Bangarang’s in Covington, Kentucky could best be described as dingy. It’s a small, hole-in-the-wall venue in a quaint town just across the river from Cincinnati, OH. The lighting is poor, there’s ceiling tiles missing, and you’re never quite sure if any given seat is safe to sit down in. It’s the perfect venue for a punk rock show. The dark atmosphere is one that would have lent itself quite well to a performance of last year’s The Valley, the acclaimed album from Tyler, Texas, indie-pop outfit Eisley. The band pulled no punches with their third full-length in regards to painful content, delving deeply into agonizing past memories and coming to grips with the reality of a world turned upside-down.
On this occasion however, the band is in celebration. It’s been just over a month since the release of their new Deep Space EP, a decidedly more joyous affair. Unbeknownst to some, The Valley was actually written a few years prior to its actual release as the band dealt with issues with their former label Warner Bros. before finally releasing it last March on Equal Vision. In the meantime, the band has found solace and bliss in the form of new marriages, growing families, and a newfound drive in their songwriting. The new EP harkens back to earlier days in the band when their songs wandered through dreamy backdrops and told stories that leaned towards the bright, all while possessing a very obvious maturity. On this night, their new songs and demeanor stand in stark contrast to their surroundings.
On their spring tour in 2011, Eisley (composed of sisters Sherri, Stacy, Chauntelle, brother Garron, and cousin Weston DuPree) took out their youngest sister Christie as their opening act. Now, just a year later, Christie and her brother Collin are opening once again as a full-fledged band called Merriment. A year has made quite the difference for Christie, whose confidence has increased greatly. The set is stripped down in terms of instrumentation, not in passion. Merriment possesses many of the qualities that make Eisley so captivating and Christie’s voice easily holds the attention of the crowd behind the sound of her acoustic guitar. To be plain, Merriment’s set is the definition of short but sweet.
Next up is Equal Vision’s newest band, Tallhart. The Tampa, Florida rock band serves as a change of gears from the toned down Merriment set with vocalist Matt Segallos’ voice commanding the room. The band shifts from slower rock anthems to more up-tempo alt-rock numbers before turning it up a notch for their closing song. Drummer Reed Murray is no joke on the skins, driving the band’s sound while providing more than enough room for every other member to shine. Tallhart closes their set in a fury and judging from reactions from onlookers, gained a few fans in the process.
The opening organ tone from The Valley’s first single “Smarter” plays long and eerily before the members of Eisley take the stage and immediately burst into the song. Perhaps the most impressive part of seeing Eisley perform live is their incredible ability to shift from aggressive to endearing in a matter of moments. For example, their opening transition from the biting “Smarter” to their poppy new track “Lights Out” feels effortless. As does the following turn from “The Valley” to “Better Love”. Seeing an Eisley set is like talking a rollercoaster type glimpse into the lives and hearts of the band’s members.
If you’re looking for another reason to catch Eisley in person, the dual vocals of Stacy and Sherri may be one of the most fascinating combinations to watch and hear. The girls’ harmonies have long been one of the most lauded aspects of the band’s recordings, but hearing them live adds a new depth to the experience. Both Stacy and Sherri share lead duties and each is smart and flexible when their role changes to background vocals, knowing exactly when and how to supplement the other. Not to be outdone, Chauntelle adds another voice to the mix during select songs.
Different members of Eisley shine throughout the course of the set. Chauntelle’s guitar skills are felt heavily on tracks like “Many Funerals” and “Sad” while Stacy’s work on the keys and Weston’s drumming create a beautiful backdrop for “Laugh it Off”. One of the evening’s highlights comes in the form of a performance of “192 Days”, a stripped down acoustic love song written from Sherri to her husband Max Bemis (of Say Anything). Featuring cutesy lyrics such as “Darling child, you are my honey bee / Don’t you fly away from me” the song still manages to feel as real and honest as anything found on The Valley, but this Sherri sings with a smile that lights up the room.
It’s been noted many times now that the trials Eisley have faced both personally and as a band have only served to refine their abilities as songwriters and performers. That sentiment is only becoming more true as time passes. Even more importantly, the band seems content to play intimate venues, focusing on the importance of family, personal connection with their fans, and the shared experience of their art amongst their listeners. All of this serves to create the perfect atmosphere in which to witness one of the most underrated bands in today’s indie scene. If you get the chance to see them live—take it.