When Electric Six announced a booking at Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom, a shockwave reverberated through the local music scene. See, Electric Six, a relatively successful touring act with eight albums under their collective belt in under a decade likes to promote new music using local opening acts. When bassist Jess Pruitt heard about the upcoming show, he immediately took action to make sure that local fan favorite Doctor Bones made it onto the bill.
Coming off a January residency at The Rogue Bar in Scottsdale, Doctor Bones was eager to open for a national touring act and Electric Six has been a big influence for the band. “We wanted to play a great show and make them and our fans proud,” said Pruitt. That they did. Bones took the stage after 8pm on a Wednesday evening in Phoenix – a dreaded time slot where most headlining fans still are doing drinks or dinner elsewhere. As Chad Stark spun around towards the audience away from Mike Vigil’s drums, Pruitt’s bass line picked up–and, the people milling around outside the venue slowly moved towards the door. By the time Anthony Fama broke into the opening vocals of “The Sun City” a good crowd began to form around the stage. Fama is known for provoking his audience to dance their asses off, and this was no exception. Tonight wearing a red plaid jacket and his ubiquitous black on black outfit, he threw himself across the stage with an energy that quickly engulfed the slowly growing crowd.
When Doctor Bones released their EP Numbers at 910 Live last January, “The Sun City” was my least favorite song on the album, but after replacing their guitarist early in the band’s career, Doctor Bones reworked the song to enhance its live potentiality and showcase Stark’s guitar virtuosity. The song quickly builds to an explosion that has come to define this 5-piece dance rock-pop band. Since Numbers, the band has been working on new material for a full length album slated for release in late summer/early fall 2013. This includes new fan favorites like “Angora” that showcases Hannah Bone’s vocals. “Since we are making an album this time rather than an EP we are taking more care and time so we are shooting to have our cd release show in the fall when the kids are back in school and gives us time to plan the night well. We don’t have a name for her yet cause she hasn’t told us yet,” Pruitt said.
At the Electric Six show, Doctor Bones debuted their latest song. The mid-tempo “Natural Selection” heightened the dance element while also focusing more on a surf dance rock ideal. Fama is known for throwing himself into the audience to dance among, under, and over the audience members. Prior to shows, he feeds the mic cable through the audience to discover the farthest he can dance before being yanked back towards the stage. (At one 910 Live show last spring, someone thought it would be a good idea to give him a wireless mic. After he was hanging 20’ above stage from the lighting trusses singing in the middle of his set, no one has ever given him a wireless mic again.) This week’s show was no different as Fama bounced through the sweaty crowd, throwing his by then half-naked body against everyone near the stage.
While the band included other older tracks like “Take Me Home” and “Saki Ika,” “Natural Selection’s” sweet melodies were an emphatic conclusion to the evening’s set. The chorus of
Natural selection on the dance floor
all the pretty boys and girls
are sexually at war
natural selection on the dance floor
all the pretty boys and girls know
what they’re dancing for
epitomizes a band on the verge. The repetition of the line “it’s too hot” reminds the audience that Doctor Bones is a band about to break, a band finalizing its first full length album, practicing every week, and building a strong business model. Working on their art slowly and steadily, Doctor Bones continues to develop their dramatic image. Tentative plans may include theatrical performances, concept videos, and much much more. For now, Fama and Vigil agree that some creative expressions will remain surprises. “It’s like any performance. We wear our masks but let the audience in. It’s like half masks. We give them what they want, while we do what’s good for the band”, Fama said.
After a sweaty Doctor Bones exited stage right, Gabriel the Marine set up for their mid-show set. Fama, originally from Long Island, was eager to remind us all that Gabriel is from his own hometown. I enjoy seeing lesser known touring acts that bring their own regional style of rock to town, and this band didn’t disappoint. Having played over the last four years with heavy hitters that include Taking Back Sunday, MGMT, Weezer, Drake, and Paramore, Gabriel the Marine’s indie pop rock infusion is enhanced by Dylan Ebrahimian’s violin playing. For me, they’d be just another indie rock quintet, but the strings added that spark in the music that situated them nicely between Doctor Bone’s dance rock frolic and Electric Six’s hyperbolic shenanigans.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Electric Six prior to them taking the stage. I knew about their wide successes in the aughts as recording and touring workhorses, but this show was different. First of all, most of the shows I cover have a certain type of crowd that is defined by Arizona music itself and this crowd felt different. A wider variety of fans perched on the back bleachers and pressed against the stage from the local art scene to former high school students I have taught. The usual crowd was present this night, but only made up a third of the audience.
Electric Six has six members (shocking, I know) that includes Dick Valentine (every member has a fabulously mysterious name) who reminds me of a coked-out lounge singer in his mismatched suit and Bon Scott rasp. The dueling guitars of Electric Six worked well. Many bands have one rythym and one lead guitar but not Electric Six. They’re too awesome for that. Just two lead guitars and a whole lot of irony. Although I’d heard that Valentine was a bit unique, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After the opening number, he said “this is the second song. It’s off some album we wrote.” I rolled my eyes thinking that was that. Between each song he spewed more ironic bullshit about Gin Blossom’s website (a band he obviously abhors) and spoke in hyperboles. For example, Valentine announced “the song ‘Gridlock!’ is about gridlock”. Fans just groan and enjoy the music for what it is, kitschy mid-80s influenced techno surf punk with a rock undertone.
“Gay Bar”, is probably their most popular single, and the band stuck this one smack dab in the middle of the set, performing it quickly to a screaming audience. While the song had very little substance other than a fantastic guitar riff, the music video politicizes the ideology behind the song. The simple lyrics reminded me of The Dead Milkmen and songs that essentially meant nothing on the surface. It was just a fun and quick, catchy dance song. Knowing the popularity of “Gay Bar”, the band actually played a second version of the song immediately after the first to continue to tease the audience, which they obviously do well.
You gotta give Electric Six some credit though. They obviously rock. The half-drunk audience was clearly into the sound and the band had their stage show down to an effortless streamline. You know those men who spend an hour on their hair each morning to make it look like awesome bedhead? This is how Electric Six was for me. The audience jammed along to every song and the dynamic energy in the room reminded me of old Ramones where the music and crowd jammed as one. Every song included a unique upbeat tempo while the overall sound of each showed a maturation of a simply complex band that knows how to have fun. So much fun that they agreed that audience member and fan, Bob, could propose to his girlfriend on stage during their set. The girlfriend happened to be local punk rock musician Katey Trowbridge from the band The Rebel Sets. Bob seemed nervously happy and proposed quickly. And, of course, Katey said yes. Bob and Katey cheered, Valentine cheered with them, and then the show continued.
Toward the end of the show, Valentine announced that the final song, “Witchy Witchy”, was “for the lesbians” in the crowd. Halfway through the track, he brought Percussion World’s (yes, the moniker’s only added their package) drum beat way down and told the audience to sit down. Literally. Most of us squatted on the Crescent floor, as Valentine asked us to conserve our energy for the final 30 seconds of the set “like John Cusack” (believe me, some of the humor was lost on not only me but everyone there). As the tempo beat back up, strobes began to flash and people jumped around like the Harlem Shake meme videos for the final seconds of the set. Then Electric Six was gone. They walked off stage past several uber fans who wanted guitar sticks and setlists signed.
In true rock star fashion, the lights stayed low, and then Valentine and crew reemerged from the green room. Valentine swaggered up to the mic and said, “We’re gonna do one more for you since you seem like a pretty good crowd.” With a knowing wink, he made this audience feel like the only audience getting this sort of special treatment, but we all know he makes the same comment during the encore of every show. Electric Six burned through another of their better-known tracks, “Dance Commander”, solidifying themselves as an ironic pseudo-political techno dance rock band looking for a fun time, and a fun time they found at The Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix, Arizona.