Local talent is something that never falls short in Detroit, from artists selling paintings on random street corners to musicians filling venues like St. Andrews and the Magic Stick. But this time, we stepped out of Detroit to check out local Michigan bands in Ann Arbor, and it was worth the trip.
Jason Mick and I trekked out to Ann Arbor this past Tuesday night (Nov. 23) to see a band called The Finer Things. Jason has seen them before, and knows the band’s front man Dave Hawkins. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since I’ve seen countless local acts in my time and they would either be really awesome or really terrible. But I can say with confidence that The Finer Things has been one of the most enjoyable local acts I’ve seen yet.
The Finer Things is a three-piece, indie rock band consisting of Dave Hawkins (lead vocals, keyboards), Joe Shaheen (vocals, guitar) and Joel Cieslak (vocals, drums). They began playing together just this year, which was a surprise to me since it seemed like they already had a steady fanbase and a firm grip on their musical style.
For only being allowed a 30-minute time slot at the Blind Pig, this band really made the most of it. Their energy and passion for what they do resonates off the stage and infects anyone within earshot. They reminded me of a slightly less electronic and more guitar heavy Hellogoodbye, or what Matt & Kim would sound like if they had a guitarist.
I was impressed with their instrumental abilities, watching as Dave effortlessly pounded the keys and tossed dance-worthy synth melodies on top of Joe’s creative riffs and Joel’s punchy drumming that demanded to be heard. More than once, I found myself lost in Joe’s fretwork and ability to make every solo better than the last. His catchy guitar licks and solos complimented Dave’s use of synthesizers, making the overall sound unique and fun. Dave even added the intro to Super Mario Bros. during a pause in the middle of a song, which, for a gamer like myself, is the cherry on top of an already amazing show.
I noticed that The Finer Things have a vast appreciation for Michigan, sporting self-made band t-shirts with the state of Michigan outlined on them. They also noted (on their Facebook page) that “the beautiful state of Michigan” is one of their major influences for their music, which awarded them brownie points as far as my opinion goes. With so many people complaining about our economy and Detroit’s current state, it’s refreshing to see a group of people who can see the beauty through all the negativity.
All in all, The Finer Things provide an excellent live show with great tunes and fun people. From my brief exchange with Dave, I’ve gathered that these are some down-to-Earth guys who love what they do, and do it well.
The last band of the night was a five-piece alternative rock band called Syndicate. My initial impression of the band was that their set was going to be epic, because there were so many guys on stage before it began. I originally thought there were 11 people in this band, but it turns out that most of them were just involved with the set-up process. The bandmembers are Eric Quimby (vocals, guitar), Patrick Jenkinson (lead guitar), Chris Keller (bass guitar), Jake Rathbun (drums) and Brandon Mansell (keyboard).
After a couple of songs, I decided that their music was a bit generic. Their sound reminded me of The Fray, and Jason noted that he thought they sounded like Matchbox Twenty. What’s funny is that I looked at Syndicate’s Facebook page when I got home, and guess who their two major influences are? Matchbox Twenty and The Fray. So weird.
I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of either of those bands (Matchbox Twenty or The Fray). The only words I can find to describe that type of genre is generic and boring. It might be someone else’s cup of tea, but it isn’t mine. I just kept waiting for them to do something that sets them apart from everyone else. Are Syndicate’s members capable of playing music? Yes, they were very good at playing their individual instruments. They didn’t by any means have a Sid Vicious situation where they had no idea how to play their instruments (not that I’m hating on Sid Vicious…I am a Sex Pistols fan, but come on, they had to turn his amp off or SUPER low to keep the audience from knowing he sucked). But my complaint is that they could use this talent to play something more unique. I mean, they played a Coldplay cover for crying out loud. COLDPLAY. I may be starting to sound like an indie snob right now, hating on all mainstream alternative bands, but Coldplay is awful in my book. I do listen to and enjoy some big mainstream bands like Incubus and the Foo Fighters, but while I enjoy these bands, they’re just not the kind of bands I could ever say are my absolute favorites because an absolute favorite band should mean that this particular band is completely different from anything else you’ve ever heard. Am I right?
Now, there is something that makes Syndicate worth seeing live: Eric Quimby, aka, the lead vocalist. He will keep you entertained all night long with his over-the-top facial expressions, vocals and general movements. I caught myself smirking a few times, thinking that maybe he’s seen one too many Rob Thomas music videos where the lead singer is supposed to be a little too much as well as incredibly full of themselves. It was hard to tell whether he was genuine with the facial expressions, etc. or not, who knows, maybe he really was feeling the music that much. Regardless, he was fun to watch.
Syndicate closed their set with a cover of Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You,” which I loved. They earned major brownie points for playing the “Fuck You” version instead of the radio-approved “Forget You” version as well. They played it well, which is impressive because translating a hip hop/funk song to a rock and roll song can be tricky. But they stood up to the challenge and executed it well. Definitely a great way to end the show.
Syndicate is a talented band and has the ability to be appreciated by those who enjoy that genre of music, and it seems like they play in Lansing and Flint often (which would make sense, since they’re from Davison, MI) so catch a show if you’re into it.
The Finer Things can be heard here.
Syndicate can be heard here.
Credit goes to Jason Mick for all band photography in this article.