On Friday, August 24th, the Raleigh music venue, Imurj hosted a “Local Artist Spotlight” show which featured three up-and-coming artists who were personally selected by Imurj. The lineup was as follows:
1. Stranded Bandits (opener)
2. Darren and the Buttered Toast
3. Mosquito Washington and the Bloodsuckers (headliner)
I listed the artists in their performance order but I will be describing their sets based on which I enjoyed the most (my favorite act being the last one).
Although Mosquito Washington was the headliner, I was least impressed by them. This band, comprised of 5 classic metal old-heads had little impact on the crowd. For the first few songs audience members– many of whom were very clearly not traditional metal heads– excitedly began head-banging and participated in a center-stage push-pit. Eventually, however, the crowd dissipated as riff-after-repetitive-riff drawled on. Now, don’t get me wrong, the members of Mosquito Washington are vastly talented men who clearly have a solid taste in music, but it is safe to say that their time is long over. Each song could have easily been an Alice Cooper or Black Sabbath cover, which may have been preferable to their lesser-known originals. It was nostalgic to hear such classic song structures, but maybe they weren’t suitable for this event. The vast majority of the crowd were in their early 20s and if they weren’t attending as part of the entourage of other performers, they were mere frequent customers of the bar and probably not diehard hair-metal fans. Overall, I feel as though Mosquito Washington could have had a better draw at a tribute show or by marketing themselves as a cover band. Kudos to the members for carrying on the spirit of the 70s and 80s, and such a pity that it was lost on the ears of the crowd.
Up next was Stranded Bandits, a 4-piece rock group that is relatively new to the Raleigh scene, but for those invested in its culture it won’t be long until their name becomes familiar. The band isn’t visually cohesive, unlike the other two artists on this lineup, but the sound each member produces mix to form an incredibly exciting set of songs.
They opened with a tune called, ‘Debauchery,’ which was steeped in classic rock elements and used riffs that the Foo Fighters themselves could have written. The crowd, at this point mostly made up of family and friends of Darren and the Buttered Toast, received the music warmly, with one audience member shouting out, “these guys rock!” Up next was a song called, ‘On the Run–’ I was very lucky that they announced the title of every song they played– and it featured main vocals and a solo by their drummer, Douglas (DJ) Schilens. The solo directly mimicked the performance style of Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham, particularly his Moby Dick solo in which Bonham transitioned between using sticks and his hands to play drums. Schilens used this same technique, although his solo wasn’t 15+ minutes long. In fact, Stranded Bandits seems to have a knack for showcasing their individual skills. Matt Barton, the lead guitarist of the group, was featured on an instrumental track entitled, ‘Beach Bum Blues.’ Furthermore, the group continually pays homage to their classic rock heroes, with Barton next honoring Jimi Hendrix by attempting to play guitar with his teeth. Although this was a courageous feat of showmanship, it may have fallen flat for the juvenile band– or maybe only the rock god himself, Hendrix, can successfully pull that trick off. Either way, Barton’s suave stylings outside of that moment proved to be well-suited to their music and he never made another mistake.
At the end of ‘On the Run,’ and truthfully between every song that was performed, Stranded Bandits’ bare-footed bassist, Arjun Sheth, kept up a strong, constant bassline and ensured that never did a moment pass when the audience wasn’t engaged by music. They swiftly transitioned into a Hendrix cover of the song, ‘Purple Haze.’ At this moment it was their frontman– Isaac McDaniel’s– time to shine. The frontman, though youthful, carries an air of unadulterated self-confidence when performing– I saw a clear connection to Steven Tyler. McDaniel never stopped moving, both on and off-stage, and even initiated dance circles during the following set. During their Hendrix song he threw himself to the ground, vivaciously slamming his fists against the ground, wholly consumed by the music.
This group is definitely one to keep an eye and ear on. The vibrancy of these young men won over the crowd and began the show with an explosion of sound. A few dissonant sections arose where it seemed as though the band members were drifting apart from one another, but unless you were listening critically, it would have been impossible to tell. Even so, I was informed that this was their very first real gig and that up until this point they had only done open mic events. These guys play with more finesse and flair than some veterans to the scene and I can safely say that I was beyond thoroughly impressed by Stranded Bandits.
After their set I was able to approach a friend of the band’s– Anya Johnson– who was kind enough to share her photos of their performance with me. Below are a couple of the pictures she took for Stranded Bandits.
Although the rockers in Stranded Bandits fulfilled their purpose of beginning the show with energy, it was their following act that really blew the crowd away. Darren and the Buttered Toast, as advertised on their website, are a group that draw on influences from “…the soul of R&B, Jazz, Rock, Gospel, and other musical traditions…with a focus on a positive vibe to lift the spirit and move the feet.” Without a doubt they achieved their goal. This group, having been active since 2013, had an extremely well-done set. Despite the fact that much of their music was improvised it flowed so well that it was as if they had practiced every note beforehand. Of course the skeleton of the songs were pre-written and practiced, but the meat of their performance comes from the vitality of their members. I have good things to say about all of them.
- Darren Curtis (lead vocalist/guitar)
The charismatic frontman of Darren and the Buttered Toast kept his eyes ever-scanning the crowd, flashing a row of glittering teeth to anyone who matched his gaze. Curtis started off with the energy high and never let it fall. He spent the whole dancing in-front of his microphone and behind his guitar, tantalizing jazz lines seducing the audience’s eardrums. Curtis’ lyrics, especially during ‘Mr. Bass Man’ told a story set to music, and were easy to follow for the duration of the set. A true showman in every sense of the word.
- Isaac Capers (backing vocals/drums)
Although Capers wasn’t showcased in the same way that Stranded Bandits had done with Schilens, there was no doubt that Capers is deeply talented. Instinctively I want to call him robotic, because to my knowledge he never missed a single beat all night, however, he was too fluid to be considered robotic. No, Capers is a definitively human drummer, and his heart guided the music he created. In pairing with Anthony Dyal, the two kept the audience dancing so frivolously that we were quite literally begging for more. Darren and the Buttered Toast performed two encores.
- Delante’ Randolph (backing vocals/saxophone)
Let me start by saying that I was wholeheartedly floored by the talent that drips from this man’s fingertips. Saxophonists are notoriously creative musicians, and Randolph was no different. In coalition with Curtis– the two musicians bounced off one another effortlessly–, he created a sonic landscape fit for anyone to dance around in. Switching between a classic sax– I’d like to assume it’s an alto– and an electric sax allowed him to variate his sound in numerous ways. The electric, which looked like the biggest Juul I’ve ever seen, was hooked up to a pedal board which even furthered his ability to manipulate the music. This was something I had never seen before and it was phenomenal. Every note, every solo, every run was immaculately conceived and blessed our ears similarly. Furthermore, he was incredibly nice to talk to after the set and provided me with all the band’s contact info for future listening. Definitely an incredibly friendly man.
- Anthony Dyal (bassist)
This man is the true backbone of Darren and the Buttered Toast. The funk and finesse he brought to the stage got the crowd off their feet, onto the dancefloor, and into each other’s’ arms. A steady rocker, which was exemplified during his mini solo, Dyal is a master of his entire instrument. Incredible bass lines, incredible tone, the absolute cherry on the top of this buttered toast-erpiece.
Overall, Imurj did an excellent job of picking a line-up with a wide variety of genre-influences to pander to the interests of every show-goer. Every performance had its appeal and provided an excellent evening of rock n roll. I’m very excited to see where each of these groups go and how they musically progress.
If they’re ever playing in the area again, you can bet I’ll be there for another showcase of talent– I hope to see you all there.
Thanks for reading, and remember;
Punk’s not dead, its on 88.1 WKNC.