January has been a good month for concerts in Jacksonville thanks to Jack Rabbits. On January 9, Jacksonville’s hardest-to-find music venue hosted one of 2013’s breakout bands, Speedy Ortiz, who brought along with them fellow Boston-band Grass is Green.
I arrived at the venue fashionably late, since Jack Rabbits seems to always take forever setting up their superb sound, with just enough time to grab a beer before the first act went on. Opening before either of the Boston-based groups were local bands Memphibians and The WillowWacks, who oddly enough sent me a CD that reached my office hours before the event. As I watched WillowWacks perform, I was a bit confused since the CD I had just received was very folky and not at all like what I was hearing. Nevertheless, the band played an excellent opening set. After their performance, Micah and Lauren Gillian, the married couple who form the band, answered a few questions for me, as well as explained as to why their music was so unlike their EP The WillowWacks.
“This is our new sound. We’re so young, and we just put out that EP in October, so we are just kind of doing what we want and playing some rock,” Micah said. The two said that getting the chance to play alongside a band such as Speedy Ortiz, who has had so much recent success, is a great opportunity. Micah added in that this style of early 90s music is what originally inspired him to pick up a guitar, so getting to see a band with success in that realm, as well as meeting the fans who heavily support the genre, is really inspirational.
Memphibians were the second band to take the stage. Bringing their own brand of post-junk, swamp rock thuggery. The band is currently comprised of James Arthur Bayer III, Katie D’Elia, Lauren Ham and Matt Anderson. One of the first things I noticed about Memphibians is how unpredictable their music was. One minute I thought I had them figured out and the next the music would switch courses and catch me by surprise. For me at least, it’s nice to be blindsided by an artist you thought you had pinned to a particular sound or genre, but only if they can actually pull it off.
The next band to take the stage before Speedy Ortiz was Grass is Green, whom I frequently listen to now. Before this concert, I had never heard of the experimental rock band, but almost immediately, I could see why a band like Speedy Ortiz would bring them along for the ride. Grass is Green played a wicked set filled with songs from their newest album Vacation Vinny, featuring tracks such as “Vacation 2.0” (a personal favorite) and “Sammy So Sick”. Andy Chervenak, lead vocalist and guitarist, guest bassist Matty P, drummer Jesse Weiss, bassist and guitarist Devin McKnight and Michael Thomas III, who also plays bass and guitar for the group, took the time to sit down and drink a beer with me after their set as things winded down in Jack Rabbits.
“Jacksonville was deceptively awesome. It turned out to be a great show. People were really supportive of the music and really into it and that’s all we can ask for,” said Weiss. The band unanimously agreed that Jacksonville was the smallest crowd on the tour, though they praised the crowd for being very supportive and tuned into the music. “This tour [was the smallest crowd], but at the same time everyone that was here was down for the music and I had a conversation with everyone here and everyone bought some shit,” McKnight said. “You can’t ask for much more.”
Listen: Grass is Green – “Vacation 2.0”
By the time Speedy Ortiz finally went on, it was already late into the night. Regardless, myself and the other 20 people scattered inside the venue were eager to hear them perform. I quickly asked the band if it was all right if I took a few pictures, because you know…many bands are picky about that kind of thing thanks to publicists, and to my surprise, they were very cool with it and even agreed to talk with me after the show. I managed to snap a few pictures at the beginning of a couple songs, but for the most part, I was here to watch the show, not sit behind a camera. Sadie Dupuis, the woman behind Speedy Ortiz’s enthralling vocals, simply killed it alongside her bandmates Mike Falcone (what an awesome last name), Matt Robidoux and Darl Ferm. As someone who has seen Speedy Ortiz perform live, as well as listened to their albums, this is just one of those bands that makes live music live music. The energy Speedy Ortiz brought to the stage made me forget that there were less than 30 people in the room with me.
Dupuis, Falcone, Robidoux and Ferm were the last to sit down with me, but had great things to say about Jax. Much like the members of Grass is Green, the band praised attendees for their enthusiasm and genuine interest in their performance. “People were really into it tonight though, and I saw some people skanking, which may have been a first for us,” Ferm said. Falcone continued, “It’s always nice when people get into it [the show], it’s energy for our performance.” When asked about their thoughts on Speedy Ortiz’s recent successes, the band responded humbly. “We’ve gotten that question a bunch of times and we don’t really know how to answer it.” The band elaborated, stating they have been together for a decent amount of time, doing the same thing, so the success hasn’t really affected them that much. Dupuis attributed it to the group’s recent tours and said, “Now that we’ve toured the country X amount of times, more people are our friends so we get more people to shows.”
Listen: Speedy Ortiz – “Speedy Ortiz”
Overall, the show on January 9 was one of the better shows I have been to in a while, despite the annoyingly low numbers that came out. The bands didn’t seem to mind however, and some even cracked a few jokes, making light of the whole situation. All of the bands played solid sets, the fans enjoyed themselves, and at the end, everyone got to talk with all four groups in an intimate setting. Let’s just hope that lackluster turnouts at shows such as this won’t discourage bands from returning here in the future.
Watch the new video for “Vacation 2.0” below.