FUTUREBIRDS w/ Roadkill Ghost Choir & New Madrid – Buckhead Theatre – 12/27
The inevitable “leftovers” after an eventful Christmas vacation always come through in the clutch. Extra turkey scraps in the fridge, a better late than never gift from a distant relative, or one last hurrah with the old gang of friends still lingering in town — it’s odds and ends like these that always help lighten the blow of the post-Christmas blues. Atlanta’s residual were rewarded with a memorable reunion last week at Buckhead Theatre’s holiday homecoming featuring the Southern twangs of FUTUREBIRDS, New Madrid, and Roadkill Ghost Choir.
Buckhead Theatre is one of Atlanta’s superior mid size venues — top-notch calendar, soaring sounds, large enough to stumble on space/intimate enough to feel personal. The crowd was thirsty, the lobby abuzz with excitement. An eclectic jumble of old high school friends and reunited college flings, olive Barbour jackets and whitewashed jeans, proud family members and Buckhead frat stars — everyone you wanted to run into, mixed with a handful you didn’t. But that’s what holiday parties are all about, right?
This was one of those perfect examples why you should never miss an opening act — the prompt were awarded with an up close and personal performance from two extremely promising bands. One of the hottest current groups to call Athens home, New Madrid is embracing the alt-country bandwagon with their own distinctive — less drawn out and 6-string happy — twist. The Athenians have embraced their melting pot of budding things, ideas and people, allowing them (like many others) to cultivate a dedicated fan base, perform freely without being written off, and blend influences from local predecessors (Reptar, Drive-By Truckers, The Whigs) into a musical brand they can call their own.
New Madrid’s striking melodies on “Juniper” and “Country Moon Pt. 1” was an instant breath of fresh air from the hectic holidays, setting the bar high for the evening’s alt-country theme. Simple yet catchy, these tracks sound downright cool — easy to find yourself mashing repeat a couple times on your road trip playlist. Concluding with a taste of their new single “Manners” from the upcoming LP Sunswimmer (releasing on February 25th), the youngsters are shining like they’ve always shone but with a heavier guitar-ripping resonance than debut album, Yardboat. After turning heads at SXSW and performing a victorious Southern circuit this past year, look for these guys to go big in the 2014 — featured on “Best of” any and everything while complementing any and every festival bill.
Up next was DeLand, Florida’s indie folk-rock outfit, Roadkill Ghost Choir — the evening’s true gift. With personal influences pulling from Wilco, Gram Parsons, and Fleetwood Mac, I found it similar to the modern day sounds of My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes, or Radiohead. They must be doing something right after earning invites from Louisville’s Forecastle, SXSW, and Austin City Limits in 2013. Showcasing their powerful bluegrass influence on “Beggars’ Guild,” reverb rock on “Devout,” and pedal steel serenades on “Drifter,” Roadkill blew the crowd away with their stylistic spectrum.
Honestly, I could’ve called it a night. The openers were that high-quality. But thankfully, we were just warming up.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with FUTUREBIRDS singer and guitarist Thomas Johnson in-between sets. Our paths have crossed a couple times over the years stretching from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Boone, NC to the San Juan’s of Telluride, CO, and it’s good to see he hasn’t changed a bit. One of the nicest dudes you’ll ever meet, he reminds me of a Southern drawled Neil Young sporting an impressive Santa man-beard. Thomas was all smiles for a successful turnout, chatting intermittently with close friends and family. “We’re stoked to be here tonight. Great crowd, great friends, and later next month we get to head on our West Coast tour. Big things ahead.”
Fresh off an incredible year with their second full-length album Baba Yaga, FUTUREBIRDS have been delivering big on stage and paper, earning rave reviews from Bonnaroo crowds to Rolling Stone readers. Baba’s self-proclaimed “chonkyfire, spliced with rock n’ roll” (an Outkast shout out) offers a diverse collaboration of songwriting from a three-headed lead vocal beast that others can’t hold a candle to. The album’s exceptional from start-to-finish, battered with psychedelic-country undertones and deep fried in southern harmonies.
FUTUREBIRDS took stage to a home team roar. Grabbing his Fender in full red velvet, it was only fitting that Thomas finally had his chance to embrace his inner Santa Claus. The slower progressions of “Sam Jones” & “Johnny Utah” off of Hampton’s Lullaby meshed nicely with the twang’y upbeat sounds of “Tan Lines” & “Virginia Slims” from Baba, both fueling their own unique on-stage antics. A personal favorite has always been their non-sleepy rendition of the Stevie Nicks cover, “Wild Heart.” I’d like to think if “futurebird” was in the dictionary, it would channel the Nicks lyric: “I run around like a spirit in flight / Fearlessness is fearlessness / I will not forget this night.” Ask anyone who’s seen FUTUREBIRDS live in concert and they’ll confirm it was an evening to remember.
Running on fumes from the emotional high of the holidays, this was a night where the gift of music just kept on giving. It’s apparent that Athens continues to know how to breed successful sounds and the pedal steel sounds superior on just about anything. Look for continuing success and brand new albums to unfold from these three blossoming acts in the upcoming year.