When I'm writing reviews, I often end up talking about how
my expectations of the show influence my overall enjoyment.
Inevitably, it seems like if I'm really looking forward to seeing
a band, I'll end the evening feeling vaguely dissatisfied and
disappointed. Occasionally, though, I'll walk into a concert
with low expectations and then be pleasantly surprised by the
Now why on Earth would have low expectations when American
Dream, one of my favorite bands on the local Atlanta scene,
is the headliner? Admittedly, I hadn't heard of Plug Spark Sanjay,
the New Jersey based band in the middle of the bill. But that
lack of knowledge doesn't usually stop me. And although the
band name "Chocolate Kiss" gives me funk-induced nightmares,
I'm willing to deal with just about anything for openers. No,
the major cause of my hesitation on this evening was the venue:
You see, Lenny's used to be known as Dotties,
back before she died. I used to see a lot of bands there. And
back in the day, it was a dive. No let me rephrase that: it
was a filthy, downtrodden dive in a really bad part of town.
The women's bathroom never functioned. The floor was sticky.
The beer was cheap. The sound was exceedingly loud and exceedingly
echo-y. And the audience was ... well ... drunk. It wasn't my
favorite place, and I wasn't too eager to return (even if it
is under new management).
But I have to admit, the old place has cleaned up rather nicely
(much like most of intown Atlanta). Yeah, it's still a converted
doublewide with a view of the cemetery, but at least the bathroom
is clean. Or at least that was my first impression when we arrived,
probably halfway through Chocolate Kiss's set. And Chocolate
Kiss wasn't what I had imagined, either. Their brand of punk
may not be particularly original or particularly hard, but it
was entertaining and solid. Sure the music in and of itself
is less interesting than watching the musicians play, but it
didn't drive me to the exits or get me to play the "Where did
they rip this off from?" game. I'd like to see them again, if
only so I can evaluate them better.
Afterwards, Plug Spark Sanjay took the stage. Apparently, they're
normally a four piece, but on this evening they were down a
drummer (due to family emergency), so they started off as a
guitar/guitar/bass trio. From the first, I really liked them;
they reminded me of slower, more melodic Plexi with swirls of
interacting guitars held together by a rhythmic bass. Sure the
songs towards the beginning of the set had this dark, almost
melancholy edge, but that was probably more due to their drummer-less
form than anything inherent in the music. In fact, for the last
few songs, Plug Spark Sanjay had a guest drummer (whose name
escapes me); this addition of rhythm filled out the band's sound
and added a new urgency to the music, impressing me enough to
buy their album so that I could actually figure out what they
are supposed to sound like. Certainly, even in this form, I'd
recommend their live shows; hopefully the full band can return
to Atlanta at some point.
Finally, it was time for American dream. I haven't seen them
in a while, and on this night, it was quite clear that they've
been really busy over the last couple of months writing new
songs and refining their sound. In fact, I think this set list
was almost wholly different that the one they used the
last time I saw them. And on this new material they truly
sound more together -- with each instrument (including the cello
and harp) holding its own in the structure and not just repeating
the same riff as some other piece of the band. At the same time
(and this isn't as contradictory as it may appear at first),
American Dream sounded more like a rock band this time around.
It may have been an effect of the sound mix, but it seemed like
there was a new emphasis on the more normal instruments - guitar,
bass, and drums - than on the other stuff. It sounded really
good, but the music definitely had a more straight-forward feel
than their previous sets.
All in all it was a good evening; all the bands were impressive
and/or interesting. And all of them are acts I'd really like
to see again.