“We take our silliness seriously” reads the tagline on Friday Night Villians’ Myspace page, where the Charleston, IL based group’s 1765 fans can check up on their favorite bar-band’s latest happenings. The group’s performance Friday night at the Uptowner in Charleston, IL, opened with a drunken Mitch Hedburg joke to set the right vibe, was the perfect mixture of alcohol-fueled goofiness and obvious much-practiced precision. Neither the dedication of each song to a different character from Star Wars or the completely inebriated rambling of vocalist Josh Easton took away any focus from the head-bangable grooves; and never did the tight musicality overshadow the ridiculous lyrics about Goosebumps books, dinosaurs, and “intergalactic civil war”.
In addition to the fact that FNV knew their songs like the back of their hands, the experience was enhanced by the surprisingly controlled sound of the venue. The bass drum hits were perfectly album-quality, vibrating the seats in front of the stage; the guitar had the perfect Zack Wylde crunch to it, so that even Easton’s random fretboard noodling between songs sounded crisp and exact. Most importantly, though, was the fact that the keyboard's sound fit the mix: an improvement, since they're often overbearing at Villain shows.
Even potential setbacks came out in the Villians’ favor. At one point, keyboardist Justin Hayes knocked over his microphone stand, and in his attempt to catch it with his foot knocked over Easton’s stand as well – but the band kept playing. Later a ridiculously wasted birthday girl walked on stage and shook her groove thang, but nobody was even distracted. When the microphone was sending shocks all over the place, it was quickly fixed and no one missed a beat. All in all this was a great performance, much worth my time.
That is not to say that the other acts were as entertaining. Opening guitar slinger Jeff Randall looked and acted like Uncle Jessie from Full House, but with even less street cred. He represented everything wrong with solo singer/songwriters; he went for pretty much every cliché out there, leading me to toss him into the watered down genre I have dubbed GetChicksCore – no focus on music, all focus on poon tang. His singing style was a lousy Melloncamp / Van Morrison mash-up, complete with some deep stomach-launched Bon Jovi shouting that made me want to launch my own stomach. His range was not bad, but the style was just incredibly boring.
Further, the club’s generally controlled sound went to shit during the Dylan-esque harmonica solos on two of the songs (neither of which actually needed a harmonica solo – but I guess neither did any Dylan song) from which my ears are still ringing the next day. Probably the worst part of the performance though, along with the fact that Randall kept his eyes closed the whole time as if he too were falling asleep, was the lyrics, ridiculous clichés about “walking down that road”, “turning over that stone”, “playing my hand that’s been dealt to me”, and any other cheap fate metaphor. Overall, the singer’s beat up looking black acoustic (wow, what happened there?) was a lot more interesting than the man himself.
The “headliners” (if that’s what you want to call them) Javelinas were greeted coldly, as they followed the Villian and the entire bar turned its attention elsewhere. Vocalist Chris McInnis called out before the first song: “Go ahead and keep getting your drink on. Don’t let us bother you.” He would frequently address the lack of attention he was receiving throughout the night. For what its worth, even though it was a terrible lineup choice to put this garagey-grunge-rock-sometimes surf band (who, in hindsight, resembled a less exciting Mudhoney) after the obvious scene-favorites Friday Night Villians; and although about 3 people (if you don’t count the bandmembers’ stumblingly drunk wives) were watching the band: they performed with all the energy that they would give to a bigger, more attentive venue.
McInney was huge on eye contact (when he wasn’t humping his microphone stand or insulting some other band member), and instrumentally, the band was on fire. They’d go on extended jams that lead their performance time to almost 90 minutes, and every instrument got to take a solo. So, although my rating of their songwriting would be pretty negative, I was into their “it’s-12:30-but-you-better-not-be-tired!” performance. Also it helped that they were not Jeff Randall.
Friday Night Villian: A
Jeff Randall: D