Show reviews 

Lamar Campbell and Spirit of Praise
Madame Walker Theatre Center
Thursday, Sept. 7

Gospel luminary Lamar Campbell delivered on his promise: The Walker Theater overflowed with spirit on Sept. 7 as Campbell reunited with Spirit of Praise, 40 talented singers, three keyboard players and a drummer, to open RenFest. Campbell’s devotion as a worshipper was evident as he sang and put the choir through their paces.

An Indianapolis native, Campbell, now residing in Houston, Texas, was dressed in a dark, pinstriped suit with Western detailing and draped pants. Exerting more aerobic energy than a Tai Bo video, Campbell extracted precision vocals from the ensemble and provided testimony of unabashed Christian devotion.

The audience was a veritable who’s who of the local African American church community. Love for Campbell and the choir was palpable as encouragement was shouted to featured vocalists Denise Clark and Michelle Boner from the audience. Often on its feet, the audience gave the effect of surroundsound as they moved and sang along with familiar numbers such as “Closer” and “All About the Love.”

Reminiscent of gospel revue formats at such historic venues as the Apollo Theater, the evening opened with guest artist Teresa Teri Anderson of Cincinnati. Anderson, backed by her own singers, warmed the house with original numbers sung to prerecorded tracks. When technical problems arose with the recordings, she announced, “We’re going live!” and moved confidently, to the audience’s approval, to keyboards.

Comedian China Doll made observations on the state of contemporary youth. Assuming the persona of an elderly church stalwart, she proposed that senior citizens band form their own gangs. Laughter and applause met the suggestion that 5 of 6 seniors carpool (“…’cause that’s how they [gangsters] roll.”) in an effort to talk sense into teenagers hanging on corners.
The evening with Campbell and Spirit of Praise was, in a word, praiseworthy.

—Georgia Cravey

Kings of Leon, The Stills

The Vogue
Friday, Sept. 8

Ah, the Kings of Leon. A band that rose from rural obscurity to bona fide rock stardom. A band of brothers. The three Followill brothers, to be exact, along with their first cousin. A true family affair. A coterie of runaway sinners.

Tickets were free for the capacity crowd (the show was sponsored by Camel, whose ever accommodating reps weaved their way throughout the club), but the groups’ fans would have paid any price for this experience.
The Kings turned The Vogue into their own garage and invited us in to listen. The audience was thrilled. They listened. They sang. They danced.

On a small tour of warmup gigs promoting their latest album Aha Shake Heartbreak, as well as their new untitled CD, KOL were in fine form as they prepared for a full-scale national tour opening for Bob Dylan.

From the opening chord (“Charmer”) to the final note (“Slow Night, So Long”) the Kings of Leon proved to be a band to reckon with. Angelic lead singer Caleb Followill was riveting throughout. Love songs such as the country tinged “Tranny” and the lovely “Milk” held everyone transfixed. The twisted riffs of “Four Kicks,” “Taper Jean Girl,” “Happy Alone” and “Spiral Staircase” lit the fuse however, setting the crowd off. The brawling guitar harmonies created by lead guitarist Matthew Followill, along with Caleb on rhythm guitar, reminded one of Keith Richards and Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, only better. They rocked their Epiphones, tossing in a bucket of reverb like their lives depended on it. Bassist Jared Followill, along with his brother Nathan on drums, played as one throughout.

"This is definitely the best show we’ve played so far. Thank you, Indy,” a humble Caleb called out near the end of their seventeen-song set. The crowd, however, wanted more. They brought the band back for a two-song encore. “Molly’s Chambers” and “Slow Night, So Long,” used fists of fuzz to pound the audience into submission. The Kings of Leon. Nineteen songs! Slow night, no way.

The Stills, from Montreal, proved to be a worthy appetizer.

Opening the show with a diverse set, they kept the rabid KOL fans thoroughly entertained.

— Max Blatt

The Zippo Hot Tour, Round 1
Saturday, Sept. 9

Battles of the bands are usually a lot like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. You may get a great band followed by an awful one. You may get no good bands at all.

In the case of the Zippo Hot Tour, the competition sponsored by the cigarette lighter manufacturer, all four bands on the show’s first night at Birdy’s were of high quality.

The four-piece hard rock group Balance opened the night. Fuelled by a rumbling bass sound and well-crafted guitar licks, the group evoked Korn in its presentation. Their ability to play midtempo numbers was also impressive, because bands of their genre are normally one-dimensional.

Sfumato followed with a set of soaring anthemic rock. The veteran group is well-equipped to change styles. They can come off loud, like Papa Roach, or they can play it soft, as in the song “Forward Pay,” about a near-death experience.

The Kokomo band Webster Street featured only three members, but they filled the room with an explosion of sound. Full of energy and passion, the band mixed hard rock, metal and post-Green Day punk together and created their own hybrid style.

Finishing the evening was Emerson Rose, the heavy-rock band whose sound evoked the good old days of 1980s metal. While most bands look like they’re made up of normal guys, the members of Emerson Rose look like rock stars, the kind who would make parents of young women nervous. With familiar-sounding riffs and a Mick Jagger-like swagger, Emerson Rose is a throwback to the days when rock bands were top-notch showmen.

Four more bands will compete this Saturday at Birdy’s for a chance to tour with Papa Roach and audition for Geffen Records. If, indeed, band battles are like a box of chocolates, this one was full of tasty treats.

—Steve Hammer

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