THE HOUSE OF BLUES (Dallas, TX)
– Words by Jordan Buford (The Music Enthusiast) / Photos by James Villa –
The crowd at the House of Blues had grown exponentially from when the night first started, all of whom were now eagerly awaiting Sick Puppies, who were touring in support of the newly released Connect album.
Conversations of what songs they might and would hopefully play could be overheard while the bands roadies performed the sound check, which left me feeling a bit out of place. I say that because not only was this going to be my first time experiencing Sick Puppies live, it would also be the first time I’d experience them in general. I had never listened to their music and had no idea what I was in for, with the advantage to that being that I would be completely objective to everything.
The rabid fans went wild once the lights dimmed, and that was when the countdown began. Some blinding white lights that were scattered about stage flashed in synch with the beeping of the countdown, which progressively got quicker, before suddenly, drummer Mark Goodwin, singer and guitarist Shim Moore and bassist Emma Anzai stormed the stage.
The show began just as the Currents record does, with the epic sounding “Die to Save You”, setting the tone perfectly for what the rest of their 63-minute long set was going to be like. “Are you ready for a damn good rock ‘n’ roll show?!” Shim asked the congregation, whose response was near deafening. The band never strayed from that promise, getting the adrenaline flowing even more with the gritty “Survive”, which got some movement going in the crowd.
Shim blended that song seamlessly into the next as he walked towards the edge of the stage, playing the opening notes of “Cancer”. That oldie from 2007’s “Dressed Up as Life” had just about everybody singing along, so loudly in fact, that at points, Shim would cease singing for a line or two, as the trio seemed to bask in the love and dedication their fans were showing them. Afterwards, he continued pumping up the crowd by pointing out how glad the three of them were to be back in Dallas, saying something to the effect of, “…We’ve had some of the best times of our lives every time we play this city…”, a compliment that the Dallasites relished in.
Now that they had touched on their three recent LP’s, the focus returned back to their latest one for a few moments, getting a little more melodic with “There’s No Going Back”. There is a noticeable difference in some of that new material verses their old stuff, especially that song for instance, which is kind of deep, from the chorus, “…The past is in the past, thank god it doesn’t last forever…”, as well as “…You can’t regret what you don’t decide…” from the second verse. It was very enjoyable, even having many of the fans singing along, though you could feel the energy shift and increase when they did another track from “Tri-Polar”.
“…This is actually one of my favorite songs…” Emma pointed out, saying it was about feeling like an outcast, something that just about everyone can or could have related to at one point in time. Considering that, it seemed quite appropriate that she was the one to start the song, knocking out the brief bass solo that is the intro to “Odd One”. I liked the message it had of being comfortable in your own skin and that you don’t necessarily have to worry about acceptance or fitting in. From there, they launched right into one of the other singles from that same album, “Riptide”.
Upon finishing it, Shim again urged everyone to join in for some crowd participation. “We’ll say “kicking”, and you say “screaming.” he instructed, testing it out a few times to make sure the audience got it. “Alright, this one’s called My World.” he said once he was sure the crowd had it, and the song was met with massive cheers. The fans did indeed help out ever so slightly, and as they neared the end of it, Shim shouted, “We only got one chorus left! You better melt my face off!”
To transition into the next half of the set, Shim told a story, going back to when he and Emma first started Sick Puppies back when they were in high school. “…After we graduated, all we wanted to do was play music. And eat food…” he said, but they were only told how they were going to have to get “real jobs”, and that their dreams would remain just that. He continued on with how they eventually moved to Los Angeles. “…You can’t get much further away without starting on your way back…” he said of the city’s location. He went on, “…That’s the best part about this party we get to have every night with you wonderful people…”, adding that they were able to tell all the naysayers they were wrong, and he finished with something like, “…You can do whatever you want, if you just put the time into it.”
It’s stories like that, that help a band connect only a little more of a personal level with their fans, and fitting well with the subject about chasing your dreams was “Maybe”. They kept the slower vibe up, but only after bringing out a guitar that they were giving away, and all you had to do was text the word “Connect” to a number, but after some of the people had done that, Shim asked that they keep their phones out and hold them up. “…Come on, every other city we’ve done this in has ended up bitching out on us, but I know you won’t do that…” he said, trying to get ever last cell phone in the air.
The glow from all the screens created a nice aura as they ran through the softer, acoustic based “Connect” (Shim did use an acoustic guitar for that single song). Despite the drastic change in sound, that song still worked very well with the rest of their material, and was definitely still Sick Puppies, and I must say, I like the more tender side they can have.
Emma and Shim left the stage after that, taking a quick breather, while Mark used his kit to get somewhat out of view, while the stage lights began to flash red, setting the mood for something ominous. Emma and Shim soon returned from the wings of the stage, kicking things back into full rock mode with “War”. “Put your horns up!” bellowed Shim, as they segued that song into another new one, “Gunfight”, the two working very well back-to-back like that.
The rock kept flowing with “Pitiful”, which gave way to an instrumental break, while Shim told the audience what he wanted to see happen. He first asked for everybody to take a few steps forward. “…Let’s get sexy…” he said, before asking everyone to put their hands on the shoulders of the people in front of them. “…I don’t care if they smell…” he continued, adding he wanted everyone to use the people in front of them as leverage to jump in the air. “…Who’s ready to put a hole in the fucking floor!” he roared, screaming the last few words, which served as a signal for everyone to start jumping, as they began “Nothing Really Matters”.
I would have thought that would be the highlight of the song, but it wasn’t. That came in the form of a short bass solo Emma cranked out, before Mark threw down with a drum solo, Emma adding some riffs along to it. Shim joined him back behind the kit, beating on one of the floor toms, eventually returning to the front of the stage with the drum sticks as he surveyed the audience. He made it look like he was going to throw one of the sticks to a lucky fan, before he suddenly slung it behind him. Mark caught it perfectly, and that was repeated for the other stick. Pretty impressive considering they weren’t even looking at one another.
That certainly made for a memorable end to their show, but was that really the end? It didn’t seem so, especially when the fans started to chant for an encore, one that would have been compelling enough to bring them back on stage even if they didn’t have anything else planned.
The 13-minute long encore drew from all three of their records. This portion was kicked off with “All the Same”, before they stepped back up into full rock mode with what I find to be an instant classic from “Connect”, “Walking Away”. “…Didn’t I, didn’t I love you? Wasn’t I, wasn’t I good enough for you? You’re not walking away…” Shim belted out in more of a demanding tone on the chorus.
I was wondering if that could even be topped, and while I was doing, Shim was asking everyone what they wanted to hear. “You’re Going Down” was pretty much the unanimous response, and though he was off mic, Shim kept repeating the name of the song, as well as, “You all want to hear You’re Going Down?” That was their final offering of the night, ending it much like they had started it, with an explosive fury of true rock music.
The applause went on and on as the three members stood at the front of the stage, taking a bow, while Shim said they would be over at their merch table shortly, signing any and every piece of merch. “…We’ll be here until they kick us out…” he said, something I personally think is pretty respectable, especially in an age where so many bands charge for a meet and greet.
I came here knowing little about Sick Puppies, but I left a fan, and in complete awe of the show they put on.
Their musicianship and live performance is impeccable, being truly something to marvel at. It was so precise it was almost like clockwork, yet not to the point of feeling over rehearsed, and all the while still had a very organic feel.
From where I stood, I couldn’t see much of Mark, though he came across as being a very solid drummer from the occasional glimpses I was able to get. As for Emma, she’s definitely one of the best bassists I’ve witnessed. Her style is more on the unique side, and there wasn’t a time that I saw her this night that she wasn’t slapping her bass. Not plucking or picking the strings, but slapping them. I also liked how she remembered everyone, periodically making her way over to stage right so the other side of the audience could get a better glimpse of her, rather than just staying stationed on her side of the stage. Then again, she wasn’t stationed anywhere for long, roaming all about the stage when she didn’t have any backing vocals to add.
Then you had Shim, whose often assertive voice perfectly walked the line of making you want to do whatever he asked without it seeming like a demand. Take the jumping for example. It didn’t seem like an order you had to follow, but along with the enthusiasm he added to the way he said, you wanted to, verses tons of other bands who constantly make commands, like, “make some noise” or such.
That alone won them several points in my book, and that assertive style he had bled through to the singing as well, adding emphasis to several parts of a plethora of songs by screaming out some of the lines. And while doubling as a singer and guitarist usually is more of a hindrance for most musicians, keeping them nearly immobile, Shim never let that impede him. Every chance he got (which was quite often) he broke loose from the mic stand, adding to the intensity of their show as he rushed around the stage, tearing it up on his guitar.
I came to the show this night with no real prior knowledge of Sick Puppies, and left being converted into a full-fledged fan. With a live show like that, I can see why and how they’ve carved out such a name for themselves over the years, and I can see why they’ve moved up to the House of Blues over the other Dallas venue they’ve played in the recent past. And I’d be willing to bet that in a few years, they’ll even outgrow the House of Blues.