with Gospel Brothel
Sapphire Supper Club, Orlando • 7.5.98
It was a subdued sort of gathering at the Sup Club for a Sunday night on the Fourth of July weekend, but with goodly portions of the state still cooling off from a spate of high-intensity wildfires, partying folk seemed to be a rare sight over the three-day spread – but a host of good-timing peeps made the Sapphire sparkle with an intimate feel that is hard to come by at that place. And a three-month old band ripped it up in a fashion that you just don’t see every day. Gospel Brothel, a six-piece, broke out with a heavy wash of guitars on an all-out good time rock ditty that caught the sleeping assembly by surprise. It was Mellows-ville in there, I tell you – but that somnambulant shit was dispersed quickly when this bright and energetic group took the stage.
Lead singer Johnny Higginbottom is a sprightly elf of a man with a blonde bowl cut and a jangly stage presence. He looked over at rhythm guitarist Mike Sanchez, who was picking out a little fun, and said-“let’s keep ‘em happy – with enthusiasm, a little quicker, get that tempo rollin’ baby” and conducted the song into a very upbeat tune with nice harmonies and a hyperactive pulse. There was something supremely psychedelic about the music, a real “Pleasant Valley Sunday” sort of vibe to the proceedings. Keyboardist Ward Ferguson could be barely heard at times, but his piano solos hinted from out of the mix and gave a rootsy spice to the music. These guys were definitely pushing 11 on most of their settings. Troy Kelley displayed a loosely rambling style on lead guitar. Vocal hooks were tight and the bassist approaches every groove with a low buzzing of the tower. The lead singer reminds me of someone – but who is it?
On “Three Chords,” Higginbottom picks up an acoustic and brings a sharp edge to the tune – Wazz is a bass player who renders his work with a sense of nervous energy and Sanchez adds plenty of big bad distortion, a metal edge to this song. Thatcher (also of Ghettoblaster) brings in some tasty double bass kicks and keeps the percussive backbeat tumbling along. On the slow jam intro to “She Hates Mornings,” Ferguson comes out a little more and offers up harmonies that take this song into Doobie Brothers territory. “Has Been” featured a delightfully brief false-ending that shredded back into the pound-pounding free-for all that had the Wazz and Sanchez working closely and bouncing riffs off of each other. At times, Thatcher sent the entire assembly almost off the deep end, fusing everything together with a wicked volley and then the volume was brought down into crystal caverns to the shrill cheering and whistling of the crowd. Well goddamn. The bodies begin to move about on stage, Higginbottom whips a tambourine wildly and the staccato hits of the band stab in unison. “Something Like Forever” has ghostly dramatic piano, a three-note motif – a noir-ish feel began to slink out – after some grunge rock stylings, the piano comes back in with a scattering, plinking, and then a dazzling rush-back into the hard push. Ferguson shines on the spacey break in “Shaker” while “Cellophane” pleases with machine gun unison fills by the band, it steps into a funky ’60s ballistic rock trough with huge caverns of country-flavored chord changes. After a rousing version of the Stones’ “Can’t Always Get What You Want,” it occurred to me who the lead singer reminded me of – a less spastic Mick Jagger. The band closed with “Drug 20’s,” and showed much pluck and promise for a group of guys who had only been jamming for a few months. The trail is golden and full of rich soil, yadda.
Piller is one of those bands that a lot of people have heard of, but never have seen. Expectation drifts around the edge of their shows as pretty boy lead singer Shaun Williams begins to settle in on-stage. The band kicks in with a light attack on a song appropriately called “Lull,” a mellow intro to their set that, if you didn’t know that this was Piller, made you swear that you were sitting on the patio at Bahama Breeze on International Drive, just digging on some guitarist playing Buffett tunes while you suck up a something most decidedly NOT non-alcoholic. Mellow. Snuck in, they did – and the crowd watched with interest as bassist Chris Bordner ripped off his shirt before the boys kicked in with a similarly downbeat “Call It Off.” The poor, uninitiated fools – they had no idea what was about to happen to them. This tune freaks out a body with a tricky rhythm that seems to continue slipping out from under the song and then jumps back into sync with its sonic refrain. Williams nails the passage and the chorus of this tune hardens into a fine candy shell. “Anthem,” with its maniacal middle section and frenzied pace. “Remember When” – Bordner lays down the anchor of each phrase, tickling the tops with slidey grace notes. Much feedback-much rockin’ and rollin’ lead solo. “Rolling the Dice,” “a brand spankin’ new Piller song,” starts off with an insistent bass riff that quickly fires up into a quick skank. A punchy aggressiveness infuses the back-side of this song.
“Silvereye” is super mellow laid back rock that begins to swell with the crackling tom and snare work of Jason Williams – – a nonsense sing-along refrain scatted by dual guitars teases up to a semi-quiet ending. Williams surveys the somewhat quiet crowd with just a hint of playful dismay. “We played last night in Cocoa Beach, those guys were making a lot of noise,” After revealing only the most minimal amount of aggro, the band prepared to launch the onslaught. “We’re gonna pick it up from here on out,” he said. What followed was the haunting sing-along of “Sorry I Made You Live” which goes from half-tempo grind to a mid-point rave-up that accelerates the heart beat with its own sheer intensity. A new song pushed forward with a chaotic, danger-impending sense of urgency – repetitive phrases that ditto just often enough to drive one to a feeling of overwhelming dementia, backing off, hitting again – until a cemented punk thrash had been whipped up with the lead guitar passing a thin needle through the mixture as it descends into wafting feedback.
Shaun addresses the crowd, “so you guys that listen to WJRR – call them up and ask them to play this song.” You’d do well to call up the station right this very minute to hear what “Cool Poseidon” is all about , and even then, you need to see and hear it live. Will Adams falling to his knees, Bordner fiddling at light speed and an invisible gear grinds the ensemble together in a great, grand, mind-blowing tune that touches all bases. A roundly chastising wave of feedback momentarily freaked the mellowest of the partygoers before ripping into the ultra-insanity of “Parallel” with its diabolic dual harmonies. These guys change tempos so much, just when you think it’s over, a gasp is all it takes to put the explosive coda on it – -then it seems over again – – push, pull, tease, tease – -the push of the wave behind you – -is it gonna rise, no – – do I ride it? No – -oh shit, here it comes! On “Bigger Than This,” Shaun leads off with a blistering attack on guitar and then a ramming round of noise from the percussive section. The guys are clearly having a good time on stage and they infuse each song with a sense of effortless pizzazz. In the midst of this rave-up, the band seems to take a much-needed breather that doesn’t last very long before zipping back into the severity of this head-pounder. They all leap in unison. Amidst all the hard-core mosh are melodies and changes that embrace beauty as much as they want to kick it in the face. Vocals that shoot for the clear high heavens – a nice unison line between the three guitarists.
Piller is still a fairly young band, as are Gospel Brothel. I’m willing to bet a double-header featuring these two acts in a year’s time will be enough to peel the paint off of any self-respecting venue’s walls – and Sapphire’s brick barely withstood the force of this throw-down, ayuh. ◼