Shows during Halloween week are different. You can count on fun costumes both on stage and in the audience, and sometimes the bands play spooky covers. If you're lucky, you may get an entire tribute set and, if you're very fortunate, candy. But you just don't know. Anything could happen around Halloween. That openness to unlimited possibilities is probably why I was confused by some of the costumes I saw on the street as I walked toward the venue. Eventually I realized that Pink was performing at the T-Mobile Center, and I was just seeing suburban mothers and daughters dressed up for the event. People do that for big concerts now, I guess. Coordinated outfits? Sequins? I smiled at the happy chaos and continued across Truman Road toward Record Bar.
At 8:00 the three members of Austin's Trouble in the Streets took the stage. As anticipated, there were costumes – drummer Dominic Turchiarelli I recognized as Hulk Hogan, keyboardist Andy Leonard I guessed was Randy "Macho Man" Savage, but I hadn't a clue on vocalist/flutist Nnedi Nebula's identity. Later they'd explain they were dressed as Nick Foley or maybe Cactus Jack. I don't know what that means; wrestling was never my thing. But the costumes tickled Nebula who explained several times how delighted they were that they finally got the band to dress up in coordinated outfits for Halloween after years of trying. Nebula's joy was palatable and they shared it throughout a very long 52-minute opening set. Up front was Nebula. Their vocals moved from strong and soulful to an urgent rapped cadence that recalled Zack de la Rocha. They managed their own vocal processing, adding interesting layers and sonic variation. Nebula moved about the stage. There was some dancing, some stomping, some twirling of their flute like a majorette, but there was always movement. Leonard played live pulsing leads and triggered the washes that climbed skyward. His left hand managed the rattling bass. His keys didn't build to EDM drops, but they did sync up with Turchiarelli's drums to emphasize the heavy downbeats of the band's dance floor-ready percussion. Leonard's biggest accomplishment might have been replicating Tom Morello's scratching wizardry during a cover of Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade." I guess lots of samples, keyboards and synthesizers were used in the recreation of that song. Turchiarelli accomplishment was probably saying "brother" just the way he was supposed to. The band's best offering was its penultimate song "Chasing Whatever" pulled from a 2019 EP. In this poppy number, Nebula's voice was clean, the band was tight, and the hooks were there. Three members of the audience danced to that song. They danced to bits of most of the songs actually. Barefoot and young and silly. Popping pills between songs. Hitting their vape. Spinning and falling to the floor that was all their own. Always off beat. They came to see Trouble in the Sheets and left shortly afterwards. That started the night off on an appropriately odd note.
Fifteen minutes later when The Whiffs took the stage, dozens of fans reclaimed the temporary playground as their own. The band was in town for a quick reload between a just-completed West Coast tour and an upcoming East Coast run. The energy was a bit odd. Maybe it was All Hallows' Eve, or maybe it was because guitarist/vocalist Rory Cameron was anxious about the band's upcoming drive to New York. Or maybe it was because new lead guitarist Kyle Gowdy was still finding his footing in the band. His solos were spot on, but he's yet to commit to backing vocals. I'm told three-part harmonies will return to the band soon, but on this night, the absence of departed guitarist/vocalist Joey Montanaro was still felt.
Uneasy Halloween vibes aside, the foursome played an excellent twelve-song, 39-minute set. It's mostly the same set that it played throughout its West Coast tour – leaning heavily into its latest album, circling back to pick up some fan favorites, and featuring two new songs as well. Both vocalists were strong, though it was Campbell's songs that won the night. "On the Boulevard" survived someone being a bit out of tune to still shine as the most perfect song written by a Kansas City band in the last decade. Man, that turnaround! That snare roll that leads into the solo! It's just so good. The quartet battled a little feedback, and Cameron's twelve-string that was never quite loud enough, but there's no stopping this band. Catch them on that East Coast run with UK compeers The Speedways.
Between sets, A Giant Dog frontwoman Sabrina Ellis slipped backstage to put on her costume – not a Halloween costume, just her stage clothes. It's always something eye-popping that simultaneously offers her maximum movement. A leotard of some sort usually. On this night it was a fishnet body suit. And it delivered on both goals.
The band started with several new songs from its current album Bite. When played in sequence on the album they create a rock opera, but live the narrative thread was broken. On stage the songs also lacked the gloss and glam afforded to them on the album. Thankfully what they lost in string sections was more than made up for by both increased punch and testosterone. That trade was just fine with the fifty or so fans that lined the stage, each of them more interested in watching Ellis strut and dance as part of the best rock show going than they were of the fate of the inhabitants of fictional Avalonia. They came to watch Ellis belt out songs, and they wouldn't leave disappointed. Not by Ellis, and not by the cofounder and guitarist Andrew Cashen. When his vocals are added under Ellis', the band meets its chaotic apex and it's a thing of beauty. The live band is rounded out by keyboardist/guitarist Andy Bauer, bassist Graham Low, & drummer Daniel Blanchard. Each has a part to play, but none shine (though Low did get a short solo).
Midway through the band's brief 44-minute set, A Giant Dog shifted gears. Cashen announced that they were now going to play some "old stuff," then launched the band into a flurry of the hits. Well, maybe none were hits, but they were the ones we came to hear – big ones, written for stages, not studios. "Roller Coaster" from 2017's Toy was amazing. "Photograph" from the same album was faster and more jumbled than on the album and provided just the kick the crowd needed. While Ellis is always a maniac, the audience did its best to keep up. One audience member in supportive knee braces and unsupportive Vans bounced just as hard as Ellis until they both ended just before 11pm.
Afterwards I packed my gear and thanked Ellis for the gig. She threw her arms around me and thanked me. Then threw her arms around anyone else she could get close to. I took my leave at that point, but I suspect she then worked her way down the long queue of fans waiting to make purchases at the band's merch table. I told you shows leading up to Halloween were weird, and that you could count on costumes. Just sometimes they're not the costumes you expected, and that makes it even more fun.