You’ve really gotta hand it to Flickerstick. After beating out over 5,000 bands to take part in VH1’s star-making 2001 series, Bands on the Run, the Texan quintet gained nation-wide exposure and a contract with Epic Records. After releasing a single—“Smile”—and an accompanying video, as well as re-releasing their 2000 album, Welcoming Home the Astronauts to a fair amount of acclaim, Flickerstick decided to escape Epic and return to their old label, 226 Records. The band said one of the major reasons for this seemingly unthinkable decision came down to Epic’s lackluster support for the band when the Bands on the Run buzz died down.
It’s this kind of dedication to their music—not to mention their dignity—that sets Flickerstick apart from a great number of today’s major acts. Evident on Astronauts was the amount of pride these guys have in their work, and what the band achieved with the album was extremely rare, executing track after track with equal amounts of vision, passion and excitement. Each song is poetry set to music, at times hopelessly depressing, other times cold, dark and hilariously clever.
Further demonstrating their commitment to their music, Flickerstick are now taking their time producing a second album. Consider the original release date of Astronauts being mid-2000, and that’s three years with almost no new material (excluding the two new track recorded for the album’s re-release). That, too, is almost unthinkable in today’s music industry with bands moved in and shipped out at ferocious speeds. And, they’re still not ready to unleash Album #2, deciding instead to follow up Astronauts with a gorgeous live album.
Causing a Catastrophe - Live is a grandiose experiment in the divine. Starting out with a slow rumble building to the well-known “Direct Line to the Telepathic”, the album runs through 12 songs—most old, a couple new—with nary a break along the way. The album does what any good live album should do—it makes the listener feel as though they are part of the crowd. It’s a purely organic experience, with little or no studio tampering and the band run solely on the energy gleaned from a few thousand screaming fans in their hometown of Dallas, all singing along.
“Direct Line” is followed up with the excellent “Got a Feeling” demonstrating the knack principle writers Brandin Lea and Cory Kreig have for rhythm and melody. This song is just one of the many hook-driven tracks, instantly sing-able and completely addictive. “Sorry . . . Wrong Trajectory” is the same way, and though a little slower than the other two, is equally as appealing with its sweeping poetics. From the song’s opening moments, it’s clearly a classic power-rock ballad with charisma-to-spare-singer Lea (with his remarkable Broadway-styled voice) holding his audience in the palm of his hands, lifting and dropping tempo as his lyrics dictate.
Lea exhibits the same power-rock performance on his dedicatory “Lift”—“Why does this illusion / Bring so much confusion / When all I can dream of / Is you”—complete with obligatory na-na-nas at the song’s conclusion. Lea and the band clearly recognize their roots and are entirely unashamed to admit it evoking images of the rock ballad’s glory era—the 1980s—belting and bashing out these songs (including, also, “Smile” and a cover Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”) with the vigor and the amp-ed up sexual energy of pre-haircuts Bon Jovi and Guns ‘N Roses.
Where Flickerstick out-do these acts, though, is in their pop-fueled tracks, especially the delicious “Chloroform the One You Love”, an outstanding track, exploring Lea’s devilish sensibilities via a novel approach to winning back a lost love (“She’s only 18 but such a beautiful dream / All she needs is some chloroform / And she’ll be mine . . . Chloroform the one / The one that you love / And take her back”) and “Coke”, with more than a hint of irony in its sharp social commentary structured around the simplistic notion of Lea wishing “to buy the world a coke / And lie here naked with my girl”.
The new tracks on the album are just as sensational. “Believe” is not only the best of the new tracks, it the best on the album proving that the Flickerstick guys have many more pop-rock gems up their collective sleeve.
But, that’s for another time. Right now, put simply, Causing a Catastrophe - Live is a masterwork. It’s so refined, yet so relaxed, so intense yet so enjoyable. With so much going for them, it’s no wonder Flickerstick eclipsed the Bands on the Run competition, and if there’s any justice in the world, Epic Records will rue the day they let these guys slip through its fingers, because with this amount of raw talent, there’s nowhere for them to go but up.
// Notes from the Road
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