, that's about all I knew about their music, other than the fact that this was their first show in a year or so.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, Atlanta was the home of several hard to categorize bands (most notably The Jody Grind) that played a fusion of jazz, rock, folk, and country using odd instrumentation. Apparently, Big Fish Ensemble fall into the same vein. With a combination of drum, guitar, violin, and tuba/bass (with occasional keyboards), their music is "quirky" and reminds me of Brave Combo (only without the polka motif). Unfortunately, at times the offbeat lyrics and syncopated beats seemed a little precious and forced, as if they're trying a little too hard to be cute. On the other hand, their cover of The Who's Tommy Can You Hear Me? really stood out because of the strangeness of the band. So in the end, I have a mixed reaction to them, which came to me as gulped down my three beers during their hour long set: "I like them, but I don't want to."

Then, after a mercifully brief set change, Five-Eight took the stage. They've been around for years, but I haven't seen them in concert since 1997 or so. Back then, I was totally overwhelmed by their shows, and always vowed to myself, "I will never miss this band when they play." Obviously, I didn't keep that pledge, but I still find something attractive about their straight-forward approach to non-hyphenated rock.

They started off with a loud, fast, and tight version of my favorite song by them, Goddammit Paul. I closed my eyes, and let the sound wash over me, pulling me into a world where guitar, bass, drums, and vocal meld into a unified whole. They then continued playing, showcasing music from their most recent release, 2000's The Good Nurse while throwing in some of their older music. It all blended seamlessly - none of the music was out of place. Everything sounded well-rehearsed. I was so involved in the music that I didn't break away for anything - not to get another beer, not to go to the bathroom, not even to comment to the Zythos about anything. It was one of those rare experiences were a band hits all the right notes (in both a literal and metaphorical sense). And the crowd (which had by this time filled up the Star Bar) appreciated the performance - people sang along, and bounced, and danced. This was all brought home when they brought part of Big Fish Ensemble back on stage and launched into an over-the-top cover of Baba O'Riley (what is it with The Who?).

After an hour and a half, Mike Mantione (lead singer and guitarist) broke into Wierdo (which always reminds me of Billy Bragg for some reason), and the rest of the band took a break and grabbed drinks. This apparently signaled the start of the encore - and this is when things really started to get a little weird. I suppose the first sign should have been the drummer-led cover of The Outfield's Your Love (a big hit with me, as it was one of my favorite songs when I was 14, and hadn't discovered punk rock yet). After they finished that tribute, they asked for requests, and ended up playing (at least partially) covers that included: 1999 (Prince), Sunday Bloody Sunday (U2), and That's What I Like About You (The Romantics). I felt like a young teenager again, listening to top 40 radio and discovering that music was my life.

It was 2:25 in the morning when I walked into the parking lot of the Star Bar, chatting eagerly with Zythos about the evening. "That was Amazing," I declared. "One of the best shows I've ever seen," replied Zythos. I nodded, still hearing the music in my head.

I've found that the best shows are the ones where, when the concert ends, you want to load up your bags and go see the band on the next night. Friday night, I vowed to myself that I was going to see Five-Eight the next night in Athens. I just wanted to see if they could be anywhere near as good as they were at The Star Bar. I just had to hear it all again. And if I'd come home and written my review then, it would have been a gushing, raving piece full of superlatives. Unfortunately I didn't do that, and now I'm left grasping at those slightly dimmer recollections of an experience gone by.

And, in case you were wondering, the next night, I stayed home.

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