Trees (Dallas, TX)
– Words by Jordan Buford // Photos by James Villa –
These last eight to nine months have been huge for Nothing More.
The San Antonio four-piece released their long-awaited new album last summer and did a series of shows all over Texas and in the surrounding states supporting it. Then came the Aftershock Festival out in California last fall, where they turned heads with ease.
They’ve been picking up steam for years now and have toured all over the country, and now, with bigger and bigger opportunities presenting themselves, they’re kicking it into overdrive; the dreams they’ve been chasing for so long finally seeming completely attainable.
They have another big tour coming up next month, when they’ll hit the road with Chevelle. But before all that, they were returning to Dallas for their first show in the city since June 22nd of the past year. And wouldn’t you know that it would happen to be at the same venue, too: Trees.
The crowd was packed in nice and tight by the time the curtain began to open at 11:42. It wasn’t a sold out, show, but it wasn’t far from it, either.
An intro began to play, and I believe part of it was “Gyre”, which is one of the transition pieces from their self-titled record.
Guitarist Mark Vollelunga, bassist Daniel Oliver and drummer Paul O’Brien added some music over it, while frontman Jonny Hawkins sit at center stage, his back to the crowd, before he eventually started swaying back and forth.
It lasted a couple of minutes probably, and was not quite the balls to the wall approach I figured they were going to take right out of the gate. It added a great deal of character to it, though. Eventually, it gave way to a sample track, and the fans rejoiced as they quickly realized it was setting up “Ballast”.
Jonny was up and moving at this point, and Paul dealt out the thunderous percussion as they got the song underway. “When did we become these sinking stones? When did we build this broken home? Holding each other like ransom notes; dropping our hearts to grip our brother’s throat.” sang Jonny, the whole audience echoing the words back at him, making it clear they had taking time to learn them over these past eight months.
That was the type of gut punch I expected them to start with, and as it came to an end, Mark leapt atop one of the stands/grates they had (one on each side of the stage), brandishing his guitar.
They weren’t messing around anymore, and Jonny took to his drum kit at the front of the stage, consisting of a bass drum and a snare, all packaged in a massive steel frame with what look like gears and stuff adorning it. The duel drumming gave things a much heftier kick as the sample track intro for “Christ Copyright” began to play. It lasted longer than what you hear on the album, giving the group more time to show off their chops on their instruments, before Jonny laid the sticks down and pulled the microphone out of the stand.
If any song of theirs could be considered controversial (or one that could potentially ruffle a few feathers), it would be that one. “To think you know who goes to heaven is just one big misconception…” goes one of the lines, with the overall point of the song being that you can’t judge nor condemn a person just because they might believe in something different then you, or their lifestyle may be one you disagree with. They got to what could be considered the bridge, and Jonny climbed atop that massive bass drum, towering over their throng of supporters. “We are not machines!” chanted the fans, while Jonny grew that line from an almost silent whisper to a roar.
“It’s good to be back at Trees with you guys…” Jonny remarked, being completely genuine with that. Just because he got a break didn’t mean his band mates did, though, and Mark was already busy with the instrumental piece “Under The Eyes of Selene”, which sees him shredding on his guitar in a way that most guitarists don’t. “Your heart is silent, so you follow your feet…” Jonny sang, tapping into the lighter side of his voice for that first portion of “Sixty Second Affair”, a song that has been around for nearly a decade at this point. After all these years, it still fits with their sound, though, and is a highlight of their set, especially with the way Mark and Dan do some of the backup singing, fitting fluidly in between the lines that Jonny handles on the chorus.
The auxiliary drums came into play again at the end of that song, and they wound things directly into their next one, which was one of their most powerful tracks, emotionally speaking that is. Everyone cheered once they discerned the chords of “Gone”, a song that tells the story of the struggle Jonnys’ mother had with cancer. “Another day away, another fight you face alone. I’m gone…” the chorus starts, a chorus that evokes some type of emotion from everyone who hears it, even if they can’t relate to the situation. In fact, after it ended, I heard one guy in the crowd telling his friends, “That always gets me.”
Sure, the fans had been singing along (and often at that), but this was one everyone knew by heart, and at one point, Jonny pointed the mic out towards everyone. “I wish I’d never seen cancer!” the crowd bellowed, before he took back over and continued, “I’d die just to find the answer.”
The emotional ride wasn’t over yet, and a brief interlude bridged that song into their next. Once Dan began slapping out the bass lines I realized what the song had to be and thought to myself, “Is this Jenny?! They’re doing Jenny?!”
“Jenny” was one of three songs the band leaked prior to the release of their album last summer, and one all their fans instantly took to. At their CD release show, they were asked countless times to do it, but it was absent then, and that left me wondering if it would ever be more than an album track.
It was every bit as good live as I had imagined it would be, the slow and soft start setting a stinging mood, while Jonny sang about a friend’s descent into addiction. “…Let me paint this clear: life is short, my dear…” he crooned, before they song sprang into action at the chorus, “Maybe you should just fall and leave the world and lose it all. And if that’s what you need to finally see, I’ll be with you through it all.”
There was so much emotion and feeling packed into, specifically on the bridge, “I can’t stand to see you down, strung-out, off the wagon, and unwound…”, and you could not only hear the sorrow in Jonnys’ voice, but also on his face.
I was wondering how the night could get any better, and I don’t think I was the only one. Luckily, Nothing More has just the trick, and they pulled it out now.
Everyone seemed to have an idea of what was coming, and shouted with glee once they saw Jonny grab the metal stand/rod that fits into the case around his drums. He got it in position, and Dan placed his bass on it and strapped it in for the ride. He stood on the stage right side of it, laying down some bass lines over the drums and guitar. Eventually, Mark left his post and took his spot on the other side of the bass, the two making it into a full-fledged solo, while Jonny operated Dans’ pedal board.
That’s cool and all, but the highlight came when they released the lock and Dan spun it around, letting it make a couple revolutions, before locking it back in. It now sit upside down, with the neck pointing down and out towards the audience. Jonny climbed atop the bass drum, banging the strings with a pair of drumsticks, while his band mates held down the strings. They even have it rigged to flip over, and had it do a 360° a couple of times.
It’s in that moment you get to see what a professional and tight band nothing More is, along with how innovative they are. This is something that has never been done before (at least not by any band I’m familiar with), and in music these days, it’s pretty hard to be entirely original with anything, but these guys have managed it.
That wasn’t without a few flaws, or rather kinks, though. The first came when Dan spun it, and waited too long, locking it back in its starting position, before he tried it again. The other came when the bass solo had concluded, and Mark pulled down on the lever to release it, as it dropped and swung from side to side. He soon let go, but it still kept swinging. Apparently, something wasn’t working properly, so Dan was left to force it to stop, while he and Mark just looked and laughed at one another about it.
“You guys are the real deal…” Jonny told everyone, going into a little conversation about he he though he was Facebook friends with almost everyone here, and how proud they are to be one of those bands that not only interacts with their fans, but actually knows many of them on a personal basis.
Their next song wasn’t quite about all that, though. “This song’s about things that aren’t real. Like MTV.”
That was a smooth segue into “Mr. MTV”, another song they have which tackles some social issues, like the need to have the latest and greatest of everything. It, too, had just about everyone singing along, the fans turning the chorus, “Empty me, empty nation, emptied us of inspiration. Bastard sons and broken daughters; we all bow down to our corporate fathers” into more of an anthem.
“I don’t know what are next song is…” said Jonny, who instead bantered with the crowd a bit. “I don’t know if y’all know what’s going on, but it’s good stuff.” he stated at one point, but didn’t elaborate any further. Instead, Dan reminded him what was planned next, and it was something they rarely do: a cover.
It has been years since I’ve heard them do a cover song, and then they ranged from an iconic Dallas area band that was influential to Nothing More in their early days, to a Katy Perry song, done mainly just for laughs (though they did it well). This song wasn’t for laughs, though. They tried their hand at Nine Inch Nails’ “We’re in This Together”, and I thought they did a wonderful cover of it. In some ways, they even put their own little twist on it, changing things up here and there to better fit the style of rock they play.
They knocked it out of the park, and as they performed it, you couldn’t help but think that on some levels, lyrically speaking, this song applied to them as a band and the determination they all have (“You and me, we’re in this together now. None of them can stop us now…”).
No one had time to recover from that, as Mark whipped them right into “First Punch”, the audience screaming the instant they heard it. “I’m gonna need some help on this one.” Jonny said to the all too eager mass of fans, who belted out the words to this song that gets the adrenaline flowing.
Mentions of what a great bill this was and a shout out to the three opening bands came during the next break, after which they got to some exciting news. When buying one of their newer shirts, I noticed their newest album was oddly missing from their merch table. “…We just signed a deal.” Jonny told everyone, adding that “Nothing More” would be re-released this June, exactly one year after they initially self-released it.
It wasn’t one of those newer songs they had in store next, though. It was actually an older one, and a surprising one at that.
Jonny moved the mic stand back on the stage, while he, Dan and Mark softly sang the little prelude that is “Dirge”. “You’re the ghost in my mind; thorn in my side. Sober in my dreams, you’re dead in real life…” they sang, which instantly got me excited knowing that “Fell in Love with a Ghost” would soon follow. It has been a long while since I had heard that deeper cut from “The Few Not Fleeting”, which never seemed to be played much in the first place, making this a real treat.
“This is for anyone who has ever earned what they got.” That was the setup their next song received, which got another surge of excitement from myself, seeing as it was a dead giveaway to what came next in the setlist. “The Matthew Effect” is all about entitlement and making people who feel that way realize they have no real reason to. Live, it’s one of their best songs, and even though it’s one fans have been hearing for a couple years or so already, I don’t imagine a day where they’ll ever get tired of it.
“I always get tangled up in this deathtrap.” said Jonny, while he tried to free the mic cord from all metal workings on his drum kit. He went on to thank In Memory of Man, Werewolf Therewolf and The Raven Charter, mentioning what a great bill this had been from the start. “This next one’s called It Seems.” he informed everyone.
The final track from their 2009 album was not one I was expecting, but that’s not to say I wasn’t excited about hearing it. It’s another song that mines the depths of emotion, this time tackling the pesky problem of self-worth and not having any of it. “…He walks thirteen blocks to the city’s cross, puts dust on his knees, prays for a god that doesn’t leave. It’s lonely here in hell, he prays to be somebody else, and in his mind, there’s no way out…” goes one of the most powerful lines in the track, before the gut wrenchingly sad chorus.
“This has been amazing… In true Dallas fashion, it has been an extravaganza…” Jonny said, again being completely sincere with every word. He even apologized to everyone. “You’re our training wheels.” he said and laughed after pointing out they hadn’t played a show in around two months. That’s one of the perks of being a band who has toured so extensively and put so much time and effort into honing your craft: you can take a lengthy break and it still looks like you’ve been multiple shows every weekend.
They were about to start their final song, but then he happened to remember something else, and mentioned they would be back in Dallas soon, when they’re on the road with Chevelle. “…Then we’re doing some dates with Killswitch Engage…” Jonny added, referring to some of the festival dates they have coming up.
This truly is Nothing More’s time and that’s all exciting stuff for not just the band, but also their fans, especially the ones who have been supporting them for so long. However, right now, this was still just Dallas’s time with the band, and it was now time to burn the witch.
“You know how this is done.” Jonny stated as the sample track for “Salem” fired up. It was weird hearing so few songs from their previous album, but they kept the two necessary staples the record spawned, plus threw in a few other good ones (this was one of the staples by the way.)
The crowds energy was pushed to new heights on this one, as everyone screamed along at the top of their lungs to every last word, at times even overpowering the band. “…You’ve done the work of a saint, with the devil’s hand…” they all shouted on the second verse, rivaling the angry yell Jonny was using at the time. And then came the best part…
They hit the lengthened break after the second chorus, and Dan grabbed the tom that sit on top of a stand next to him. If you didn’t know better, you might have thought that was just decoration just from seeing it. Mark soon pulled his guitar off and sit it down, grabbing his tom; he and Dan making their way to center stage for the drum solo.
It’s wild and crazy and involves them moving the drums all over, holding them up high and down low, while Jonny spun around at times, knocking out a few beats on each tom along with his kit when he was facing it. Like their bass solo, it’s something that has to be seen firsthand to really appreciate, because it is glorious.
That took up a minute or so, and then they got back to it. Jonny again stood atop his bass drum, egging the fans on before leading them in a part they knew all too well. “Burn!” he shouted, before holding the mic out to the audience who repeated it. That went back and forth several times, getting louder with each round, and led to an remarkable finale to their 64-minute set.
They had just started making their way up the stairs to the green room when the cries for “One more song!” began. They made everyone wait, though. Probably because after a show like that: they needed just a moment to catch their breath.
Soon, Paul, Dan and Mark returned to the stage, and after getting situated, Dan mentioned that Paco Estrada was a huge influence on the song they were about to do. Not only that, but he also lended his vocal talent to the recording of it, though Dan noted he couldn’t make it to the show this night.
That was all I needed to hear, and knew my favorite NoMo song was coming, all that needed to happen now was for Jonny to return to the stage. He did, and they seemed like they were about to rip into the song, but they didn’t.
One thing or another happened, prompting Jonny to joke that this was “the most anti-climatic encore ever.” It’s not like anyone cared, though.
In fact, it built suspense in some ways. Maybe that was just me, though, because after going a year or so without hearing “Bullets and Blue Eyes” live, I was ecstatic. The fans were again encouraged to sing along as much as possible, and even handled some of the lines all on their own. Like “You never hold me when you’re sober.” and “What would you say if I walked out the door, left you heart on the floor?”
That was the lone encore, and for me, that was the icing on one of the most decadent cakes ever baked.
For so many years these guys have been one of Texas’s best hidden gems. I recall numerous in the last five years or so making many a trip up to Denton when they’d play a Thursday night gig up at venues around there.
They’ve put the blood, sweat and tears in – many times over – and now, it’s all paying off and things are finally coming to fruition.
Nothing More is living proof that if you believe in your dreams and you do everything possible to pursue them and never lose hope, they will come true. You might need to spend ten plus years paying your dues, but it will happen.
Honestly, I can’t think of any band more deserving of the opportunities they have gotten and are finally getting. Their live show is unparalleled in terms of energy and intensity, and they truly are masters of the stage who will turn heads everywhere they go.