The city of Tempe opened the grassy area beneath the Hayden Flour Mill for a concert Friday night by two of the Valley's biggest acts, Black Carl and Mergence. Up-and-comers The Prowling Kind and Bears of Manitou opened.
With the old mill right beside the stage, the string lights overhead, the city lights all around, and Matt Castleberry's visual projections, the ambiance of the event was unmatchable. Even the beers were reasonably priced at $5 per for Four Peaks brews. The only noticeable negative was the $15 cover.
The Bears of Manitou kicked off the event, performing to a crowd that was just starting to show up. The event had a nice vibe: There were few enough people that some of the early comers had the space to lay out blankets and sit on the grass while checking out the band.
Next up came The Prowling Kind, and they seem to be feeling themselves after their first trip to last month's Apache Lake Music Festival. The folky five-piece with a country edge really put on a show. The set started slow, but the band came more alive and shared more banter with the crowd -- and each other. (I'm sure it didn't hurt to have a growing Tempe crowd full of folks sipping $5 Kilt Lifters and Four Peaks IPAs. Or a band tossing them back, either, as The Prowling Kind made sure to thanks Four Peaks multiple times.)
At the end of the set, they played their homage to Nancy Sinatra, "Bang Bang," and that is how a cover is supposed to sound. It stayed true to the feeling Sinatra conveyed, but at the same time, The Prowling Kind definitely put their own stamp on the song.
They ended the set with "Tennessee," the title track of their album, and by that time, they had the too-cool-for-school Tempe crowd dancing along.
Next up was Mergence, and by then the bathroom line for the three on-site port-a-potties was already a nuisance. But the majority of the crowd couldn't have cared less as they were being serenaded by one of their favorites.
Mergence was just a natural fit for the event. Their blend of progressive, folk, country, and rock was just a masterful combination to go along with the technological scenes projected on the centuries-old mill.
While The Prowling Kind got the people dancing, Mergence had the people singing along; this is a band that has been making their name in the Valley for quite some time.
Following Mergence was the consummate local headliner Black Carl. By the time they went on, the crowd had swelled to easily more than 300, and it looked as though every one of them had been sufficiently hydrated by Four Peaks.
An interesting thing happened during Black Carl -- the hardcore fans rushed forward and the more casual fans hung back creating a space of about half a yard between them. The sound standing in that space was a mixture of Black Carl singing in front and the casual fans talking in back. (Maybe it's the bar atmosphere habits of the Mill Ave. crowd, who are used to talking over crappy Top 40 hits being played too loud.)
Whatever it is, it's a shame, because while they were talking they were missing out on one of Phoenix's top frontwomen doing what she does best. All the musicians in Black Carl are talented, but Emma Pew is obviously the driving force behind the band.
But Black Carl, being the performers that they are, brought the interest back onto them with a dance contest. The prize was a free ticket to True Music Festival, which they will be playing next month along with The Flaming Lips, Bassnectar, and about 10 more great act. They let loose, adding a hint that the bass player has soft spot for twerking.
During the contest, local musician Bob Hoag actually jumped on stage to liven up the show, but he refused to take the ticket to allow someone else the pleasure of TMF.
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Black Carl rounded out the set with some more of their newer songs, before leaving the stage for a moment before an encore of the oldies.