Saturday February 26th, 2000 at The Delaware in Tulsa, OK
Lewis, The Hillary Step, Ester Drang, & Antenna Lodge

Lewis The Hillary Step Ester Drang Antenna Lodge [more]

I should have written up an account of this a month ago, now the details are a little bit fuzzy. There was a road trip, I remember that much. Oh yes and in classic The-Hillary-Step-fashion there were incredible excesses with three cars driving down to Tulsa and silly things forgotten which required me to run around an unfamiliar town to find a music store before closing time.

As I was helping set up The Hillary Step for an early soundcheck, I ran into one of the guys from Ester Drang and pumped him for information about the club and the other band on the bill. He didn’t seem to know much on The Delaware and when asked about Antenna Lodge he stammered a bit and said "Well they’re something..." Not a glowing recommendation but I hear now that they are going to appear on a split 7" together, so at least someone in Ester Drang must like them.

After a soundcheck I drug the band (and two grrlfriends, and Paddy the photographer, and Tony the merch guy) to a random pizza joint down the street. Turns out I happened upon the local joint that (rightfully) wins best pizza in town every year, score some bonus points for me!

Meanwhile back at The Delaware, Antenna Lodge were setting up behind the stage curtains. We all slipped through the backstage door, across the stage and out into the auditorium where we picked seats in the middle, near the back. The soundman piped hideous music through the house PA, and I could only hope it was some local band they were helping to promote and publicize, because otherwise it was just inexcusable.

Not sure if it was the owner or manager or what, but someone connected with the venue announced a surprise opening band named Frankie Post or some such. I was a little bummed knowing I had to drive back when the night was over, but when the curtains opened just enough to reveal a singing, twisting bundle of electronic Christmas kitsch, I relaxed. But although entertaining at first, it went on way too long before the curtains closed again and the soundman introduced Tulsa’s Antenna Lodge.

The loud three piece immediately went to work on a generally musical, hectic set that I was convinced was gonna scare everyone in the hall off. However to my surprise the audience stuck with the band as they slammed rhythms together and highlighted the growling repetitive guitar lines, and the unimaginable fast, precise and percussive bass. Bassist James Plumlee was simply possessed as he lurched and bounded around the stage always on the verge of losing it and falling on his ass. This is definitely not the guy to stand next to in a packed basement show unless you like the taste of Fender headstock.

Chaos and math filtered through hardcore is the definition of "my thing" so I am sure I wore my shit eatin’ grin all through their set and spent the rest of the night trying to rally the less adventurous members of The Hillary Step entourage behind this band.

The curtains closed, the emcee came out, the house music came back on and there was a brief break while Antenna Lodge got their stuff off of the stage. I dropped back behind the club to talk to James in the alley and give him my contact information. And despite offering them a show in KC and practically offering them a record contract on the spot, I still have not heard back from him. Ya win some, you loose some.

When the curtains opened again a markedly less abrasive local band, Ester Drang, began their set. With two guitarists, a bassist, drummer and two keyboardists (each with several keyboards and synths) the band produced an expectedly full sound when they wanted to, and hardly a whisper when that disposition struck them. Immediately I was reminded of the moodiness of early Mogwai with their sweeping dynamics and volumes as well as their less-means-more philosophy.

After six songs the band had still not said a word (not even a thank you) to the crowd and I began to feel the pretension heavy in the air. As the band played on (for nearly an hour) I sensed a bit of self-importance, and at the end of their set, when the majority of the band left the stage and the keyboardists continued a simple yet encompassing loop until the curtains were ultimately closed, I was left with the bitter taste of a contrived effect.

The Hillary Step’s early soundcheck wasn’t entirely a success so I was a bit worried when the curtain opened on the band and vocalist Brad Hodgson nervously approached the microphone. Luckily the compression scheme worked and soon the band were winding their way through a complicated opener that sat well with the supportive audience of around 100 locals. Only a few minor touring-band-snafu’s hit the band as they worked through a rehearsed set of emotional indie rock drawing from the band’s demo, debut CD & a couple of new ones.

Brad’s vocals were loud and commanding and the three-piece were generally tight (with the exception of the not-ready-for-primetime new song they used as a closer). Brad began to make his graceful exit after a half hour but the club manager told them they still had 15 minutes. I don’t think the club necessarily needed fifteen more minutes from the band, but bassist Brian Frisbie and an enthusiastic crowd coerced Brad and drummer Danny Mac to remit and the band played the longest set of their career.

Dallas’ Lewis had the unfortunately luck to be the fourth band on the bill, playing well after the locals, and following The Hillary Step. The 100 kids who watched The Hillary Step filed out to the lobby leaving only a dozen polite folks and a handful of fans to watch the band.

Lewis put on a very professional show of swirling and intense rock. Elements of emo and more mainstream alternative rock (such as Radiohead) combine in producing a polished and creative indie sound that is as accessible as it is interesting. The band continue to impress me.

The majority of their set seemed to come from their most recent CD although there were a few songs I didn’t recognize in their long set. Now it’s never good to be discouraged by a small audience and play a lackluster show, but Lewis take it to the other extreme and played for an hour to an audience that I could have counted without taking off my shoes. Although they finally did tone down their onstage banter to match the intimate setting, it took most of the set.

After their set I saw demoralized bass player Jeff Truly selling (or not selling as the case was) merchandise in the lobby. He could only tell me how sometimes you win ‘em, and sometimes you lose ‘em. Funny, I was just saying that earlier...

After waiting around the club for nearly an hour, the promoter (a kid I never actually met that evening) got the spooky club owner and each of the headliners were presented with $60 and an explanation of how the club had barely broken even after renting the cops. Renting the cops? I didn’t know this but I guess the club had to rent two cops to stand out front and keep the peace – some sort of sick local law I guess. But $60 isn’t bad, and it would have covered gas if The Hillary Step came down in one van as god intended.

The band had luckily already loaded up and so farewells were said and at 1am I headed back to Kansas City with a carload of folks that would be asleep in less than a half hour. I can’t share with you the details of the ride home (even if I would have written this account the next morning) as it was one of those half-asleep trips where you are suddenly home and you don’t recall a damn thing about the journey – a little scary and a little wonderful at the same time.