Photo: Nick Simonite
Since I turned 21 almost two years ago, one thing I’ve learned about going to shows at the Urban Lounge is not to show up too early. The doors usually open around 9 p.m., but the music doesn’t start till somewhere around 10 p.m. If you’re not careful, you can easily down several drinks before the music even starts, just because you feel the need to do something besides standing around and glaring at the band’s equipment on stage. So I was pretty surprised when I opened the club’s door about ten minutes before 10 p.m. to find the place sparsely littered with only 30 or 40 people. But the small crowd that did actually show up to welcome the one-man-band, Gull, to the stage was treated with an amazing and unique thrash-metal performance from the Virginia-based musician, whose real name is Nate Rappole.
Before he even played a note, his appearance captivated the crowd (here’s a video to give you a better idea). It wasn’t because he was sitting behind a small drum kit made up of a snare, hi-hat and bass drum, while at the same time holding a Fender Telecaster across his thighs—even though it was pretty impressive by itself— but it was mostly due to the Halloween-looking hockey mask that he was wearing. Inside of the improvised mask was a microphone that made him sound like I was at a Wendy’s drive-thru. Even though you couldn’t really understand the lyrics while he was playing, his aggressive style of playing made it hard to look away. Using an effects machine to make loops with his guitar, he then took a seat behind the drums, which he played with one drumstick in his right hand, while using his left hand to play his guitar. It was pretty astonishing to watch.
As people continued filing in through the doors, it was amusing to see the look on their faces when they realized what was happening on stage. While some people did a double take at Rappole, others actually stopped in their tracks for a second to look a little closer and figure out what the hell was going on. Despite the fact that it was hard to comprehend the lyrics, as he was going ape shit on the drums and guitar all at the same time, Gull was truly an unexpected treat as an opener for White Rabbits.
During the SXSW festival last week, I read some comments on Twitter complaining about the lengthy sound check the White Rabbits go through, and I was curious to see it for myself. I would not be disappointed. When all six members made it onto the stage, it would be another 20 minutes before they began their set. They were very precise about the whole process, but, at times, it was a bit humorous to watch, as if on cue, all the members of the band raised one hand with a finger pointed up, requesting their sound level to be increased. It paid off in the end, as the band plowed relentlessly through over an hour of material made up mostly of new tunes from their new album, Milk Famous.
I was especially digging the playing of bassist Rustine Bragaw, whose thunderous grooves, emanating from his Rickenbacker bass, drove the band and kept them tight with each other all night long. Lead vocalist Stephen Patterson switched back and forth between piano and guitar throughout the night, but mostly stayed behind an upright, wooden piano. At times, he reminded me of The Doors’ Ray Manzarek, as he played the piano with his right hand while at the same time playing a synthesizer that was perched on top of the piano with his left hand. I was a little disappointed that there was not a lot of soloing or jamming in their music, but the band’s polished sound made it easy to get behind. The band kept the chatting to a minimum and often transitioned from song to song without any pauses. The only notable breaks were when Patterson dedicated a song to those who saw the band play at Kilby Court back in 2007, and he also admitted to being impressed by Gull’s opening set, by saying to the crowd, “Let’s hear it for Gull. Holy shit!”
At the end of their set, the White Rabbits thanked the crowd and left the stage, but returned almost immediately to play a few more songs. Overall, they delivered a solid evening of pop-rock to an enthusiastic crowd, but I was more impressed with Gull’s theatrical opening performance. Even though Rappole was not on the same level musically as White Rabbits, his set was pretty mind-blowing and reminded me why it’s important to not overlook the opening acts.