Music Review: Sextonic Plates, Vultures of Culture, Trauma Parlor @ TJ Leland’s, NYE 2015

TJ Leland’s stage in between sets. Photos by Jeremy Johnson, The Pittsburg Appeal

TJ Leland’s has become a hub for live music (both local and farther-flung) in recent years, largely by hosting music nearly every weekend. They upheld that tradition on New Year’s Eve and hosted a bash–complete with champagne and funny glasses–with three local acts that attracted a packed house by the time midnight rolled around.

Vultures of Culture, an Eagles of Death Metal cover band, opened the show with their brand of deft modern rock. For a band made up of only two guys–Ryan O’Toole on guitar and vocals, and Daniel Macias on drums–they make an impressive amount of noise. And a wide range of sound it is–O’Toole’s guitar work has the touchstones of contemporary rock ‘n roll. Drenched in reverb? Check. Chugga-chugga breakdowns? Yep. Squealing solos? You bet. Macias’s drumming doesn’t strive to be fancy, but he keeps things interesting with little details that add color to the music. His primary function is to act as a vehicle for delivering O’Toole’s riffs, which is pretty much the whole point of this music. You will most likely bob your head along with all the sounds coming out of that guitar and those drums.

Vultures of Culture

The headliner charged with ringing in the new year was the Sextonic Plates. The Plates are something of an institution at this point, having been a staple of the Pittsburg music scene (and beyond) for more than 3 years, headlining in I-don’t-even-know-how-many venues. They offer a strong blend of female-fronted blues-rock backed by a bunch of multi-instrumentalists (Ryan O’Toole and Mark Blankenship swap guitar/bass duties, while Sam Mahon does vocals, guitar, and keyboard, with Fred Gladbach on drums) that aims to get the audience dancing. And dance they do, aided and encouraged by the Plates’ adept rock ‘n roll stage presence and swagger, which plays well in a venue like TJ Leland’s, and plays really well in the wee hours of the first day of the new year.

But the real show-stealer of the evening took the stage before 2015 was through. Trauma Parlor, a three-man outfit performing their second-ever show, played a variety of what might be termed “throwback rock”–except for the fact that it feels so distinctly contemporary, since they draw influences from so many styles and mesh them into a cohesive whole. This was probably most on display during the band’s two choices for covers: John Lennon and Motörhead. At first glance, such a pairing seems off, but they make it work: In their rendition of “Jealous Guy,” they tease out Lennon’s punk leanings. And with Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” they show off their thrash chops. They make a strong case that Lennon and Lemmy turn out to be two sides of the same coin.

Trauma Parlor

These examples point to one of the most surprising and refreshing features of Trauma Parlor, which is their sheer versatility. Lead guitarist and vocalist Mark Blankenship (who also serves bass and guitar duties for the Plates) careens seamlessly between bouts of blues-rock, jangly oversized doo-wop, and spasms of unhinged rockabilly. Meanwhile in the rhythm section, bassist John Duling cranks out grooves that are by turns agile and gargantuan, and he often takes the lead, freeing Blankenship to delve into more adventurous sonic territory. Drummer Gabe Harris is the powder keg on which this whole groove-machine rests, providing propulsion and pulse. During one memorable climax, Duling delivers a riff big enough to have its own zip code, while Harris pummels his kit and Blankenship wails out a solo brimming with intensity, and it all fits perfectly, a well-oiled machine. It’s a moment of visceral bliss. And it’s just one of many during the course of their performance.

Trauma Parlor
Trauma Parlor

At the end of their set, the band handed out free six-song demos in hopes of garnering listeners. If their performance was any indication, they won’t need any New Year’s resolutions to help with that.

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