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  The Caledonia Lounge  
  Athens, GA  
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In general, I like my music loud and obnoxious, and quite frankly, Chicago band Tijuana Hercules fits this bill. Since they haven’t played down South in quite a while, I’ll confess that I was really looking forward to this show. Furthermore, the opening band was one of my current favorites from the Atlanta scene, Envie. On the surface, it was an odd bill: Tijuana Hercules has guitars, reverb, and the almost barking vocals of former-Atlantan John Forbes whereas Envie has its newly formed combination of drums, cello, harp, keyboards, and bass as well as the ethereally forceful vocals of Renee Nelson. Nevertheless, I really like both bands, so I wasn’t going to complain about the strange combination.

Furthermore, I will also confess I was looking forward to seeing both bands in my favorite venue, The Caledonia Lounge in Athens, which is small, dark, and always has excellent sound. Anyway, when Envie took the stage, I was a bit skeptical. The band more or less took up all of the tiny stage, and the sound guy had never encountered them before, so I was afraid that the sound mix would be a little dodgy. However, I shouldn’t have worried. After a rough first song, the mix moved from good to excellent. Throughout their set, I could not only hear all of the instruments, but there was also a balance to their music that I hadn’t heard previously.

As I’ve said before, I see a power in Envie’s work which compels me into paying attention, although it’s not the normal rock to which I am drawn. And on this evening, I felt the power exceedingly. This seemed to pick up as they moved into their second song (which I believe is called Amelia’s Dream). At the point, drummer Kevin Wallace set a pace which was almost punk in its speed and intensity. He kept it up throughout the set, driving the band forward at breakneck speed, so that Envie played a blistering version of their entire catalog. Nevertheless, the band kept up with the quickness, throughout the intricacies of the instrumental pieces, and I was stunned by the precision with which they played.

For me, the highlight of the set was the last song they played, which was a new one whose title I do not know. It began with a vaguely Middle-Eastern tone over which Renee Nelson verbalized rather than sang as she played keyboards. In some ways, it reminded me of Ofra Haza, circa the late 1980s. However, after building to a climax, the music paused for a moment, before breaking into an off-kilter beat, which in and of itself built to yet another climax before ending. It was glorious and different and suggests the direction to which Envie is building, as they manage to combine Nelson’s vocals and harp/keyboard and Deisha Oliver’s cello with the basic rhythm of Wallace’s drums and new member Jared Welsh’s alternating keyboard/bass.

After such a performance, it would take a truly extraordinary band to catch my attention. Luckily, Tijuana Hercules took the stage next. Put simply, I love this band, and on this night, they could not disappoint. Although the crowd was a bit sparse, the band played with energy and fervor, as vocalist John Forbes sang and played guitar while drummer Chad Smith banged the living hell out of his drum kit, displaying such a passion and energy that I suspected that everything could fall apart around him and he’d keep playing. But the highlight of the set (as it has been before) was percussionist Zac Piper, who mainly plays a group of coffee cans strung along the bottom of a music stand, with a cowbell and tambourine affixed to the top.

As I’ve stated before, this percussion seems like an odd thing and yet it’s essential to Tijuana Hercules’ sound. And as Piper banged away on his cans, performing what appeared to be a modern dance in his style of playing, I was struck by how very essential his contribution was – without it songs like Lucky Charm would merely be solid Chicago Blues cum Rockabilly contributions. However with Piper behind it all, there was a focus and an intensity which inadvertently drug the crowd along, placing them in a certain mental space. In short, I was left saying to myself, "Damn they’re good…..I won’t see the likes of them everyday." And with as many shows as I see, that’s saying something. Furthermore, the sound was again excellent, even going so far as to split the sound of the cans, so that parts came from different speakers.

When Tijuana Hercules finished, I shook my head, sad that this wondrous band isn’t part of my everyday life. And yet, with the growth and development of Envie, I can’t be sad. While I may not get my classic obnoxious loud fast music from them, I hear something just as good – a strong well-conceived band which plays with skill and vision, whose live performances leave me energized and wanting more. And what else could you want from a live band?

Related Links:

Tijuana Hercules, playing last March in Atlanta.
Another recent Envie review for Tracers.


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