– Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by James Villa –
About five months prior to this night, the San Antonio-based Nothing More played a show at Trees. It was a Friday night, and only about a hundred to one hundred and fifty people showed up.
This night, there were about that many people in Trees when the first opening band took the stage at eight-o’clock.
Oh, the difference a few months can make.
In that time, their debut, self-titled album has been released on Eleven Seven Music; their single, “This is the Time”, has been receiving airplay on major radio stations all across the country; and they’ve played dozens of big music festivals all around the U.S.
That ensured many new fans would be coming out to their first ever headlining tour — The We Are Not Machines Tour — which had finally made its way to Dallas.
There was barely room to move as the clock hit 10:30; and the minutes passed like hours, as everyone was just anxious to see the Texas band who has been blowing up the charts.
Finally, at 10:56, life was heard on the stage. The curtain opened on the band, who had just begun their intro. Guitarist Mark Vollelunga and bassist Daniel Oliver were already in full-blown show mode, while Paul O’Brien hammered out the beats, as frontman Jonny Hawkins knelt before the main drum kit, almost out of sight. As things escalated, Jonny rose up and raced over to his set of drums at the forefront of the stage, making the intro all the heavier as they wound it into “Christ Copyright”.
Fans were pumping their fists in the air and yelling along to every word, especially when things slowed as Jonny shouted “We are not machines!” a few times. They paused then, just for a moment, as everyone looked on in silence, before they tore back into the final chorus. The rave applause drowned out part of the track that segued them into the subsequent song from the album: “Mr. MTV”.
After seeing a couple of short festival sets from them (Rocklahoma and then BFD here in Dallas) in the last few months, I was excited to finally see them do a lengthy set again; and on that track, Dan added a lot more backing vocals than what I recall from before. It gave the song a nice dynamic, with some louder screams at times as they powered through the song that deals with how obsessed much of the culture is with material possessions.
It was amazing to see how the crowd was reacting to all of this. How engrossed they were by all the songs, singing along to them so enthusiastically you could tell they clicked with people on a personal level; and after having been a fan for the better part of a decade, it’s great to finally see the band getting such recognition.
There was some slight trouble with the microphone, and one of their stagehands quickly brought a new mic up there for Jonny. “…It’s good to be back in Texas!” he remarked shortly before a song I had desperately missed in their festival sets: “The Matthew Effect”. Since it was first worked into their shows a couple years ago it has been a personal favorite, and it is one of their best live. Everyone in the room was loving it, too; and when getting to the chorus, Jonny trailed off after singing, “…I’m the hand that feeds…”, leaving the audience to shout, “You’re the dog that bites!”
They kept the machine-gun pace up as Mark captured the spotlight, rolling the end of that track into the brief instrumental known as “Under the Eyes of Selene”. “Are you ready, Dallas?!” Jonny roared at one point. Yeah, Dallas was.
Not many seemed familiar with “Sixty Second Affair”, as the crowd shifted from eagerly singing along to just looking on, some even appearing perplexed. Personally, I’m glad the nine-year-old song still has a place in their setlist, because it’s a beast of a track live, incorporating a nice vocal trade-off between Jonny, Dan and even Mark.
As it came to an end, Jonny jumped atop his kit (a kick drum and a tom encased in a metal “cage” of sorts), to deliver the final lines, and then they got to their epic bass solo. This alone is why you should go see Nothing More live, because it’s truly mind-blowing. A rod that holds the bass is placed into the case around Jonnys’ kit, and once the bass gets strapped in, Dan and Mark begin plucking at the strings, eventually spinning it around, where it’s hanging upside down at an angle, with the neck pointed out towards the spectators. That’s when Jonny gets involved, striking it with a pair of drum sticks, while his band mates hold down the strings. It’s otherworldly.
A sample track proceeded to play as they tuned; and Jonny dedicated the next song to 97.1 The Eagle, thanking them for playing the song so much. “…This one’s about learning how to let go,” he informed the crowd, who was ecstatic, somehow already knowing he was setting up “This is the Time (Ballast)”. During the second verse, Mark and Dan wound up at center stage, directly in front of the drum riser, doing some interacting and just rocking out. “This is the time that we let it go, and these are the words that will take us home…” Jonny sang on the final chorus, serving it up from atop his kit.
“Thank you guys so, so much!” he exclaimed once the song was over, as they stopped for an actual break. “It’s good to be back with our first family in Texas,” he continued, giving props to everyone for coming out on a Wednesday night. Even the balcony level here at Trees was full, and that rarely happens. “Dallas is in many ways where we got our start,” he noted, regaling everyone with a tale of how just six years ago they could be seen walking up and down the streets of Deep Ellum, handing out demos that wound up being thrown in the trash. “No one wants to be that band, but we were that band,” he laughed, seeming to have a hard time believing how far they’ve come himself. Much of the crowd chuckled at that, I think some assumed it was a joke, too, but it was not.
He then got to their next song, calling it their “stress relief” on the road. Mark ripped into “First Punch”, with Paul soon laying down the beats that bind that rip-roaring number together. Dan and Mark switched side on the last chorus, allowing everyone, no matter where they were at in the venue, at least get one good look at them this night, since they did primarily stick to their places. Some more guitar riffs then bridged them into “If I Were”; and again Jonny stopped singing at one line, leaving it to the crowd to shout the words at them.
“Who has the last record?” he asked, referring to The Few Not Fleeting. He said that while it looked like there were just four guys in NoMo, there were actually some invisible members. A figure had been present all night, often sitting in the stairwell that leads to the green room. That was Paco Estrada, who was now brought on stage. “…He’s one of the most brilliant writers…” stated Jonny, informing everyone who maybe didn’t know that Paco helped write many of the songs from not just their previous album, but also Nothing More. He even sang on one of the songs from their 2009 record, and that was what they did now.
“Bullets And Blue Eyes” is my absolute favorite off The Few Not Fleeting, and getting to hear it done just as it was recorded really made my night. The duel singing sounded phenomenal live; and once it was finished, Paco was again give credit, as Jonny said he was the sole reason Nothing More ever got to Dallas in the first place, going back to Paco’s old band South FM. A band the guys of Nothing More idolized, to the point they used to even cover a South FM song on a regular basis.
Their set was nearly over, and now they did one of only a couple songs I hadn’t heard them do from their self-titled release: “Friendly Fire”. It’s a song that plays to the strongest parts of Jonnys’ voice, letting him do some screaming at times. It was pretty impressive live.
“…Like most of the record, this song was written in a pretty dark place…” said Jonny in setting up their next number. He mentioned it stemmed from sadness, “…And they say sadness is just repressed anger,” he remarked. “…It’s just a reminder that you got through it then, you’ll get through it now, and you’ll get through it in the future,” he stated. “I’ll Be OK” is one of the most overall powerful songs on the album, especially in a lyrical sense (“We live in the rain; a sea of change. You can’t keep anything you take…”). Throughout the first verse and chorus, the crowd rivaled Jonnys’ voice, creating what was no doubt a cool moment for the band, having the entire room singing their song back at them. Then it spiked on the second verse, allowing the fans to start rocking out.
Their 57-minute long set closed with the typical, and one of their other classics, “Salem”, a staple not only because it has been a long time fan favorite, but also because of the percussion solo they’ve worked into it. During the drum break, Mark and Dan each grabbed a tom, racing around the stage for a moment or two before standing behind Jonny, as he struck both toms along with his kit. There was plenty of audience participation, too, as they went back and forth on the refrain of, “Burn the witch!”; and right at the tail end, Jonny went from a kneeling position in front of the drum riser, to taking a flying leap and landing on his kit, ending the performance with rock star style.
The chants for one more song started before any of them had even left the stage, and after a couple of minutes, they returned.
“Jenny” fulfilled the wish list I had made in my head of songs I wanted to hear. It’s yet another heavy-hitter, not just in terms of music, but also the personal story it tells, conveyed wit the line, “…Self-destruct, spiral down until your want becomes your need. Please, get up like I know you can, or forever love the fall.”
Before going to their final song, Jonny first shouted-out Matt, who was back by the soundboard. This was the last show he was doing with the band, and Jonny mentioned he was excited for his future and hopefully working together again one day. He dedicated the final song of their 9-minute long encore to him, but noted the content of it was way off. The only time I had heard “Sex & Lies” live was when they independently released their self-titled album in the summer of 2013. Fans cheered at the start of it, and both Mark and Dan did a lot of singing, since with multiple parts it does require at least one extra vocalist. They pulled it off well, and the audience loved every single second of it, right up till the end, when Jonny pointed the mic at them, letting everyone sing the final, “O-o-o-h” part.
Many of the fans filed out the door, while others headed for the merch table, waiting to meet the band whenever they got back there; and all felt satisfied after seeing one of the best Wednesday night rock shows that I think has every happened.
It’s remarkable how much this band has changed in the last six months. Their non-stop touring (which won’t be ending any time soon) has led to one of the tightest performances a band can put on. They give it their all, all the time, and there’s not one member that outshines the other. All four of them get your attention at various points throughout the show.
After being on the road for nearly a month, they showed no sign of wear and tear. They were still relentless on stage, leaving it all on there by the time they walked off. That’s why these guys are poised to be the next big thing in the music industry. Their show is unlike anything you’ve seen before, and their work ethic deserves accolades and respect.
They promised to get back to Dallas as soon as possible; and whenever they do, if it happens to be on a weekend, I have a feeling they’ll sell Trees (or wherever they might play) out in advance.