Gospel Claws, Crescent Ballroom, 11/30/12

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Gospel Claws, Sleep Money, Vial of Sound, Knesset, Zero Zero, Me Vale Madre @ Crescent Ballroom|11/30/12

Leave it to Crescent Ballroom to have such a fantastic representation of local acts here in metropolitan Phoenix. Last night may have been an LP release party for Gospel Claws, but the lineup (including Knesset, Me Vale Madre, Sleep Money, Zero Zero and Vial of Sound) was almost like a mini-festival, an excellent eclectic exemplification of what the Valley has to offer.

With so many bands, it's understandable that the 8 o'clock start time wasn't honored. I arrived a little before 7:30 and just caught the end of Sleep Money's act, but damn, I wanted more. Singing from behind a podium decorated with Catholic prayer candles, frontman Adam dented his washboard with a tambourine, giving this awesome percussion sound to their sampled drums. It was dark, sort of gothic without being cheesy and overall fantastic.

Tony Squid of Me Vale Madre (who played next) lamented to me that his band's technical difficulties with their laptops held them back, but I disagree. They killed it, especially with their sudden transitions from melodic, progressive rock to disoriented, balls-to-the-wall noise. It brings me back to Tony's Attack of the Giant Squid days in the best possible way.

In total contrast was Vial of Sound, who probably had about 20 keyboards on stage. I sometimes wonder if I'm too easily drawn to anything synth-related, but yeah, it goes without saying I loved this, even their use of the vocoder for incoherent banter between songs. It was danceable, and kickass projected visuals evoked The Matrix. Too bad it was so dead on the dance floor.

But there is one thing Vial of Sound was lacking: a female. Always have a chick in your band. You not only have instant sex appeal, you can do the whole contrasting male/female vocal thing, sort of like The Kills, which is fucking sexy. Zero Zero, who were up next, get the idea. Lead singer Nicole Laurenne wore stark white go-go boots and commanded the stage, playing two keyboards at once and belting her heart out. She was the only feminine aspect on stage the entire night and she was a breath of fresh air.

Eric Graf of Knesset told me they're planning to release an EP soon, possibly in January. Not sure if I should dispel that rumor just yet, but, hey, get excited, you guys! Knesset was as good as ever, even keel with their spirals of early Death Cab-inspired waves. They closed with an untitled new song, in which Evan Fox's vocals are far more aggressive than usual. "I'm trying to branch out," he later explained.

When Gospel Claws came on, they almost instantly went nuts. Kick drums were broken, guitar straps sprung loose and the band lost themselves in an almost Nirvana-like frenzy. If you know nothing about this band, they've had a pretty rough time lately. Yet, Claws seemed to find plenty of reason to celebrate and not just the release of their first record in two years, Put Your Sunshine Away (from Common Wall Media.)

Naturally, they played a large number of cuts from the new album, including "I Want It All" and the title track. "Anything I Can Do" sounded a little doo-wop, evoking "Earth Angel" by The Penguins (which is a compliment) but they brought their pop-punk buoyancy to the table, giving it a unique spin. Gospel Claws still included plenty of their own oldies, notably "You've Got It Bad" off their first EP.

Gospel Claws had a number of highlights in their extended set, including switching instruments, vocal duties and when Mitch Freedom (of What Laura Says and Wooden Indian) took the stage clutching a pair of rocks he found in his backyard. Everyone else then took up a pair of rocks and they clacked them together during one of their most upbeat tunes.

Gospel Claws also took the time to sing happy birthday for one of their fans, but for all we knew, it could have been the band's birthday, not just a record release. There were smiles all around and they seemed incredibly enthusiastic to be sharing the night with their fans.

All in all, this show really proves how distinct and talented the scene in Phoenix is. It was collaborative, friendly and most of all, fun. Let's hope that never changes.

See more photos after the break.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Gospel Claws, Knesset, Zero Zero, Vial of Sound, Me Vale Madre, Sleep Money at Crescent Ballroom

The Crowd: Half the folks were in a band, the other half was pointing cameras at the stage. Ugh. Here's a pro tip: if you can't get a good enough picture without your flash going off every two seconds, you are not a photographer. Maybe put down your point-and-shoot and rely on a memory or two, instead of trying to capture every second of the show.

Overheard: "I know a G chord. It's the prettiest chord of them all." *strums guitar*

Personal Bias: It was my first time seeing a number of these bands, so I gladly fell in love with them instantly.

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