In the indie ranks where music labels operate closer to the heart and often specialize, label showcases are high-value experiences for good labels – Sargent House and local weirdo label Illuminated Paths being recent testaments to that. The latest jackpot was the touring one for West Coast imprint Riding Easy Records (July 24, Backbooth). In one knockout night, this lineup brought a procession of notable bands to Florida for the first time and established the label as a name to be watched in a single stab of an impressive trident.
Riding Easy Records' former name was Easy Rider Records, appropriate because that's more or less the style era where this label likes its rock. Take the retro-heavy roll of Cincinnati headliner Electric Citizen, for example. Their proto-metal sound already packs a big slab of dark theater, but frontwoman Laura Dolan elevates it to straight-up black magic. I mean, c'mon, leather fringe cuffs? If the music wasn't so good, this would've been hilarious. Instead, they rocked with serious mood and presence.
Oakland throwback band Mondo Drag likewise conjures a vintage time warp with acid rock that trips out in enough swirling organs to be ridiculous if it wasn't rendered with such authenticity and genuine weight. This ain't no hippie-lite doodling. This is some deep diving. I could feel my lids draw and my hair lengthen with each slithering indigo groove. And now look, I'm already talking sound in terms of color.
The most electrifying of the three labelmates was Central California's Slow Season. Although their revivalism is just as long-hair and big-flare as Mondo Drag, their rock is much harder charging. While Mondo Drag and Electric Citizen dig atmospheric canyons, Slow Season kicks it out with diesel, heroics and fuzz like a Southern-fried Zeppelin. Live, these guys are titanic, with cliffs of riffs and a huge sense of climax. And, goddamn, that drummer is a pit bull.
If an aspiring indie label is looking to make a name, a showcase tour is a quick and concentrated way of doing that if you've got the goods. Riding Easy Records did that here. Few people at this only Florida date were familiar with all the bands, and even fewer with the label. But by the end of the night, probably many were converted. Once you've been down the heavy, narcotic rabbit hole with a cavalcade like this, you don't forget that.
Atlanta's Brother Hawk (July 31, Backbooth) is a band that's still new to Orlando but one that's worth particular attention, and not just according to local sound guy Cartel who assured me before the show that they're great sex-having music. We may be just a little south of the South here – which is pretty arguable once you go cross the county line – but we love our Southern rock. And I like to think we know our Southern rock, too. That's why Brother Hawk's worth the time. Bursting with wingspan, vibe and soul, their lush sound has enough roots to satisfy the purists, but pulses with just enough youthful modernism to ride with the New South. Most importantly, they have the live ability to whip all that up into a sonic storm.
The surprise local find of the night was one-man act Amigo the Devil. Although dark and theatrical, his Southern Gothic folk music – played acoustic and mostly on banjo – isn't too dripping in the macabre corn that often pushes this niche genre over the top and into self-parody. He's actually capable of some affecting, even straightforwardly touching folk songs, so he's not some tourist. It's just that they often turn out to be murder ballads, making a dip into his midnight lake a little deeper and a little more sinister.
Under the twisted heart of his songs is often a fucked sense of humor, embodied perfectly during his on-the-floor finale when he conducted the audience in a chorus wishing his paramour's husband to death like some sort of jolly campfire sing-along. It's deliciously grotesque, and Amigo the Devil is certainly one of the more alluring and penetrating folk acts around these parts right now.