Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings


Friday November 4, 2005 - The Ritz - Athens, GA (with The Bearfoot Hookers & Trubblegum)



So what did you think was going to happen? Did anyone really think that losing a third of the band a week before a show and having no time to rehearse would slow us down? Well, think again. We may have been a little rickety in spots. We may have paced a little too tentatively for the first few songs. But by the end, we were firing on all cylinders (and even some we didn't have). Don't get me wrong. I was nervous about this gig. I didn't know which songs we should (or even could) do. When I walked through the door at The Ritz, though, the answers just seemed to provide themselves. This is without a doubt the most beautiful club I've ever played in. The stage was immense, the lighting was incredible and there was even a "press pit" for our photographer! Add to that the fact that the man in charge, Mark, was super cool as were the other acts and it all just felt great from the start. After Trubblegum soundchecked, we were even allowed to rehearse for a half-hour or so. It was good to get acquainted with the room and the band. It eased my nerves considerably. Michael Rietveld (ex-Star Zero / Q-Sign and my solo albums) is filling in on drums and I knew he could do it but he lives 200 miles away so usual rehearsals aren't an option. I was relieved that we were given a chance to run through some of it pre-show tonight. It was good to feel some of it out and see where we stood. We ran through "Colors In Black & White", "Phony", "Pepper", "Someone's Trying To Tell Us Something" and a few others before splitting off to get ready. I went home knowing that we could do nearly anything that we could do with Tom. Then doors opened. Not long afterwards, Trubblegum came up and did their thing. And then it was time to see if we could pull this off...

We didn't come out swinging this time...not by any stretch of the imagination. We opened with "Sometimes I'm Sam". It was meant to ease us into our comfort zone. I think it did that. Then "Until The Road Ends" followed. It was way too slow and Mike's cues on it were different than what Tom had been doing which caused a little confusion on my part. Because of those things, the song didn't really rock like it should. As with a lot of our stuff, this one needs to be pumped up to a punkish tempo to work. Here, it was too middle of the road to be what it needs to be. In Mike's defense, he was the original live drummer on this song (pre-Critical Darlings) and he was doing it the way he used to do it. He played fine. But it does need those particular inflections on the snare (and even more importantly) that super fast tempo that the Darlings have brought to it to make it succeed as it should.

After that, we didn't stop like usual. I decided to move our opening two-fer into a four-fer! We took off right into "Give Up Town." This is where we started hitting our stride. As much as I missed Tom's backup vocals, I've got to say that it was wonderful to hear all the drum parts back in place (Yep, Mike was the original drummer on this one, too). Tom never could quite get the mechanics of his backups and the four-on-the-floor kick matched. Mike had no such problems and the song felt more powerful than it ever has at a Darlings' show. Mike's more of a muscular player and on songs like this, that's a huge assett. What I enjoyed most was noticing people singing along for this non-album track! I think we surprised people by pulling it out this early as it's usually our closer. I was starting to feel inspired now and I jumped right into "Pepper." It's only the second time we've done this in Athens (3rd total I think) and perhaps it wasn't such a good idea but I was feeling cocky so what the heck! I think we deserve points for not playing it completely safe! For me, this was the low point of the night. There were some slight syncopation issues early on and then about halfway through, I got this terrible cough that I believe was brought on by our "haze" machine. I didn't miss anything but I sure couldn't put on the proper show. I was concerned for a couple of minutes that I'd just ground this triumph into a tragedy! After the song, Frank jumped up with some banter while I tried to breathe. He saved me.

Then we went on to the centerpiece. "I Won't Stand Still", like "Until The Road Ends" was just too slow. Again, we hadn't had time to rehearse so that Mike could see how much faster we do it. Unfortunately, this really does hamper the pacing and the contrast between the speedy pop-punk of "I Won't Stand Still" and the sludge rock of "Phony". It's strange how delicate it all is. We played "I Won't Stand Still" perfectly but again - we need more. (And we'll get there if we ever get the chance to properly rehearse.) Luckily, "Phony" is another one like "Give Up Town". I miss the backups but, man, that muscle propels it all so well. Mike really stepped up at the ending and I encourage him to continue to take that even further as long as he's around. That ending section is all about the guitar...but it could be all about the guitar and drums interacting. That's what I've always wanted. Hopefully, as he becomes more comfortable with it, he'll play off of what I'm doing more. That will, in turn, make me amp it up more. We can play off each other and build it to something truly monstrous. Still...I believe "Phony" was as good tonight as it's ever been. I don't think it was any worse for the wear. I think the audience reaction proved that. During the end section a whole slew of college guys made their way right to the front of the stage. And when the delay faded at the end (and the big round of claps, hoots and hollers subsided), I heard one of 'em yell "You got me sold" which elicited another round of "wooooos". That was a good feeling. As far as I was concerned, we proved ourselves right there. The rest is icing. I was satisfied so I decided to take it up even higher.

When I was introducing "Towel Cape", Mike ran to the front of the stage and put on an actual black cape. As he threatened to leap over the pit and into the audience, I began to play the "Batman" theme. Then he winged his way on back to the kit. "Towel Cape" was as good as it ever gets. Actually, I think the tempo (and some of Mike's additions) really improved this one. Frank was stepping up also. I even noticed that we nearly collided a couple of times. Seeing Frank confident enough to cut loose is always a major contribution to my confidence. When we launched into "Someone's Trying To Tell Us Something" something in me kind of snapped. With those drums pounding in my ears, Frank jumping around and the audience right in front of the stage responding, I began to lose it. I started flailing, running and generally going totally over the top. I couldn't help it. I'm sure it looked...ahem...phony but it was totally sincere. I was having a blast. There were a few times where I would leap so far from the mic that I'd miss my cues by a word or two. In the big scheme it was okay 'cause we were flat-out rocking by now.

For "Taking Its Toll", we invited Jon and Ty from The Bearfoot Hookers to come up and do the "lay downs" with us. Before you know it, we had all four Hookers up there. And man, they sang their hearts out. Beers were waving and good vibes were generally passing. On top of it, we had a giant mirror ball, a Vertigo light effect and fog across the stage. It was pure "couple skate." It was just right. During the extended solo, the guys cheered me on and with that encouragement, I made it even more arena-ready than usual. I felt vindicated and justified. I was proud of us and I was having a good time. Frank was even smiling! One of the guys put a ball cap on me (I think it was Ty) and I stomped across the stage with it through the big ending. Again, there were a couple of slight cueing issues but it didn't even matter at this point.

For our "encore" (no, no one asked for one but it just felt like "Toll" was a finale and this was the "bonus"), Ty stayed on stage. I couldn't resist doing the intro to KISS' "Black Diamond." Of course, Ty jumped right in on the vocal. After that, I segued it into "Deuce." That's when I lost whatever composure I had left. Mike simply tore this one apart. He laid into it hard, which only made me lay into it harder. To be completely honest with you, I lost all track of what was going on around me during this song. I don't even remember singing (even though I know I was). I don't remember anything tangible on the stage. I only remember this overwhelming feeling. Maybe I shouldn't be watching so many videos of The Who right now. Whatever the case, I went crazy. I've never leaped around and covered that much stage area in that little time. I hope it looked as intense as it felt. After the final extended scream and solo, I jumped up on the riser to cue Mike. I didn't need to. He was dead on it. We stopped cold. Then he did the opening fill to "Strutter" which led me back to the A-chord driving ending of "Black Diamond." I went back to center stage and begin bashing the heck out of the guitar over and over. Mike and Frank accented every hit. I was twirling my arm so fast that my pick flew away. So then I just started slamming it with my hand and fingers. It really, really hurt. We got faster and faster 'til we had nothing left in us. I climbed back on the drum riser. Mike then started doing his own improv over the top fills which he topped with the intro quote to "Love Gun" (also heard at the end of Cheap Trick's "Auf Weidersehen") and I went flying through the air again. The guys stomped it out when I hit the ground. I remember people yelling. I remember ripping my guitar off. I remember storming off of stage left. I remember the blood under my finger nails. I don't know what else was happening. I do know that when I walked back on the stage a whole slew of people had gathered 'round the lip of my side. So I hung over the edge and shook hands. I gave out a bunch of CD's too. These people had no idea who we were 'til tonight. They knew nothing of missing members and offstage drama. And they liked us...they really liked us. Dare I say, they may have liked us even more than they would've liked the other version. I don't know. But I don't think I would've put on the show I that I did if this had been just another night. The capper was when Ty from The Bearfoot Hookers came up and said, "Man, I swear y'all are better every time I see you." Considering all that we've been through lately, that's the best thing that anyone could say!

Completely biased star reviews of each song performed.

1. Sometimes I'm Sam ***
2. Until The Road Ends ***
3. Give Up Town ****
4. Pepper **
5. I Won't Stand Still ***
6. Phony ****
7. Towel Cape Song ****
8. Someone's Trying To Tell Us Something ****
9. Taking Its Toll **** (with The Bearfoot Hookers)
10. Black Diamond (Intro) / Deuce ***** (with Ty Manning from The Bearfoot Hookers)

Thanks to Mark, Pete, Keith, Blue, Trubblegum, The Bearfoot Hookers and Jonathan (thanks for the accurate post show assessment and for being there for the start of mach 2). As usual, thanks to Amanda and also to all of you who ran up to the stage or got a CD. Thanks for helping this "first time" gig rock extra hard.


Photos by Amanda Stahl.