On some weekends, it's a toss-up as to what's the best show in town. The weekend of December 20 was not one of those weekends. Black Carl and Dry River Yacht Club playing their final sets of 2013 was obviously the place to be for Phoenix music aficionados Friday night, when the two biggest bands in town linked up for an early holiday extravaganza in the Valley's best venue, the Crescent Ballroom.
San Diego-based Strat and Mouse opened the show, featuring former members of the band Hyena.
Following Strat and Mouse, singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews took the stage, and for just one woman with a guitar, she commanded quite a large audience. The venue really filled in during her set, and the Valley-born/California-based songstress certainly turned it on for the audience of about 150.
By the time the night's first bill-topper, Dry River Yacht Club, took the stage, it felt sardine-can-tight inside the cavernous venue. The seven-piece -- they were without trombone player Zach Lewis for the night -- fantasy-folk outfit exploded into their set behind the powerful pipes of lead singer Garnet and her impeccable on-stage chemistry with lead guitarist Corey Gloden. All the members of the DRYC are spectacularly talented and entertaining, but something about the way Gloden and Garnet interact on stage is truly special.
"Garnet and I are buddies," Gloden told me. "We met when I was playing in another band called Strange Young Things, and she was playing in a band called Garnet. We've been playing shows together for years, and we're party buddies. We're like brother and sister sometimes."
In the Yacht Club's first show since True Music Festival they stuck mostly to songs off of their November release, El Tigre, and even unveiled a new one in which bass clarinet player Fred Reyes smoothly switched to the saxophone to give the swelled holiday crowd his best Clarence Clemons impression.
"I think we had a great setlist; we've had a really good year," Gloden said. "Crescent has been great to us. We started the year with a four-week residency in January and we ended it here. The crowd was awesome; it's been a while since we played with Black Carl in town. They played with us at our Flagstaff CD release."
The elder statesmen of the group, bassist Paul "P.C." Cardone and violin player Ben Allred, were oozing confidence on stage. Allred rocked a smile throughout most of the set, and Cardone immersed himself in the performance and even took a trip to center stage, which he hadn't done in DRYC's three previous Valley performances.
Since its opening, Crescent Ballroom has been good to the Yacht Club, but 2013 was an especially good year for the eight dancin' pirates and Stateside Presents' flagship venue. Besides the residency to start the year and the blow-out closing set on Friday, the Yacht Club also threw one of the best local shows of the year at the Crescent when they released El Tigre on November 16.
DRYC will be back at Crescent on January 11, opening for The Whisperlights in the Whisperlights' farewell outing.
Following the Yacht Club, it seemed as though even more people packed themselves into the Ballroom to catch Phoenix's consummate local headliner, Black Carl. Directly before Pew, Matt Noakes, Chad Leonard, Ian Woodward, and John Krause took the stage the sound engineer (and defacto house DJ) played Frank Sinatra's rendition of "Unforgettable," which was a classy pick for what was about to happen.
Instead of opening with their track "AZ Song," which they had been using to open sets for the past few months, Black Carl decided to open with a cover ... of Radiohead. Black Carl opened the set with the Thom Yorke penned "All I Need," and they did quite well considering the task they had taken on.
According to Pew, it was guitarist Matt Noakes who decided that Black Carl should open with a new cover, but even his lead singer had second thoughts. "We were going to cover a Radiohead song... nobody should cover Radiohead," said Pew. " I was really worried about it. I was honestly really fucking worried, and I think we did okay."
The crowd seemed to share Pew's sentiment, and maybe took it a step further when they went nuts with applause following the song. I'd like to think that if Thom Yorke should ever hear this cover, or if it pops up on his YouTube feed, even, he would give Black Carl the thumbs up.
"We wanted to do something a little different, a little bit special. We are all kind of grinches when it comes to holiday shit so we decided that instead of doing a holiday cover that we would do something else," said Pew. Rhythm guitarist Chad Leonard added, "We didn't rehearse it. We just did it yesterday."
While covering a global headliner like Radiohead cannot be an easy task, if there is any band in Phoenix with the chops for it's definitely Black Carl. "We've been doing this for seven fucking years," said Leonard, and at this point Black Carl has no problem packing every room they play in the Valley. The bluesy, jazzy five piece is hoping to use 2014 as a year to break out of Phoenix and solidify their national presence.
Black Carl will be taking the month of January off before playing their seventh anniversary show at the Crescent on February 14, and then they'll embark on a small tour heading toward Colorado. But according to Leonard, touring will be a priority for the band in the new year.
Even with big plans of touring however, Phoenix is most certainly Black Carl's home base. "We love Phoenix, we love the fans, we love people. This venue takes care of us -- it's an amazing venue, and sound is everything. And when you have great sound and a great attitude, everything is great," said Leonard.
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Gloden capped the night with some final words: "I love this band and I'll see you all in hell."