Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings



Friday January 14, 2005 - Athens, GA
Washington Street Tavern

I've got three words for this show..."worst...episode...ever." Now some would say that I should put a positive spin on things as this website is for our band propaganda. Some would say that I should say "this wasn't our best show." Not me. I have no interest in that sugarcoated line. When I say it was a good show on here, you will know it was a good one. This was not.

Sure - we had plenty of excuses. No rehearsal time, me being sick for a couple of weeks, Tom having to use brushes to play, whatever. None of that matters. It was basically the opposite of the Zoso show on October 1. That one was a case of "opportunity meeting preparedness." This was a case of opportunity meeting Murphy's Law. As this was a battle of the bands and the first time that Flagpole music editor Chris Hassiotis has gotten to see us, it was particularly painful. You know, everything's fallen our way so far so this was bound to happen sooner than later. Maybe this'll get us back on track and out of cruise control. I hope so. At least that way, something positive will have come of it. Now - before I go on, I will tell you that not everyone agrees with me. While no one thinks it was our best show, several people still came up to say how much they liked us. And not just in the obligatory way. Several actually wanted CD's which we didn't have tonight. I mostly feel bad for the people who know what we're capable of and had to see this crash. I saw pained looks on their faces. Their concern means a lot to me (as it shows they care)...but the fact that we gave them reason to feel that way is my biggest disappointment.


So what exactly happened? Well, there were so many points to depart from here that I don't even know what to say. First off, yes, I'm still physically feeling bad and that factored in to my reaction time and abilities. Usually, I'd have been able to deflect stuff with humor and get the crowd on our side. Not tonight. It started off immediately. When we were introduced, we started off into "Towel Cape Song." My guitar's volume was too low. Someone that played before us must have bumped it 'cause I had it pumping at soundcheck. Oh well, I'll turn up as soon as possible. I was happy that my voice came through for me at least. Then, during the second "solo" section, a string broke. Not just a string but the string the solo's on. Well, I'm off to ad lib a jammy little thing. Thankfully, I can do that now. Unfortunately, the slow part at the end requires all strings. So we had to jump it all together. After the "imagine my surprise to see you smiling and waving from up high," I had to just end. Frank managed to take the hint and Tom was a little late but covered okay. They jumped into "I Know Too Much" while I switched to the old Strat. While I love that guitar, the sound is infinitely thinner than the Hamer. So I had to crank up much further. The sound was still very tiny by comparison. The one really positive thing I can say is that by some small miracle, the Strat was in perfect tune. I didn't have time to tune it pre-show so that was the one bit of luck we were alotted for this evening. "I Know Too Much" wasn't too bad. I flubbed a note during the solo and I'll admit that it was mostly because I was already feeling a bit defeated. Plus, I was overthinking everything as I tried to anticipate what problem might arise next. That's a huge mistake. I know better and I've got no excuse for having gotten into that mode tonight. We tried the nice big rock ending but it sounded sloppy and awkward where it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and fun. The over the top silliness was lost tonight. Where we usually get a huge round of applause, we got a smattering of sympathy. I didn't even bother with any of my usual banter. And it was mostly because my professionalism was leaking. I said not a word from the opening to the closing. I just played and sang. The body of "Taking Its Toll" was okay. The guitar's tone just sounded really weak (which is fatal for us as a three-piece). At the end of the main song, we segue into a big, "Purple Rain" style solo. We've done it that way at every single performance. Somehow, Tom was so amped up that he started "Give Up Town" as Frank and I were going into the solo. Yikes. Talk about sucking all the power out of a transition... Then to top it off, just when the audience was starting to get with us during the big solo, the top end notes started fretting out on the guitar. This just left a clanking noise where the super-high, soaring notes should be. I'm sure people thought I was screwing up. I wasn't. The guitar just couldn't do it. It's been like that since it was dropped back at Tasty World a couple of months ago. I haven't gotten it fixed because I haven't broken a string since the first open rehearsal. I always change my strings before shows. I changed them yesterday for tonight. Still, by halfway through the first song, I lost it. Again...everything had to come together against us JUST RIGHT to make things this bad. What can I say? "Give Up Town" was tolerable even though Frank reverted to his Star Zero days at the beginning of the second verse. He kept playing the two-note accent when he should've been on the long notes for my arpeggios. Again, the bottom fell out. Other than that, we played the final song passably...although there were no eyebrows up front. Tom was playing his heart out behind us but unfortunately, even his most valiant efforts couldn't help us by that point.

The main thing I'm thankful for is that we only had to play 20 minutes.

Completely biased star reviews of each song performed.

1. Towel Cape Song *
2. I Know Too Much (For My Own Good) **
3. Taking Its Toll **
4. Give Up Town ***

So what was the real problem? I think it simply boils down to the fact that each member wasn't connected in any way to any of the others. We were a train with three engines going in different directions. Individuallly and overall, we didn't play any worse than usual. We always have our little things. Tonight, though, each of our little things was something that HAD to be right. With me, my screwups were during solos. Frank's were during sections where he's the only thing holding everything down, Tom's happened when he was responsible for lifting us into the next section. We are not a jazz band. We must be locked into one another. Nothing could've been further from the truth tonight. I guess we've done 12 official shows now so we were due for a real stinker. It just shouldn't have been tonight in front of a TOTALLY packed room when studio time was at stake and media contacts were in attendance. Tonight just reminds me of how far we have to go. I hope it'll light a fire under the other guys like it's doing to me. I have no intention of us ever doing another show like this. No matter what the excuses, we let people down. Tonight, instead of thanking, I apologize to those who sweated it out in that packed room to hear us do whatever it is we did. Jonathan, Mary Katherine, Amanda, Alec, Chris, Drew, Steve, Hodar and anyone else who was there. We personally owe you a debt of gratitude for your graciousness, patience and kindness. To those of you who didn't make it out - you dodged a bullet. I'm glad you weren't there for this. You missed the right one. Don't hesistate to come out next time, though. I'll guarantee that it'll be worth seeing. Karmic law states that since we were kicked tonight, we will be the kickers next time.

Oh yeah - and we didn't win. Mike Willis & The Escape Artists did. They deserved it! I bow to them. They blew us out of the water. On a normal night, though, we would've given them a run for it!

Now, here are our scores and comments from judges.

Category 1 - Performance

Judge 1 - 7
Judge 2 - 8
Judge 3 - 5

Category 2 - Vocal Ability

Judge 1 - 7
Judge 2 - 7
Judge 3 - 5

Category 3 - Instrumental Ability

Judge 1 - 9
Judge 2 - 10
Judge 3 - 8

Category 4 - Songwriting
Judge 1 - 8
Judge 2 - 7
Judge 3 - 9

Judges' comments

Judge 1 - "just cause you have all those cymbals doesnt mean you have to use them.
- strong lyrics, and strong harmonizing vocals.
- great energy considering illness."

Judge 2 - "good movement in bass. good phrasing and progressions.
harmonies were often just barely sharp.
good lead guitar. more solos always welcome."

Judge 3 - "Your second song had a really cool "Rush" type feel."
The bass was right on with the kick drum throughout.
Thicken up that guitar tone a bit, but it still sounded good.
I like the riffs- almost like '70's with some radiohead or something.
you all seem like cool guys- so do something up there to make it memorable or humorous for us.
Go nuts a bit more- give us a show.
Be amazing like Abba or something. No, dont be like Abba. But be amazing."

Now notice that the things that they're advising us to improve on are things that we always do and just didn't do tonight. And that our lowest overall scores are for performance (which we usually top out on). The judges are dead-on and we have no one to blame but ourselves for this (in my opinion) lackluster showing. For the record, the scores and comments may seem to prove that I was being too tough on the show but I stand by what I said. It's not about about comparing what we can do versus other acts. It's about besting or at least being consistent to what we've done in the past.

Just compare our scores tonight to the scores from last time by clicking here.

Photos by Amanda Stahl.