Recently Phoenix’ Crescent Ballroom played host to three talented acts that I had initially not heard of: The Chain Gang of 1974, Zak Waters and Empires.
The impetus for thinking I had to catch this show was from coming across it in a Twitter feed and reading an interview with Kamtin Mohager (The Chain Gang of 1974). Mohager disclosed that he was first moved to create music after he heard Tears for Fears’ classic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” on the Real Genius soundtrack.
Since I am a huge fan of Songs from the Big Chair (Real Genius not so much, other than Deborah Foreman) having written about it for this site, I decided that anyone so moved by Tears for Fears was a must see.
The opening band was Empires, who hail from Chicago. They played the title track off of their recently released third EP, How Good Does it Feel on the Late Show with David Letterman so had some nice momentum going into this show.
Doing some research I read that Empires are greatly influenced by The Pixies and Nirvana. However, what I saw reminded me more of a straight ahead bar band that you might’ve seen in the eighties (The Smithereens, The Call or The Greg Kihn Band) with an added post punk influence (Joy Division).
It was easy to see why they were booked for Letterman, as they played an excellent set. The high point was “Don’t Tell my Lover,” also off the new album and the aforementioned “How Good Does it Feel.”
Zak Waters who, much like Darryl
Dawkins, does not fake the funk on a nasty dunk. Waters is a charismatic performer with songs that I would best describe as electrofunk. If forced to make a comparison, the best I could probably do of Waters and his band’s style live is George Michael (dance pop) meets Curtis Mayfield (funk) meets Bell Biv Devoe (R&B). As you can tell by the description, Waters music has an unusual infusion the three genres that works very well together.
His influences were made even more evident later after he and his band performed a musical medley that included snippets of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Waters also has an impressive falsetto, rivaling Jimmy Sommerville’s of The Bronski Beat and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees.
The show finished with The Chain Gang of 1974 who in reality is actually the aforementioned Kamtin Mohager’s project. Moharger got a huge break for The Chain Gang of 1974 last year when his song “Sleepwalking” was featured in the official worldwide trailer for Grand Theft Auto V, which became the most successful video game of all time.
Technically, The Chain Gang of 1974 is defined as indietronica but seeing them live I have created a couple of new potential genres to define them: thrash synth and electronic punk. Nowhere was this more evident than when they performed the aptly titled: “Death Metal Punk;” a blazing head bashing track from the new album Daydream Forever
Another standout was “Ordinary Fools,” the lead track from Daydream Forever, which went the other direction onstage being more of a ballad. This is a song where you can hear a heavy Tears for Fears influence, especially from “The Working Hour” off of Songs from the Big Chair.
Finally, the pulsating performance of “Lola Suzanne” was incredible as the song itself could be described as an industrial ode to all the great new wave/synthpop to come out of the 80s such as The Thompson Twins , Flock of Seagulls and Alphaville.
All in all, it was another great night and show at the Crescent showcasing three talented acts that are definitely worth a listen.