Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings



Thursday July 21, 2005 - Rock Star Saloon - Alpharetta, GA

(with Closer To Carter, Tx/Rx, Elliott Holden, Lucas, Breaking Glass and Meredith McDonald)

Well, we were due for a less than stellar performance after the string of great shows we've had lately. We've been so focused on re-finishing the record that we've neglected the live aspect of what we do for the last while. One show a month is just not going to keep the machine well-oiled enough. Granted, we apparently did fine according to everyone there (including some exceedingly well-trained ears) but we know we were lacking. Tom was the only one of the three of us who stood up to his usual standards. I was just not able to deliver the show that I'm usually capable of and Frank...well...let's just say that Frank occasionally visited other planets during our set. Everything started out okay. We got there for load-in and just hung out for a while. I actually even shot some pool while we listened to the three acts before us. As this was a pseudo-showcase gig, I'll admit to feeling a little competitive with the other bands but then, I guess, I always am. I want us to be the best. Not only that but I want us to be OUR best, which is an even higher standard. I think we were still my favorite band on the bill tonight (how's that for non-biased?) but we were nowhere in my favorites of our favorites (What?!!!? Don't worry about it. Just keep on a-reading.)

Things started off okay. "Colors In Black & White" and "Until The Road Ends" were pretty tight. (They ought to be! We've certainly played them enough.) Unfortunately, I noticed right away that my amp was starting to crackle again. That means it's time to gut it and replace everything. I'm pretty hard on that amp and have to get it rejuvenated once a year or so. Well, the year's up! The main problem with me is, I have a hard time not being affected by trivial little things like that. The crackle was subtle enough to where I don't think anyone else could hear it and yet it still bugged me. I've got to get over that kind of thing. On top of that, my stage volume just wasn't loud enough. I know it was good out front (we had an incredible sound man) but since we had no soundcheck per se, I never got a chance to set levels properly. When I can't feel my guitar cutting through me, I don't feel like I'm cutting through the audience. It's that ROCK & ROLL thing. That didn't really matter on "Sometimes I'm Sam". It's low key enough to where it worked just fine without that extra energy. By this point, I think each of us had become aware that this just wasn't the best night for the band itself. Thankfully, the audience didn't really seem to care. We redeemed ourself a bit with "I Won't Stand Still". It cooked but of course it's less than 2 minutes so we can't exactly cruise with it! Then it was onto our usual centerpiece "Phony." Everything was going well 'til about 1/2 of the way through. When we got to the middle 8, Frank crashed into a wall or something. He completely got lost and couldn't right himself. For the record, some slack must be cut as he had a terrible ear infection and was hearing mostly "a loud, distorted buzz" but geez, even muscle memory ought to have kept it from going this wrong. He pulled it back together for the extended solo but I was scared to let go and just burn in case there was another fall apart that needed to be pulled back together. The solo was played just fine. It just didn't have that extra edge and fire. Still, we got a nice round of applause at the end that made me think the iffiness was less noticeable that I'd feared. We really decided to push our half-hour time limit tonight and resurrect "Towel Cape Song." We haven't been doing it much and we wound up discussing it with the show promoters pre-show. So it seemed like we needed to do it. I'm glad we did. With the exception of a slight glitch at the very end (where we normally segue into the next song), it was probably the personal highlight tonight. I preceded the next song with a segment of Zager & Evans apocalyptic-folk classic "In The Year 2525." I'm starting to enjoy these little sidesteps. Judging from the smiles on faces, I think other people are too. That led into "Taking Its Toll." And that's where the bottom fell out. Mind you, we played 97% of the song perfectly. It had power and it was working. Then Frank's ear went South and he wound up in another key from the rest of us. At least it was during the guitar solo which makes the average listener less likely to hear it but MAN, it was rough. This is one of the only times I can say, I've actually been embarrassed on stage with this band. As I said before, I felt bad for Frank and his infection but this was waaaaaay bad. For only 3% to be off - it was a big friggin' 3%. It was barely better for "Give Up Town." During the first two choruses, Frank drifted. It wasn't that obvious, but again, it really hampers my showmanship when I keep feeling like I have to return to being musical director. The last half of the last song was back up to standards (thank God). Of course, I started laughing at the very end and the usual power slam finale didn't quite punch right but I couldn't help it. It was funny to me somewhow (better to laugh than let it get to me, eh?). This was just an off night. I ended simply with a "thanks" and a "We've had enough." Truer words were never spoken. I'm just glad Tom was still on. Without that, this would've been a class A disaster. As it was, it was only a pothole.


Completely biased star reviews of each song performed.

1. Colors In Black & White ***
2. Until The Road Ends ****
3. Sometimes I'm Sam ****
4. I Won't Stand Still ****
5. Phony ***
6. Towel Cape Song ***
7. In The Year 2525 (excerpt)** / Taking Its Toll **
8. Give Up Town ***

I stuck around for awhile afterwards to speak to promoter Mike Cohen, artist manager Tony Rinaldis and my friends Scott and Scoley. They all seemed to really like it. Since I consider them friends, I told them my true opinion. It's not all that professional to say anything other than thanks when someone's congratulating your performance but I felt I knew them well enough to hit 'em with the truth. Of course, if you're reading this, you get the truth, too. And here it is.

This was (in my opinion) one of the worst 2 or 3 shows we've ever done.

And here's my promise: We're in a transitional stage right now. We're moving from Mach 1 to Mach 2. We're figuring out what to keep and cut. We're juggling things around and getting refocused. We're about to start promoting the album but we're also about to unleash a slew of new material. Within a month or two, we will be more powerful than ever. We'll give you what you've come to expect and then we'll take you beyond. Right now, we're still learning and figuring...and part of that process includes some missteps. Tonight was one of those. But there are lots of nights to come. Be sure to see some for yourself.

A new Critical day is dawning...

(Ah, how I love occasional pretense!)


Photos by Amanda Stahl.