In general, I like my music loud and obnoxious,
and quite frankly, Chicago band Tijuana Hercules fits this bill.
Since they haven’t played down South in quite a while, I’ll
confess that I was really looking forward to this show. Furthermore,
the opening band was one of my current favorites from the Atlanta
scene, Envie. On the surface, it was an odd bill: Tijuana Hercules
has guitars, reverb, and the almost barking vocals of former-Atlantan
John Forbes whereas Envie has its newly formed combination of
drums, cello, harp, keyboards, and bass as well as the ethereally
forceful vocals of Renee Nelson. Nevertheless, I really like
both bands, so I wasn’t going to complain about the strange
Furthermore, I will also confess I was looking forward to seeing
both bands in my favorite venue, The Caledonia Lounge in Athens,
which is small, dark, and always has excellent sound. Anyway,
when Envie took the stage, I was a bit skeptical. The band more
or less took up all of the tiny stage, and the sound guy had
never encountered them before, so I was afraid that the sound
mix would be a little dodgy. However, I shouldn’t have worried.
After a rough first song, the mix moved from good to excellent.
Throughout their set, I could not only hear all of the instruments,
but there was also a balance to their music that I hadn’t heard
As I’ve said before, I see a power in Envie’s work which compels
me into paying attention, although it’s not the normal rock
to which I am drawn. And on this evening, I felt the power exceedingly.
This seemed to pick up as they moved into their second song
(which I believe is called Amelia’s Dream). At the point,
drummer Kevin Wallace set a pace which was almost punk in its
speed and intensity. He kept it up throughout the set, driving
the band forward at breakneck speed, so that Envie played a
blistering version of their entire catalog. Nevertheless, the
band kept up with the quickness, throughout the intricacies
of the instrumental pieces, and I was stunned by the precision
with which they played.
For me, the highlight of the set was the last song they played,
which was a new one whose title I do not know. It began with
a vaguely Middle-Eastern tone over which Renee Nelson verbalized
rather than sang as she played keyboards. In some ways, it reminded
me of Ofra Haza, circa the late 1980s. However, after building
to a climax, the music paused for a moment, before breaking
into an off-kilter beat, which in and of itself built to yet
another climax before ending. It was glorious and different
and suggests the direction to which Envie is building, as they
manage to combine Nelson’s vocals and harp/keyboard and Deisha
Oliver’s cello with the basic rhythm of Wallace’s drums and
new member Jared Welsh’s alternating keyboard/bass.
After such a performance, it would take a truly extraordinary
band to catch my attention. Luckily, Tijuana Hercules took the
stage next. Put simply, I love this band, and on this night,
they could not disappoint. Although the crowd was a bit sparse,
the band played with energy and fervor, as vocalist John Forbes
sang and played guitar while drummer Chad Smith banged the living
hell out of his drum kit, displaying such a passion and energy
that I suspected that everything could fall apart around him
and he’d keep playing. But the highlight of the set (as it has
been before) was percussionist Zac Piper, who mainly plays a
group of coffee cans strung along the bottom of a music stand,
with a cowbell and tambourine affixed to the top.
As I’ve stated before, this percussion seems like an odd thing
and yet it’s essential to Tijuana Hercules’ sound. And as Piper
banged away on his cans, performing what appeared to be a modern
dance in his style of playing, I was struck by how very essential
his contribution was – without it songs like Lucky Charm
would merely be solid Chicago Blues cum Rockabilly contributions.
However with Piper behind it all, there was a focus and an intensity
which inadvertently drug the crowd along, placing them in a
certain mental space. In short, I was left saying to myself,
"Damn they’re good…..I won’t see the likes of them everyday."
And with as many shows as I see, that’s saying something. Furthermore,
the sound was again excellent, even going so far as to split
the sound of the cans, so that parts came from different speakers.
When Tijuana Hercules finished, I shook my head, sad that this
wondrous band isn’t part of my everyday life. And yet, with
the growth and development of Envie, I can’t be sad. While I
may not get my classic obnoxious loud fast music from them,
I hear something just as good – a strong well-conceived band
which plays with skill and vision, whose live performances leave
me energized and wanting more. And what else could you want
from a live band?