December 23, White Water Tavern
I first saw The Moving Front live over seven years ago, their album release show (also at White Water) during the first day of “Towncraft” week, a group of events commemorating the documentary’s release. I remember running into Scott Cook that night and him asking me, “Why are you not still playing music?” I took his advice, and now Scott plays guitar and sings back up as one of the newest members of The Moving Front. The current lineup is Cook, Jeremy Brasher on lead vocals, rhythm guitar and keys, Brian Rodgers on bass, Mark Lewis on guitar and Micah Fitzhugh on drums.
Most have been in other bands. Jeremy in Deleted, The Year of the Tiger, Stranger Steals and W/O, Micah in Sweet Eagle, Brian in JabJab Suckerpunch and Scott Cook in Ashtray Babyhead and Kyoto Boom. The band has been on at least 3 local compilation albums and released two albums on Max Records.
The second band playing that night was indie rock three-piece Pockets. They got together in 2014 but they’re another Arkansas super-group in their own right, with Daniel Johnson on guitar and vocals, Eric Morris on bass and Matt Quin on drums. They’ve all been in many other bands: Daniel in The Contingencies, Eric in The See and Magic Hassle and Matt in American Princes, Sweet Eagle, Magic Hassle, Pants and Magic Cropdusters.
Opening the show was a two-piece punk rock outfit RadRadRiot that formed around 2012 with Elgin Venable on guitar and vocals and Tyler Evans on drums. Elgin has also played in Nouns, Cavort Usurp, F**K Elvis and Peace Boner. Tyler has played in Nouns, Peace Boner and Mean Ends.
RadRadRiot immediately got our attention because, well, they only have two members and, to start things off, Tyler took off his shirt, set his drums up sideways (with his right side to the audience) and put on some kind of dark hood over his head. He looked like a wiry executioner. Elgin usually plays a silver Gibson SG with the words “Meat Is” written in black electric tape on it but this night he played a Gibson Les Paul through two amps. One big amp and another even bigger one. He started their sound check with a Johnny Marr riff from a Smiths song ironically nothing at all like RadRadRiot’s music. Both seem like quiet, reserved guys off stage, but when they play they get somewhat savage. Original, guttural punk rock at its finest. It’s memorizing, watching the energy and skill these two guys have, and they seem to be psychically connected as they play. I’ve only seen them before at house shows so it’s interesting to hear them through a more professional sound system.
Before the show, I asked Tyler about their new cassette tape release and he said, “Yeah, we wanted something in our hands to sell at shows and cassettes were simply the cheapest to produce. Cassettes have more personality.” I asked if he preferred playing house shows and he said, “Yes, house shows, DIY spaces and warehouses seem to be more fun and personal.” He told me a highlight from this year was playing an out of town show under a bridge powered by a generator. He seemed excited that tonight new people would hear them who might not frequent house shows. Tyler mentioned they were recently invited to play Two Piece Fest in Philadelphia and Chicago in 2015, which seemed to be a pretty big honor. They’re planning a ten-day tour this month and a three week tour in February. After that they head down to New Orleans to record a new album.
Pockets played a good set that was even tighter than the show I saw at Vino’s in October. Their music is authentic, powerful and emotional. Daniel’s vocals are smooth and he uses his guitar effects tastefully. It’s quite amazing actually, the sound he gets from a telecaster and a small Fender tweed amp. He seems to have a knack for playing simple catchy hooks that then change suddenly into a fuller rhythmic pattern. His voice carries well in low and high ranges. They are, at times, angelic. The rhythm section has an early-Cure vibe, raging from ethereal to staccato. Matt is a solid drummer and keeps time like a metronome. The bass playing really shines, too, because Eric often plays it like a guitar, occasionally playing chords and then going back into a driving bass line. I can’t wait to see what the debut Pockets album will sound like. They hit the studio soon and hope to have an album out sometime near summer 2015. They don’t currently have a website or Facebook page.
The Moving Front is a real powerhouse of a band, and their 12 song set did not disappoint the standing-only crowd — it was a perfect mix of songs old and new. Their Facebook event claimed, “All the politics in the songs are still relevant because in capitalist war machine United States nothing really ever changes.” One of their catchiest songs has a line that goes, “We are just like zombies really/being half dead is hard work/but being at work is being half dead.” Front man Brasher plays guitar, keyboards and sings lead vocals, sometimes all in the same song. Scott played a slick black telecaster through which his guitar work and tone were second to none, and it complemented the equally intricate guitar parts played by Mark on his hollow body. Think The Clash meets Gang of Four but with the pop sensibility of New Order. I’m surprised they aren’t played more often on our local radio stations. ( Buy their album here.)
“We all write the music but I write the words,” Brasher told me, adding, “I address a lot of U.S. foreign policy, economic, and general political things and those are all sort of song specific. I sort of go by something similar to an old Seth Tobocman stencil that says ‘You don’t have to f*#k people over to survive’. That’s like, pretty close to a core sentiment.”
Brasher spoke well of the music scene here, too, stating, “It’s a big enough town to have a lot of talent and support, yet small enough most folks know each other. There aren’t so many here that music communities faction off, or that anyone gets too isolated, and I think that’s nice.” He also commented on supporting local music: “I think any sort of art and performance gives people new avenues of expressing different parts of their personalities that either get stifled or neglected by the day to day work life that most people I know live. Local music and local venues give people a common gathering space to have a shared experience, and there can be something pretty powerful and sort of ancient in that. Then there’s the whole social aspect of local music … I’m not a spiritual person at all, but I guess I can understand why people go to church, I imagine it’s for many of the same reasons people enjoy live music and the community surrounding it. I think it probably fulfills some sort of primal need.”
Brian Rodgers agreed. “Little Rock inspires me,” he said, “more so after some of the recent tragedies and how everyone has come together.” His advice to local musicians is, “Start a band and get with it. Don’t hide those talents in the bedroom.”
The Moving Front have 324 “likes” on their Facebook page and I’m guessing most of those people were there at White Water. I could see these guys on tour sharing the stage with national touring acts. There are many little diamonds like them in Arkansas. Maybe someday more people or someone “important” will take notice.