Nice to see a healthy crowd for the first night of Free Week at the club where the tradition began. Parking downtown was more like a Tuesday night than a Friday, but there was a crowded house all bundled up for Amplified Heat. Their highly overdriven blues raunch suits their name. I liked the way that each player in the trio had the precise right instrument setup for their playing style. Their bassist plays way up by the neck, so he's got an SG-style bass with only a neck pickup. The guitar player loves his Hendrix and Cream, so he's feeding a Strat into a massive array of vintage heads and cabs. And the drummer keeps his two crash cymbals way up high with his ride and tom way down low, lest he accidentally smash the delicate cymbals to bits with his ridiculous, full-bore annihilation of his skins. Forceful drumming is the band's secret weapon, and I really appreciated how the guitarist and bassist left a lot of space for the variety of huge, chaotic fills. I think they could put some more thought into how to construct a setlist for maximum effect, as they seemed to build to multiple peaks then continue grooving anticlimactically. They should start with tighter, contained pieces that have less wild guitar and drums then unwind as the show goes on. They also have a weakness when it comes to vocals. with hoarse shouting not really matching the intensity of the instruments. Their pure chops and ease playing together can't be denied, however.
The Ugly Beats on the other hand were a massive letdown. It's hardly unique to this era that a band can build a following solely on the basis of clever packaging, maintaining a outer style that draws in listeners who aren't educated or thoughtful enough to realize they have no substance whatsoever. The Beats' carefully selected outfits, meticulously designed record covers, and precisely chosen vintage equipment suggest that they're a throwback act, preying on the enthusiasm many music fans have for anything 60's. With the presence of a 12-string electric guitar on stage, I thought I could look forward to some Byrds-style pop-rock, laden with well-arranged instrumental hooks and diverse, captivating harmonies. No, not at all. The Ugly Beats don't play 60's music. They barely play music at all. The two guitars, bass, and organ all pound monotonous unison staccato notes into oblivion, and three vocalists shout slogans in no sort of melodic or harmonic relation to each other. Here's every Ugly Beats song: "Dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna BABY, dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna BABY." No verses or choruses, just one boring part then another boring part. It's not that they can't play, it's just that all of their energies are going towards looking cool and none towards finding distinctive and original roles for all the instruments. Have the right vintage dress and the correct hair gel, what difference does it make if your music is amateur-hour? At least a little, since the mass of the Amplified Heat crowd was either gone or outside by the time we'd had enough. Frauds I say.