This past Sunday night I saw one of my favorite bands play Area Fifteen in Charlotte. To my surprise, the band was on an acoustic tour, and that night they played without the normal headliner, The Early November. Charlotte has been budding several emo and punk bands lately, artists like It Looks Sad. and Couches (a band that was also on the bill that night). The city is also called home for the Tiny Engines record label who have released music for many renowned emo and punk bands, including Tigers Jaw, Dikembe, and The Hotelier.
Driftwood Miracle opened up the night. They are a very energetic Durham band whose members look like they haven’t even left their teens. They seemed thrilled to be playing in front of that small crowd of around twenty people. Sinai Vessel followed. They are another North Carolina emoish band whose singer began the set with a crucial cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River”. He sang the song like it was his own, and the result was completely heart-wrenching. However, Warren Franklin became my new favorite artist of the night. He wore an Early November shirt and played a solo acoustic set that was even akin to The Early November’s work. His songs were youthful, catchy, and endearing. Couches was the last band to play before Empire! Empire! Couches’ vocalist has a partiality for wearing Hawaiian shirts, but don’t be surprised when you find a severe lack of “good vibes” in their music. There is a lot of screaming, heavily distorted guitar, and some occasional blast beats. Did I mention angst?
And finally, Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate). When I first listened E!E! (IWALE) I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Their album What It Takes to Move Forward was my introduction to the whole DIY “emo” scene back in 2010, before emo was ever “cool”, or garnered much attention from independent music sites. The band, however, has been at it much longer than I’ve been listening to them. They’ve been putting out music since 2007, when Keith and his wife (the two constant members of Empire! Empire!) started the Count Your Lucky Stars record label. Keith and Cathy write guitar lines that intertwine, sometimes complementing, and sometimes counteracting each other to create a signature sound. I was drawn in by their nearly therapeutic lyrics that possess a strong sense of urgency. Seeing them live felt like things were coming full circle. I was finally getting to see a band that had a major impact on my life. Warren joined the ranks of Empire! Empire! that night, and they played a variety of songs from their discography. I was reminded why I loved the band in the first place, for the songwriting, and for their sheer tenderness. They were seated on fold-up chairs in front of a crowd that was quiet and inoffensive. We sat there on the dusty concrete floor of that art space, and we listened. We listened a display of emotion. We listened to those beautiful melodic guitar lines. We listened to Keith tell stories in the dark. It felt like I was back in a simpler time, the way music makes the peripherals of your life fade away. It felt like we were all children at an away camp, huddled around a fire and listening intently. It was a wonderful way to end the first day back in my hometown.
Empire! Empire! will release their second album on August 19, their first album since What It Takes to Move Forward, on Count Your Lucky Stars and Topshelf Records. “A Keepsake”, from their new album entitled You Eventually Will Be Forgotten, is currently streaming on NPR.
-DJ Nasty Nate