Saturday Night: Stage Frights & Ending the Vicious Cycle At Numbers
The Stage Frights are only on their fourth show, but between the husband and wife team of Larry Rainwater and Spleen there are decades of experience in goth musical excellence. Previously they've brought Houston two sensational deathrock acts, Ex-Voto and Ardour of Angels, and now their branching out into something very different.
The first notable divergence in the band is the movement of Larry and Spleen to more supporting roles as guitarist and bassist, respectively. They've relinquished their position as formidable front people to newcomer Jonny Splat on vocals as well as adding Barry Calnan on the drums and eschewing the programmed percussion that was the norm in previous incarnations.
The second change is that rock, more than goth, makes up the key component of the music.
Though the band as yet lacks the polished precision and presence of Ex-Voto, they do bring a new kind of frenetic energy and downright dirtiness to their performance. Splat is still a very green showman who sometimes seems to hesitate as if unsure if he has permission to own the stage, but the overall potential he exhibits is overwhelming. If he is cautious about claiming his kingdom, he at least doesn't hesitate to open the throttle on his vocals.
In fact, if we had to pin down a comparison we'd say that Splat has all the makings of an Axl Rose. Part of it is the skinny heat he's poured into his vinyl pants, but part of it is also being tuned into whatever cosmic force channels awesome rock and roll to us humble humans.
Rock is the real key here. Stage Frights aren't aiming for some desperate attempt to recreate a misremembered defining sub-branch of early goth. Instead, they have gone far back into the realm of Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper in order to approach the birth of goth with forward rather than reverse momentum.
Here they are helped by the solid band genius of Rainwater and Spleen. Both have taken their ancillary roles to heart, acting as black marble pedestals of beauty and craft for the throne of their singer to be erected upon. Their own incredible vocals shore up the rough places in the lyrics, Spleen's banshee wail and Rainwater's stormy baritone rounding out choruses like a damned choir.
For change-ups, Rainwater busted out some truly incredible guitar solos in most every song. A bassist by training, he only picked up the guitar a year ago and has already mastered the lost art of the rocking goth shred. The result is the best rock-based goth act since the Cult.
Unfortunately, we don't think that the audience was quite prepared for what they got. A prevalence of EBM acts and ethereal sets from Faith and the Muse over the last couple of years may have done some permanent damage to the goth scene's rock detector.
They were quick to applaud, appreciative and even warm, but the Stage Fright's stated goal of making drunk people dance didn't come to fruition. No worries, there'll be plenty of opportunities to reawaken the inner banger in all of us.
If there is any real flaw to the band, it's that whenever Rainwater and Spleen helm a new project they tend to write a brilliant song to start with... then fall in love with it so much they write it nine more times. It seems to take them a little bit to get comfortable enough to put together a more varied set like the last Ex-Voto album Antioch. We're hoping for a bit more variety in the future, and many more shows to sample it at.