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On my 18th birthday a friend gave me two books, The Toa of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff (still one of the best introductions to Taoism as far as I’m concerned), and All I Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. That evening was the beginning of my idle research into eastern philosophy and an appreciation for Fulghum’s essays. Both tendencies have been lost to time, but I’m thinking that I probably should dig out one of my Fulghum books for old times sake.

The reason that I bring this up is that in one of his books, Fulghum talks about advice for taking a trip. His first bit of advice is to spend the first night close to home. This way you can ease into the trip and if you realize that you forgot something important, it isn’t to much of a hassle to go back for it.

This weekend was the first night on my little WRock trip. For this first excursion into the Wizarding world, my hosts were the Monsters of WRock; Justin Finch-Fletchley, The Whomping Willows, Draco and the Malfoys, and The Remus Lupins. The situation was ripe for comparisons to my first WRock show back in August, since that show also featured the Lupins and the Willows, and the show occurred at the same venue.

While the show in August was a really fun show which opened my eyes to the possibilities inherent in the WRock scene. The show last Saturday extended these lessons and served as a reminder that, even with the series over, this scene doesn’t seem to be slowing down in the least. While the energy at the Aug show took awhile to ramp up, not really gelling until near the end of the night, Saturday’s show started off strong and built from there.

The night began with a set from JFF. Prior to the show the only thing I’d heard from Justin was his EP in this year’s Wizard Rock EP of the Month Club. The CD had gotten a couple of listens, but hadn’t really clicked with me. The tracks were fun, but not amazing. While I would love to say that Justin live was a revelation, it wasn’t. It was a lot of fun though. His songs have a strong sense of beat that leaves me with a slight after taste of early rock and roll, back when it hadn’t fully shed its rhythm and blues roots. His set began with just him on acoustic guitar. While he was later joined by Brain from the Malfoys (bass) and Matt from the Willows (drums), the full band set up wasn’t really a requirement, more a fun flourish that freed him to push things into a few other areas. The first couple of acoustic numbers showed that he was more then capable of handling his set with no help at all. It also pushed him into the circle of artists that I’m curious to see where they go from here.

After JFF, we were treated by the first of our two returning sets, The Whomping Willows. Recently Matt seems to have started playing more electric shows. I’m not sure if this is just a passing fancy or if it marks a change in his live sound. His albums have always featured generous use of electric guitars and full band arrangements, but his solo touring has necessitated an acoustic approach.

This hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing on his part, but it does limit him somewhat. His style of strumming folk pop comes across best when he is given an audience that is familiar with his work and willing to sing along. Minus this crucial piece, the shows run the risk of dragging. Matt’s banter from the stage and dry wit are strong tools to win the crowd over, but he is basically working with out a net with just him and his acoustic.

The electric though suited him really well. Accompanied by JFF on bass and a drum machine that has been christened Whompy Jr, Matt was free to deliver his songs with a dynamic that is near impossible to pull off with just an acoustic guitar. It leant an air of energy to his slower moodier songs. And pushed crowd favorites over the edge. I Found A Loop Hole was allowed to really achieve the rock and roll glory that has always been simmering underneath and songs like Draco and Harry and Wizard Rock Heartthrob were given an added bounce that had the entire room moving and dancing along, not to mention singing at the tops of their lungs.

This was my first chance to see Matt playing electric, and I really hope someone is feeding him some early Billy Bragg records so he realizes that there isn’t really a need to go back to the acoustic. Not that there wasn’t a certain sense of charm to the old shows, just that the new style provides him with a much better setting in which to display his talents.

Following Whompy’s set could have been a pretty arduous task for a lot of groups. Luckily, this tour had the Malfoy’s on hand. Making their first appearance in VA, the group decided to open the set up to requests from the audience, except for a couple of new tracks to promote their new CD. This was also my first time seeing the Malfoys in person, but judging by the YouTube videos I’ve seen of the group, we got a pretty typical high energy show that was focused squarely on making sure everyone had as much fun as possible. Of the small group of WRock bands that I’ve seen so far, the Malfoys definitely seem to best represent the idea that at its core, WRock is first and foremost about having fun. While the budding social consciousness of the scene is a wonderful turn of events, the scene would be well served to make sure they hit a Malfoys show now and then and remind themselves of this lesson.

With three bands down, it was left to the Remus Lupins to wring out any last drops of energy that the crowd had in them and the group definitely did not disappoint. Kicking their set off with Snape, Alex and the boys kept things at a fast boil through out their set as they wound their way through a set that was heavy on crowd favorites, while still giving room for new tracks from the new album. It is interesting to see just how quickly new songs work their way into being crowd favorites with the Lupins. Songs like Alone on Valentines Day and The Weasleys, off an album that might be a year old, were greeted by the crowd with the same energy and excitement as older songs like the Ballad of Neville and Luna or Snape.

The only divergence from the groups formula of high energy dance numbers was the obligatory rendition of Remember Cedric. A perfect chance for the crowd to catch their breath and cool down a little bit, Alex still managed to mix things up. Before playing the song he instructed the crowd to sit in a circle in the middle of the room. In the center of the circle Alex played solo with just his acoustic guitar and no amplification. As he played, he coaxed the audience into singing along, not just with the chorus, but the verses as well. The effect was magical. This only marked the second time I have seen the song performed live, but I challenge anyone to point to a more amazing rendition. The raised voices of the crowd perfectly capturing not just the mournful qualities of the song, but the defiant cry to continue to fight in the face of tragedy.

After such a wonderful performance, the rest of the set could have easily become anti-climatic. Alex quickly got the focus of the audience back though by picking up where he had left off before Cedric, including bringing the room right back to a fit of energy and moving bodies. Finally capping the evening off with a typically boisterous rendition of Looking For Trouble, this one featuring Grace, from Snidget, on backing vocals.

And then the night was over. Autographs were signed. Pictures were taken. Merch was sold. As I headed out to post-show burritos, thanks to an invite from Grace, I was left with a slightly bittersweet feeling. This party was over, but I was only days away from my trip out to Texas where the party would undoubtedly continue. If this was the first night of my trip, where would things go from here?

The day before this show I decided to use up some birthday gift cards and purchased a video camera. The results aren’t great, but I don’t think they’re that bad for my first time. At this moment, I’ve loaded up six videos to my YouTube page, which you can find here. I’ll try to get some more loaded in the coming days, but that should give you a little taste.

One video that I should single out, given the above review, is Remember Cedric. It really was that magical.

Written by Matt

July 7th, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock