Fang Island arrived in Houston on 19th of August riding a wave of positive internet buzz for its new album Major. Sadly, that buzz wasn’t enough to bring out a large crowd to the show. It probably didn’t help that it was a Sunday night, or that a Houston Dynamo soccer game was starting at the exact same time a few blocks down the street, making it a challenge to get around Houston’s warehouse district. I’ve never seen the Studio, the small room at Warehouse Live, looking so large. Fortunately, the 50 or so people who did come out to the concert were extremely enthusiastic and put out as much energy as the bands onstage.
Ireland’s Adebisi Shank opened the show with a hard-charging set of mostly instrumental math-rock. The trio have a distinctive look, with guitarist Larry Kaye flailing all over the stage while bassist Vinny McCreith wears a red mask, a modified sweatshirt hood, over his head. Drummer Mick Roe pounded the crap out of his minimal drum set, which helped give the band a huge sound. Shank’s combination of catchy riffs, guitar heroics, and intricate instrumental interplay quickly won over the crowd. By the end of their second song, the bulk of the audience had left the Studio’s comfy couches at the back of the room and were cheering enthusiastically for everything the band did. At one point, McCreith walked into the crowd with his bass while continuing to play. It’s an old trick, but it was appropriately effective here.
Not so effective was McCreith’s thick Irish accent, which seemed to lose a lot of the audience. He talked fast between songs and often got no response because I’m not sure people understood what he was saying. At one point he even mentioned Fang Island was up next and was only rewarded with a handful of cheers. But even without being able to figure out what he was talking about, the audience seemed to really love the band. The band’s mixture of riffs and melodies made them a great choice to open for Fang Island and it was one of the better opening sets I’ve seen in a while.
Fang Island got started shortly afterwards, though their arrival on stage was far from their first appearance in the room. At various points during Adebisi Shank’s set, members of the band could be seen rocking out in the back of the crowd. One advantage to being a young band is that the audience either doesn’t recognize you offstage or is polite enough to leave you alone if they do. The set proper opened with a congenial “Hello!” from singer/guitarist Jason Bartell, after which the band launched into the fiery sixteenth notes and syncopation workout “The Illinois” from their self-titled album, followed by the crunchy “Seek It Out” from Major. Its refrain of “I wanna seek out the angles”, had the crowd smiling and singing along. From here, the band mixed and matched songs from their two main albums and got huge cheers for everything they played, including the unreleased song “Bounce.”
The band that famously described their sound as “everyone high-fiving everyone” became real during the show, as Bartell told the audience to turn to the people on either side of them and high five. The crowd responded by doing exactly that. Guitarist Chris Georges also took the time to high-five everyone he possibly could from the stage whenever he had a break during a song. For a band that’s all about huge, catchy guitar riffs and sing along vocals, having a maximum of high fives seemed completely appropriate.
With such a small crowd, individual banter was almost inevitable. At one point, a guy shouted out, “I know there’s not many people here, but we fucking love you guys,” to which Bartell responded, “We don’t care, we’re having a great time. Texas has been a breath of fresh air.” During another break, Bartell mentioned he had been born in the Dallas suburb of Plano, to which a crowd member jokingly responded, “You fucking yuppie piece of shit!” This drew a huge laugh from the band and crowd and caused Bartell to protest that he moved away when he was one year old. The one-sided Houston-Dallas rivalry (Houstonians hate Dallas, Dallas residents mostly ignore Houston) endures.
The set was relatively short, but the band managed to hit a lot of their high points. The joyous hard rock/bluegrass instrumental “Dooney Rock” was a highlight, as was the twisty, appropriately named “Sideswiper”. Major features a lot of keyboard, but with three guitar parts going on pretty much every song, the band mostly relied on pre-recorded samples for the keyboard parts. This was understandable, but it meant the band stayed away from some of that album’s most interesting, keyboard-based tracks, like “Kindergarten” and “Victorinian.” Still, the show was the kind that leaves you with a big smile on your face. With so much of indie-rock being devoted to the delicate or the dour, it’s nice to have a band like Fang Island around, whose main tenets seem to be “Is it catchy?” and “Does it rock?”
The show closed with the joyous “Daisy” and left the crowd cheering for more. Unfortunately, Bartell came out alone a few minutes later and announced that they weren’t going to play an encore “due to technical problems.” He didn’t elaborate on what exactly was the problem, and the only noticeable problem during the main set was a bit of microphone crackle. The crowd was disappointed, but not angry. It’s tough to be angry in the face of music so relentlessly positive.