I‘ll be the first to admit, when I first heard Jared & The Mill they did nothing for me. I could not fathom why anyone would like this band, although I could respect the folksy, bluegrass underlying tones. But it wasn’t enough for me. The second time I heard them I started to appreciate them a little more. By the time they played at The Gospel Claws CD release party I was digging the sound, had already been pseudo-indoctrinated to the friendly fun of the band by upright bassist Chuck Morris, and began to recognize some of the songs merely from the shows.
Last Saturday night Jared Kolesar had set up a show at Pub Rock Live with three full bands and two other musical groups. The Senators were added to the bill to flesh out Jared & the Mill’s banjo banging sound, while PALMS balanced the sound of the evening. While PALMS are personal favorites of mine, I’d only recently been introduced to The Senators when Jesse Teer, lead singer, contacted me with a free download off of their new Facebook page. I immediately took a listen and shared the link around for others to enjoy. I liked that they were twangier (if you get my drift) than Jared & The Milll and that bluegrass has found its way into popular local music.
Pub Rock Live is off Hayden at Roosevelt in a little strip mall in Scottsdale; it isn’t much to look at from the outside, but inside it opens up and is a nicer venue than FourSquare (it’s listed as a “dive bar” on the popular location app) purports it to be. SanTan Brewery drafts were too expensive but the PBR and DeSchutes draft deals made me and mine happy campers. Talking to several of the musician prior to the show, they said they enjoy this venue because the sound is fabulous. Also, tonight, since Jared & The Mill were planning to film footage for their video “Breathe Me In”, the lighting was off the hook. Lamps were set up across the stage, lights hung over the musicians and crowd, and the LEDs were set far from the deep red that photographers like myself hate.
In usual rockstar timing things started late with the Old Hours pulling two chairs up the microphones 45 minutes after the scheduled start time. As a two part harmony group they weren’t bad, and I am glad they had a chance to perform. They seemed nervous, the female vocalist definitely needs to learn the lyrics and relax on stage, and a backing band would help flesh out the potential of their sound.
Spending some time chatting with Jess Teer and the other Senators in the green room, I was struck by how nice the six piece band really is. By the time they took the stage, I was eager to hear their sound live. I’m late to the bluegrass scene having missed the entire Revival Railroad Tour Hype. (I’ve made up for it since with two years attending the Pickin’ in the Pines Flagstaff Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival two years running.) As they set up for sound check , I knew I was in for a treat. Their keyboardist Amber Johnson flitted across the stage in a sleek A-frame dress and a huge smile; she was the light of the band and the audience could just tell she loves what she does.
While the band harmonized well and Jesse Teer sang lead on most songs, their song “Lazarus”, sung by Adam Teer, really caught the essence of what The Senators was all about: folk music with heavy banjo and mandolin undertones that you could seriously dance to. You could tell they love performing and are planning to release their next full length album in the summer. Bryan James, the guitarist, shredded through the songs dauntlessly while The Senators made new fans who couldn’t stop from being affected by the sheer fun happening on stage.
As they ramped down towards the end of their set, they announced they were playing “The Ghost of Robert Johnson” before rapidly shifting into this high energy demonic roiling narrative. Punctuated by Jess Teer yanking his glasses from his face as if he was about to emerge from a comic book telephone booth, he quickly jammed into their signature song as Adam Teer and Bryan James held on for the ride. The three frontmen burned through the song with strings dancing across callused fingertips while Jesse seized across the stage as if possessed by the ghost of Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis. Sweat, strings, suspenders, and ankle high socks blurred as they rocked out the song.
After The Senators and their stuffed cock called Rooster bowed off the stage, I wasn’t sure how PALMS would work performing between two very similar bands; it didn’t matter much to me because since Apache Lake Music Festival in October 2012 they are one of my current favorites.
While lead singer Melody continues to fight the flu that has sweat through the southwest, PALMS continues to impress and build their fan base. They performed several songs including a Lykkee Li cover, “Get Some”, and every single track was solid. Prior to 2013 much of the band was Melody’s voice and image up front with her signature microphone, a retro-looking Shure Classic 55SH. Once she fell ill, the men picked up the energy, and as she struggles to get healthy, ironically, PALMS has become even better. I’ve always loved their first single “Oasis” (dropped with “Coyote” in late 2012) since the moment Anthony’s guitar joins Melody’s voice. PALMS considers themselves “surf rock” and for anyone within psychic distance of the stage clearly understands what they mean by that. Spike’s bass riffs, hairy chest, and ever present nose ring reeks of Canuba wax and SoCal sand.
While I don’t typically enjoy bands who lead out with their famous single, it works for PALMS because they’re comfortably cognizant that there are seven solid originals that follow. “Dirty Little Knees”, performed next, was the PALMS Christmas present to their fans, a single given away for the holidays. I’d originally heard this one when they premiered it at Crescent Ballroom in late 2012.
While I loved “Home” with Anthony jamming so hard he broke a guitar string, tried to belt his back up guitar around his shoulder only to play with it clutched under his arm, and couldn’t keep his quiff in place as his usually well-manicured hair danced to its own beat, the true winner at this show was their “So Far Away”. When the song opened it felt a little rushed to me, like Melody was moving quickly towards the end of the set, but then she simmered down and got to work making sure that no one would forget this band. As Melody danced through the song, spinning in circles in her faux-leather Jim Morrison pants, Anthony threw himself into the beat, gyrated in circles, tore through his strings, and found himself sweaty and satisfied in a tangled heap with his guitar by the end of the set.
After PALMS left the stage, the lights slowly came up, lamps placed across the stage dimmed on, and strings of light bulbs flickered on. Jared & The Mill planned to have SunDawg Media record their live video footage for “Breathe Me In” at Pub Rock Live, and Matty Steinkamp decided to make sure the band and crowd were well lit. That decision was perfect for me as a concert photographer because I could push the limits of my camera without worrying about darkness. Usually stage lights blind the musicians, but if you’re not performing you may not realize this. Without being on the stage yourself, you don’t realize just how little crowd you can see in many venues. By adding spot lights that illuminated the crowd at this show, Jared & The Mill connected with their fans in a way that many bands cannot. The lights made it easier to work the crowd, by building energy off of the crowd and seriously enjoying making and sharing art with one another.
Jared & The Mill have been performing their signature song “In Our Youth” for close to a year, and it’s obviously a crowd favorite. Before the song Josh Morin stepped out from behind his kit and kept beat on a kick drum while playing a tambourine simultaneously. This tune and “Confessions”, off their next album, were definitely well received during the show. I was bummed to learn some of their live tracks aren’t even recorded yet. “Confessions” with the haunting line “Hills Alive with the Sounds of our Guns” slayed the stage, as the audience and band became one – a group of music lovers doing what we do on a Friday night.
I know comparing Jared to Marcus Mumford’s may be a bit of a stretch, especially after Mumford & Son’s took album of the year for “Babel” at this week’s Grammys, but it is difficult to not hear the resemblance in songs like “Talewind”. The harmonies, the soul that the musicians pour into their strings, and just the overall song made me immediately go there. Both The Senators and Jared & The Mill need to consider pursuing booking at Pickin’ in the Pines Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival this september.
Having been on hand for a few local music video shoots, it was interesting to watch the way Jared & The Mill approached their set up for “Breathe Me In”. They played through the song twice while the crowd excitement built over the eight minutes, the high lights added to the enthusiasm as the band fed off our energy. Steinkamp and his associate moved through the crowd and onto the stage to get several angles. The audience respected the video recording, and while the stage area was packed, they left open a few feet before the stage.
After ramping up for the music video recording, Jared & The Mill showed their more sensitive side with songs like “Love To Be Found” with the fabulous lyrics, “And if the air that I breathe is the same air you breathe, I’ll be alright.” One audience member who’d never seen them agreed that this song included a “little profundity, loneliness, melancholy, and a dash of hope mixed in.” I’d agree that there’s a certain spark to the band that I personally hadn’t initially realized. While, for me, Arizona music meant a certain sound or two sounds, Jared and The Mill forces me to reconsider that notion.
After performing for almost an hour, Jared & The Mill eagerly invited all of the other acts to the stage. They handed out percussion and string instruments before announcing one final song. It seemed everyone on stage knew the song, “Wagon Wheel”, and a huge impromptu jam session commenced. This felt like family, and Pub Rock Live welcomed this family with open arms. Nancy and crew are seriously creating a special little place for live music that isn’t quite Tempe nor is it Scottsdale. The former Chasers venue is difficult to define although the sound guy rivaled the best local live venues, and the employees were friendly while running a smooth evening for the fans. This show was All Ages and while I’ve heard the split rail running perpendicular to the stage is awkward for some concert-goers, I found the under 21 area just as welcome. The fresh new faces and audience members mixing with those in the scene who attend every single show added the right kind of energy to the evening.