Civil Hands in K-ZooOn the first Friday night of April, the basement of 902 Davis St. was packed with dozens of music fans.  Some, like us at Detroit Chic had travelled from far away.  Others were locals, soaking in the music.  Regardless of where you were from, though, soon everyone shared the commonality of being blown away by a night of energized rock.

The basement show featured only one local Kalamazoo band, this time– the headlining act, The Reptilian.  Victor! Fixed the Sund, though was from Grand Rapids, so still a Michigan band.  Also featured was Native, a band from Valpo in Indiana, which formed from former members of Effect Affect and Oh London, and Civil Hands, the opening act from Columbus, Indiana.  Each band played a unique set, but the overall feeling for the evening was a progressive ambient hardcore feel, which at times featured shades of punk, pop rock, or heavier metal.

Having been witness to the show and been moved by the music, one thing seems clear– the verdict is back and the Kalamazoo scene certainly seems strong.

(All pictures by Jason Mick/Detroit Chic)

Jason ThumbnailKalamazoo, located in lower western Michigan is a smaller city in a more remote side of the state that certainly makes it seem an unlikely place for one of the state’s most active music scenes.  However, the town, fueled by Western Michigan Universty and KVCC has a live-wire party atmosphere, and with rock and good times being brothers in arms, perhaps it is unsurprising that K-zoo should have such a thriving musical community.

Although it takes about $30 of gas to drive from the northern suburbs of the metro area to K-zoo, it’d be a shame if you didn’t take a chance to go visit a friend and experience the scene for yourself.  Its spawned many notable acts, including Their Teeth Will Be Lions, whom we will hopefully be reviewing shortly.

The backdrop for the show this night was an unpresumptous basement of an aging K-zoo home.  The basement was one of those unfinished types paved with concrete.  Its large open spaces made for plenty of room for a receded corner for the band to play in and an open floor for the crowd to watch.  A mass of wires and cables fed the sound, and made for a surprisingly sophisticated show– if the wire wasn’t pulled, at least (more on that later).  One particularly neat aspect of the feel, I thought, was the weathered brick columns in the basement and the brick walls, which hearkened back to the brick basements of Britain which birthed much of the Rock and Roll and punk movements.

After about half an hour the first band, Civil Hands took to the stage.  The band began to pound out a blend of spastic progressive noise that overall was quite enjoyable.  I always say their are two varieties of screamers– throaty/deep ones, and more shrieking/blaring types.  Falling under latter category, vocalist Ben Hansen proved himself to be both able vocally and as a performer.  He constantly was in motion, whether it be going out in the crowd, grabbing audience members, or just jumping around.  His energy certainly drew the crowd into the set.

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Pictured: Civil Hands singer Ben Hansen, gets up close and personal with the crowd.

Back arched, the bass player cut through the band’s song “American Nightmare” (titles may be paraphrased/incorrect) while Hansen throttled through some energetic screams.  The duel guitars layed down strog backing.  If I had to pick one thing I liked best about the band though, it would have to be their lead guitarist who had multiple finger picks and was playing some amazing progressive/ambient riffs on the guitar bridge.  His proficiency and style were definitely high points of the act, and lent in a substantially more polished feel.

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Pictured: The bassist of Civil Hands kicks out the jams as the drummer pounds away.

The band played a number of songs, including a song “Thieves” which featured some of Hansen’s better screaming/vocals.  Another interesting song was a newer song by the band “Streets of Puerto Rico”.  This song featured a bit mellower guitar lines and felt decidely different from their heavier stuff.  One interesting feature was during a couple of their songs, Hansen’s screaming would get into almost a chanting/rhythmic like pattern, a la Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.

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Pictured: The band (minus the singer, who was in the crowd) rips through an energetic set.

In all Civil Hands was a solid opening.  For fans of Mars Volta, At The Drive In, The Locust, Civil Hands will surely be pleasant noise.  As we would see as the evening progressed, they were the first harbringer of a night of ambient hardcore.

Next up after Civil Hands was Victor! Fix the Sun.  Whereas Civil Hands was closer to hardcore, Victor! focused more on an increasingly ambient noise, mixed with a bit of a classic rock sound.  The band certain had a strong following among the audience.  Said one audience member, Broc, “They make your heart feel this big (gesturing widely with hands)!”

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Pictured: The drummer of Victor! Fix the Sun was among their many strong points that built up a catchy sound

When they launched off amidst a reverby guitar and a reverb drums, the only real disappointment was that the vocals got a bit drowned out beneath the instruments.  Still the solid instrumentals and heavy effect use of effects lent to an interesting ambient brand of hardcore.  The crowds arms were pumping in the air and the band launched into numerous guitar breakdowns during their first couple songs of the set.

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Pictured: Victor! Fix the Sun’s lead singer had a classic rock feel to his performance at times.

The band sounded strangely like a number of very different major acts, which you wouldn’t normally associate with ambient hardcore.  Instrumentally, their guitar at times took on an almost Led Zeppelin-esque sound.  The vocals at time resembled Jack White of The White Stripes a bit.

If one was to look for fault in the band, if anything they might find it in that they might be a little too catchy for some.  For example one of their songs riffs sounded remarkably similar to the Foo Fighter’s Everlong, a la with ambient/hardcore stylings and different lyrics.  Interestingly, a couple of other audience members who I talked to noticed the same thing, so I knew it wasn’t just in my head.  Another song “Infested Mother of Pre…” had a pounding beat that sounded remarkably like the guitar/drum work in Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”.  Again, I just found this interesting, obviously the overall sound is nothing like these bands, and if anything I would consider this a good sign as it means that the band is catchy and able to rip out some good guitar hooks.

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Pictured: More fun, with the lead singer of Victor! Fix the Sun.

At times Victor! reverted to more traditional hardocore, such as on the song “Broken Faith”, which featured a nice freeze midsong just as the song was getting intense.  They consistently had nice build ups instrumentally to their breakdowns, among the nice traits of their solid instrumentation.

Overall Victor! upped the ambient, but at times journeyed back to a more hardcore-heavy act, similar to Civil Hands.  The band was remarkably catchy, though the vocal levels needed to be a bit higher.  They might remind some of former Michigan band Bear v. Shark (R.I.P.), in a good way.  I would be surprised if they properly promote, if this band does not get pretty big.  Definitely an interesting listen.

Next up was Native.  Native has a rather funny way which they launch into their sets.  Their lead singer, steps up to the mic casually and begins chatting with the audience.  He begins with a story– this time something about baby cats and a hit and run at the supermarket– and then just as it becomes the most unbelievable, he says “This is Native” and the whole band abruptly begins playing.   It might sound a bit gimmicky, but its certainly a fun twist.

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Pictured: Native– good humor and unruly hair.

Native did not disappoint the Michigan audience, playing a brand of hardcore that was less ambient, with a bit more pop or punk to it at times.  Fans of Bloc Party or older Thursday (think Full Collapse), would likely appreciate their stuff.  They got the crowd very involved chanting to the songs.  For a band in foreign territory (though they tour in MI a lot), their warm reception was certainly a sign that they were a solid act.

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Pictured: One of Native’s guitarists takes a brief rest as the lead singer belts out some lyrics.

At times they got the audience very involved singing the refrains to the various songs.  Native was a good break from the progressive/ambient stylings that predominated the night, serving up a different, but enjoyable sound.  Hopefully they’ll be back in Michigan more in the near future!

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Pictured: Native rocks out for the receptive crowd.

Finally, the headlining act the Reptilian took the stage.  I really did not expect to like the band so much.  The name may conjure up visions of B Sci-Fi flicks, but their sound is anything but corny.  Let me quickly state the best thing about the band– while the band as a whole is very solid and talented, Russ Wagner’s guitar work is sensational.  In my opinion, as far as the ambient brand of hardcore that the band is rocking out, you couldn’t find a more dynamic or better guitarist than Wagner.

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Pictured: The Reptilian’s Russ Wagner (left, in black), was an excellent guitarist, and added a lot to the band’s performance.

The band also had some cool lighting, which upped the ambient mood.  The lead guitarist add some funky noise random fingering on the fret and over the pickup while he sang and during some of the breakdowns.  The band had an extremely danceable quality to its music, despite being heavy at times.  The first real slam dancing/moshing/whatever you want to call it of the evening commenced in full as the Reptilian ripped through their set.

Halfway through their act, the band all went shirtless, which was kinda funny (sorta brought me back to my cross country days).  Shirts or not, they continued to rip through solid ambient songs.  It was their EP release night, after all, and they certainly weren’t going to miss the opportunity to blow the crowd away.  Again Wagners, energetic guitar whipped the crowd into a frenzy as the vocalist, drummer, and bass player spurred them on further.

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Pictured: The Reptilian– no shirt, but shoes and some rocking music.  Note the interesting lights.

The Reptilian has a surprisingly unique sound.  I thought long and hard to try to think what exactly they sounded like, as it was nagging on the back of my mind.  After lots of contemplation, I’d say the best comparison I could give is that they sound a bit like older Cursive (think “Sink to the Beat”/”The Martyr”).  They also sound shades like the Mars Volta or Horse the Band.  Really, while all the bands rocked and were excellent,  The Reptilian shined the brightest, and certainly got the crowd energized most of all.  I encouraged them to consider travelling out to the Detroit area, and I hope they consider it, as I think they’d win a lot of new fans.

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Pictured: The Reptilian left the whole crowd dancing as they ripped through their electo-tinged riffs.

We will be doing a review on The Reptilian’s EP titled We Have Become.  Don’t miss a chance to pick it up.  At five bucks its definitely worth it to get the chance to enjoy the band’s unique musical stylings and to support the vibrant K-zoo scene.

After a night of driving 2 hours, rocking out for over three hours, photography, dancing, and more, I was a bit beat.  However, I’m really glad that I got to meet and check out the sounds of these unique bands.  Each is different and has the potential to go far.  Be sure to check out Native and Civil Hands, be they in Michigan or Indiana.  And be sure when your in K-zoo or Grand Rapids to keep your eyes peeled for shows by Victor! Fix the Sun or The Reptilian.

The K-zoo scene, is actively pushing a couple different movements (a la Funcore), and the show last Friday showcased one of thse movements– ambient hardcore.  Michigan has constantly been on the leading edge of music.  Its nice to see these Michigan and Indiana bands pioneering the next sound in progressive and hardcore.  Be sure to check out these bands– you’ll be glad you did.