Although this is the second year the Empire Arts Center has featured their summer Backstage Project, it wasn’t until this past Friday that I was able to take in a show. The show, featuring Grafton-and-Grand-Forks-based December’s Children, wasn’t entirely on my radar until bestie Angie made it very clear to me that attendance, while optional, was highly encouraged. Highly. She’s a big December’s Children fan, not entirely because she’s been seen canoodling with one of the band members for the last year or so. But not in a sleazy, Ke$ha sort of way…
After a long work week, I was ready for some relaxation and entertainment, so I got all done up in my Grand Forks weekend finery and headed down to the Empire Theatre. If you’ve never been to the Backstage Project before, you actually enter the theatre through the back door, in the alley – the backstage black box theatre is literally the backstage space for the main stage. Even though it’s a repurposed area that wasn’t designed for performances, the acoustics are actually really good for smaller scale live music.
The Backstage Project is an affordable entertainment alternative with tickets being only $5 for about 2 hours of music. Though it was a little disappointing that the concessions described on the Empire’s Facebook page for the series were not available (Rhombus Pizza usually has drinks for sale while the Urban Stampede provides the non-alcoholic options), there was a small selection of sodas as well as freshly popped popcorn available and included for free with the price of admission. If I were still in my late 20s, I would have had a hip flask at the ready, but for this event I had to enjoy my Sierra Mist sans spirits.
“What’s with all this exposition?” you’re probably saying. “Just get to the music already!”
Fine, I admit it. I’m dawdling. Wanna know why? Because I’m usually not a huge fan of live music.
(waits for the gasps and horrified protests to die down)
If Downtown Horns is playing somewhere I can pretty easily be tempted to go out for a few drinks, and most of the people I would see in concert put on a pretty mellow show (I hate crowds, so big, high energy concerts are usually out – they just put me in a bad mood and make me want to throw elbows at the drunken morons I’m inevitably surrounded by), but I just haven’t found much around Grand Forks that I find very interesting. Everything I encounter is either really aggressive punk (of both the screamy and the whiney varieties) or it is the most hated (by me) of all musical genres: rockabilly. Blame it on Holly, my old manager at Hot Topic who used to torture me with Mike Ness and Social Distortion. I love the look, but hate the sound and none of the Johnny-Cash-wannabes I’ve seen crooning around town have done anything to change my mind.
Basically, what I’m saying is that I didn’t have super high hopes going into this event, and I was actually delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed their performance. December’s Children has a pretty wide-ranging catalogue of songs in various styles and the Backstage Project was the perfect venue (for me) to discover them. Their lead singer has a nasally sort of voice that reminded me a lot of Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, but it translated well to their range of songs. The lineup of the band that appeared at the Empire is made up of six people, a few of whom play multiple instruments (violin and guitar, piano and cello) and three (including Angie’s squeeze) who provide vocals that really allow for a broad range of combinations.
They opened with a pretty typical rock song, not a lot of frills, which was one of my favorites – I didn’t bring a pad with me as I wasn’t initially intending to review and so I didn’t catch many of the titles. It had a great beat and filled the space nicely, though throughout the night I felt like the sound mix was a little off and some of the voices were getting drowned out by some of the instruments and I wasn’t able to catch all of the lyrics on most songs. There was another song, perhaps the one they called their “Beatles influence,” where the piano had this great harpsichord quality and it reminded me a lot of Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele album. There were a couple of covers, including a really good but unsurprising rendition of “What’s Up” by the 4 Non Blondes. The female singer, who it seemed was the newest addition to the band, was really good but it didn’t seem like they knew quite what to do with her yet. Her cover was a solid performance, and the band closed the night with one of their newest songs and she was much more integral to that song, but the band hadn’t really integrated her very well into the older material. She offered some background vocals here and there, but with the sound mix her voice often got lost and it felt a little bit like an afterthought. The closing number was promising, however, and I’m hoping in the future they’ll find a way to work her talents into the overall performance. If nothing else, give her a tambourine.
You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not the most seasoned music critic. That’s fair. I speak theatre much more fluently. So I’ll let the music speak for itself: here is a video of a live show at the North Dakota Museum of Art and the song “Sol Invictus.”
If you get the chance, definitely check out December’s Children on their Facebook Page or at one of their live events. If you’d like to check out a Backstage Project event, you can find information about future events on the Empire’s website. And if you want to tell me what a shitty music critic I am, you can comment below!
Tags: Backstage Project, Brink Records, December's Children, Empire Arts Center, Empire Theater, Empire Theatre, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Miss Jaye, World of Champagne