Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings

 

Saturday December 10, 2005
CJ's Landing - Atlanta, GA

Well, at least this one was a heck of a lot better than the last one. Although, I'll admit, when we were tripping our way through the opening two-fer, I had my doubts. Yep, the first 6 minutes or so of our CJ's debut was iffy at best. And after tonight, I believe that ye-ole-standard-opening is retired for the forseeable future. It's just not cutting it with this lineup. Mike also had a few errors. He misjudged the first transition in "Colors" and came in early with the flat-beat. Luckily, that's something that you wouldn't notice if you didn't know the song. Frank overshot some notes, too. It was okay but I hate to kick-off with "okay". And then Mike and I couldn't get together on the intro to "Until The Road Ends." After the start, we played it just fine but it was again way too slow. It should feel punky and energetic. To me, it sounded cumbersome. So...those are gone for awhile (as startups anyway).

From there, it did improve dramatically. "Sometimes I'm Sam" went off just fine. Performing this song has become like breathing. It's possibly the easiest song that we do (for me) and I was glad to start hitting a groove even it it was a tentative one. Then "Into My View" stepped things up even more. This was really good tonight. It was about up to the standards of the original lineup. It felt punchy, poppy and danceable. And it got a great response too. I was glad to hear that the audience was coming along with us because up until I heard 'em after this, I was more concerned with playing "music director". The applause quickly reminded me that my job is to entertain the people in front of me even more than it is to try and keep the ones with me on track. For an opening slot on a Saturday, the room was starting to fill out. I think all of the tables were taken by the middle of our set and then the standers came in and filled out bits of the remaining space. "I Won't Stand Still" and "Phony" came next. We played 'em both alright although the transition was a bit rickety. My problem du jour was that the kick drum was so loud on stage that it was vibrating my effects board to the point that it was moving my whammy pedal. That would've caused the guitar to inconcievably (and comically) change key if I hadn't noticed at soundcheck. Thank God I did or I would've absolutely panicked. I wound up having to stand rooted with my foot holding the pedal down for the full 7 or so minutes. It still worked. Apparently, no one in the band even noticed that I didn't move around as much as usual. Strangely, even though this was pretty tight, it didn't get as big a response as usual. Both "Sam" and "Into My View" trumped it tonight. Hmmm...

Everyone who's been reading this site for a while knows that I love to switch things up. We haven't been able to do that much lately but tonight, I did hit up the back catalog for "Scared Of Myself." It's been a long time since we've done it and it was a good addition. It helped the pacing and gave Mike a chance to breathe and work on his broken finger (yep). This one was about perfect. The audience seemed to choose it as a favorite, too. So that's another one that this lineup can ace. That's the kind of info I need. After that, Mike donned his cape and jumped up on his throne. For some reason, the combination of his purplish, shiny shirt, the cape and his black-taped sticks (which looked like wands) reminded me of a cheesy magician. I kept waiting for a bouquet of flowers to pop out of a stick. That delighted me. So the magician, Frank and I launched into the "Towel Cape / Someone's Trying To Tell Us Something" double shot. "Towel Cape" is solid now with any lineup. It rocked. I love Mike's use of floor tom during the pre-chorus. It strengthens that section while making the solo even more airy. "Someone's Trying..." was about the same in quality. I'd still like it sped up some more but Mike was having some trouble keeping up so we toned it down just a hair.

By that point, Mike was fried, so I did the extended "In The Year 2525" intro to "Taking Its Toll" to give him some breathing room. A couple of people clearly got a kick out of my over-dramatics. "Taking Its Toll" was its usual self except for one truly shocking development. When we got to the "lay down" bit, Frank jumped up to the mic and joined in. I was closed-eyed and trying to hit those high notes so I was suddenly in WTF land when I heard him. The coolest part was it sounded right. We've never rehearsed that and he didn't tell me he was gonna do it so I was pleasantly surprised. This is a good development. That may open up some doors. We segued from the big solo into "Give Up Town." It was a good, but not perfect, take. Frank tried backups again but he soon quit when he realized how unwieldly the bass and singing can be in combination. "Deuce" was the finale again. The crowd was responsive and we played it in a suitably rocking manner. It was all good. At one point I glanced at Frank and he was airborne. I just had a second's look but in my memory, he's suspended about a foot above the stage. We had a decent ending and redeemed ourselves from the opening fumble. Still, something's just not there yet. This is a new beginning and we need to treat it as such. There's no point in trying to retread. We've got to hit new ground and soon.

Completely biased star reviews of each song performed.

1. Colors In Black & White**
2. Until The Road Ends**
3. Sometimes I'm Sam***
4. Into My View****
5. I Won't Stand Still***
6. Phony***
7. Scared Of Myself****
8. Towel Cape Song****
9. Someone's Trying To Tell Us Something****
10. In The Year 2525 / Taking Its Toll***
11. Give Up Town***
12. Deuce***

I didn't really hang out much tonight but several CD's found new homes so that's a positive. I was back home in Athens by about 2 a.m. I want to thank everyone for sticking with us and being so supportive. I especially want to thank the sound man and the rest of the CJ's staff. You were all wonderful to us and it is appreciated. Hopefully, we'll see you again in '06.

 

Photos by Amanda Stahl.

 

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