The Tavern, Hattiesburg, MS
December 3, 2014
Jen and I have been confirmed fans of Chicago’s High Spirits for several years now. We were particularly captivated by the ‘Another Night’ album they (he?) released in 2011. I think that album was the soundtrack to our lives for months thereafter, such was the heavy rotation of that disc in our household. For all of that, however, we had never had the opportunity to see the band live. So imagine my surprise when I learned, quite by accident, on Tuesday afternoon that High Spirits would be performing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, just two hours from my house, the following evening. Needless to say, we jumped at the chance and hopped in the car after work for a foggy nighttime drive.
The Tavern is a prototypical college bar, located on Hattiesburg’s main drag, right down the road from the University of Southern Mississippi. It’s a large open, well-lit room with pool tables and a tiny low stage at one end. Cover was $5 (can’t remember when I last paid that little to go to a metal show), and a can of tasty Diamond Bear craft beer (from Arkansas) was just $2, so the evening was exceptionally easy on the wallet. To describe the turnout as disappointing would be a colossal understatement. Aside from the bands, the bartender, the door guy, and a couple of people playing pool, the Tavern was deserted when we walked in at 10:00 p.m. A few more people filtered in during the course of the evening but paid attendance was definitely under 20 and possibly under 10. Ouch. I guess that’s what happens when you book a metal show for a Wednesday night in the deep South in a non-metal town and do absolutely zero promotion. (The venue didn’t even post an event on its FB page until Wednesday afternoon, the day of the gig.) That said, everyone in the place was inordinately welcoming and friendly to us, and they all seemed amazed that we had driven up from Mobile just to see High Spirits. It was all kind of sweet and endearing to receive that southern hospitality for what was really a short drive up the road for these two heavy metal road warriors.
After one opening band (a two-piece consisting of a guitarist and a drummer, no vocals, no perceptible songs, just 30 minutes of jams), High Spirits set up their gear, donned their trademark black t-shirts and white jeans, and took the stage at around 11:45 p.m. Because their regular bassist was unable to participate in High Spirits’ ongoing southern tour (9 shows winding through Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky), Chris was pulling double-duty tonight, handling both bass and vocals, with two guitarists and drummer in tow. The “crowd” in front of the stage consisted of me, Jen, the two guys from the local opening band, and four or five other people. Under the circumstances, Chris and the boys would have been forgiven for mailing in their performance. They did no such thing. Instead, what High Spirits gave us was 10 songs and 40 minutes of 100% high energy rock (just as their flyers proclaim). No frills, no solos, no pointless B.S., just ripping through one song after another. All of their albums were duly represented, with three songs each being aired from the new ‘You are Here,’ the aforementioned ‘Another Night,’ and the ‘white album’ demo compilation, plus one brand-spanking new tune called “This is the Night.” Live, as on disc, the music was scintillating, intoxicating and addictive. Thankfully, the band stuck mostly to their faster tracks, with only minimal stage banter (“do you guys like the fast songs?” “here’s one from our new album ‘You are Here,’ and here you are”) and no wasted time. Stage lighting was poor, consisting primarily of a bank of portable lights set up on the floor in front of stage left. Guitarist Scott (he of the white flying V) was shrouded in darkness the whole night because he was the furthest away from the lights. At some point, green laser lights mounted behind the band became operational, and the light bank started changing colors, but that was the extent of it. Stage sound was moderate, as expected, with Chris’s vocals unfortunately too low in the mix and a few guitar problems. The stage was way too small to allow the three members at the front of the stage to move around, but they did the best they could.
Still, through it all, Jen and I had a blast. We rocked out, we sang along, we threw our fists in the air, and we rejoiced in the likes of such magnificent songs as “When the Lights Go Down,” “Wanted Dead,” “Going Up,” “Never Going Back,” and “Another Night in the City.” Sure, we would have loved to hear a few more songs (understand the band were playing “Reminding You of Me” and “Midnight Sun” at some of the Texas shows), but we were mostly just thankful for what we got. The High Spirits set wound down far too quickly at 12:25 p.m. Sweaty and smiling, we said our goodnights and headed back out into the dense fog for the lonely drive home. After all, work was beckoning on Thursday morning. Still, our spirits were buoyed (you could even say we were in high spirits) from the show, so the drive home was quiet and painless. What an unexpected happy surprise to round out our concertgoing adventures for 2014.
Setlist: High Spirits, Full Power, This is the Night, When the Lights Go Down, I Need Your Love, Wanted Dead, I Need to Know, Going Up, Never Going Back, Another Night in the City.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~