Nato Bardeen and Todd Eisenkerch of The Drowning Men

Nato Bardeen and Todd Eisenkerch of The Drowning Men

I had seen The Drowning Men on several occasions as support for The Airborne Toxic Event, mostly in larger venues. I had become so accustomed to seeing/hearing them take over the room and captive big crowds in a big space, that nothing quite prepared me for the sonic onslaught of that huge sound of theirs in the small confines of T.T. the Bear’s Place. This is a happy problem to have—being too good for a small venue. As Nato himself said, when headlining, they’re still a “small band,” though they sure as hell don’t sound like one.

Hearing them perform songs from their debut Beheading of the Song Bird and from their new album All of the Unknown made me realize what a jump in depth and sophistication there has been in their lyrical content and sound. While I loved their debut, with the rollicking “Rita,” All of the Unknown has a good deal more gravitas, and is more soul-searching and musically complex. Songs like “I am the Beggar Man” and “Fool’s Campaign” are incredibly powerful and completely blew my mind in a live setting. The combination of wayward pirate guitars, carnival organ and theramin thrilled the crowd. As great as all this sounds recorded, nothing is quite like the experience of seeing it go down live. It’s definitely not a sound one expects, and it was obvious that some were witnessing the band live for the first time. Among those more familiar, it was a homecoming, with people just amazed and delighted to be up close and personal in such an intimate setting. Small-time indie band, perhaps, but I think everyone expects them to be much bigger very soon.

They came back out for an encore, playing a song that was requested by someone in the audience. I’m not sure of the title; I think it’s something they don’t typically play (anyone?). I have it filmed, though due to a computer meltdown, am unable to upload right now. Stay tuned in the new year for a parade of videos from recent shows.

Haley Thompson-King of Banditas

Haley Thompson-King of Banditas

While I was lame and missed openers Sails, I did (fortunately) catch Haley Thompson-King of Banditas. After bitching out her bandmates for bailing on her, she proceeded to take the roof off the place with her torchy vocals, electric guitar and accompanying bass drum. She was absolutely mesmerizing. Her most effective moments were the old-school gospel-like numbers, which she pulled off magnificently, like an old soul. The Yoni Gordon Orchestra were a big hit with the crowd, though I would have to say they’re an acquired taste which I haven’t yet acquired. They do seem to be the quintessential party band (if you enjoy that sort of thing) with kind of a ‘novelty’ vibe, a mix of raunchy blues and full-on rock ‘n’ roll, with Yoni’s wacky and colorful traveling salesman storytelling style. He’s quite the showman, though it’s possible I was in the mood for something just a tad more subtle that evening. It was an interesting mix of bands, but that’s part of the fun in these small club multi-band gigs, not quite knowing what to expect.

Looking around at the small but wildly enthusiastic crowd for The Drowning Men, I have to say that a lot of you missed a really inspiring evening, so make sure you don’t miss ‘em next time around!