By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Live, the debt to Tripping Daisy is most apparent in the extensive lighting and multimedia presentations the band integrates into its set. Pooling their financial resources, the members decided to create the most exciting, visually stimulating show they could muster. Mixing film projections with carefully orchestrated lighting direction, they squeeze the most they can from their mini-arsenal of stage effects and 16mm film loops, accenting the dynamics of their shifting brew of homegrown rock. The end results are as pragmatic as they are artistic.
"After spending so many years in Fort Worth, seeing bands come and seeing them go, we realized that in order for us to rise above the 'shitty band syndrome' we had to make a difference, especially since we weren't going to impress anyone with our musical ability," clarifies Kreig. "I'm not gonna bowl anybody over with some crazy guitar solo. I'm not a trained musician. None of us are. We had to do something different. From day one, it's always been about the shows. We've never had anyone backing us financially. The shows were all we've ever had. It's not the most original thing. But part of being creative means taking an already established idea and twisting it, running with it."
Lea believes the band has run a long way from where it started, to the point that it's "entertaining enough where I don't have to call people up to come to our shows anymore." But he and the rest of the band know that they still haven't gone all the way. They can remember the times when they would look into the audience and recognize every face in the room. It proved that they had good friends, but it didn't let them know whether they had what it took to make it on their own. Even now, when they claim that most of their shows are played to clubs filled with strangers, they can't help but worry. "We still spend the day before a gig freaking out," Kreig says, laughing. "'What if nobody comes to the show?'"
That doesn't seem to be a problem tonight. It's an unusually busy Sunday evening in Deep Ellum. It looks and feels more like a Friday or Saturday within the smoky, well-lubricated halls of the Curtain Club. Onstage, Chaz from KEGL-FM (97.1) is wrapping up the between-set indignities that find a home during his weekly stint as host of the station's Local Show. Flickerstick is nestled in between Austin-based Arista recording artists Pushmonkey and local neo-grunge act Rehab, just slightly out of their element on a bill that sits more comfortably within the Korn-Creed-Limp Bizkit axis. Nevertheless, the foursome takes the stage without a hint of intimidation.
The opening measure is barely counted off before Brandin Lea launches into the first verse of "Supersonic Dreamer," accompanied only by his hyperactive rhythm guitar. The song is quickly ripped apart, however, propelled by drummer Weir and bassist Fletcher Lea's powerful yet precise assault on the chorus. Brandin's lyrics, after a foray into a bridge that wouldn't be out of place on an early Cheap Trick single, give way to Kreig's '80's-inspired synth line that echoes the melody before disappearing again. The song then effortlessly plops back where it started. Brandin continues to muscularly strum his semi-hollow-body throughout the entire 45-minute set, pausing only to tune it, incredulously, between every song.
But when the band is playing, he writhes as if possessed, his eyes occasionally rolling back into his skull. He contorts his compact frame, lurching toward the drum riser, pulling his guitar's neck above his head in an exaggerated display of rock-and-roll bravado, somehow making it back to the mike without missing a cue. Inevitable comparisons to Radiohead may be hard to shake, yet Lea's sturdy, gravely vocals bear little resemblance to Thom Yorke's. Think Jeff Buckley crossed with that guy from Superdrag (remember them?), mixed with a dash of Texas twang, and you might be a little closer.
For tonight, however, the motley crowd of dedicated Local Show acolytes and Pushmonkey fans seems mollified by the sheer energy and (gulp) professionalism of the quintet as they rush seamlessly through such tunes as "International", "Hey," and "Talk Show Host," songs that are, unfortunately, unavailable to the record-buying public.
"Right now, the shows are what the fans take home," reasons Brandin. "I mean, maybe it's come around to bite us on the ass, but after putting everything [financially] on the line for the stage production, we just don't have the cash to go into a proper studio right now and put out a CD. We used to sell a three-song demo tape at the shows, but we've moved on from that. As soon as that Mafia money comes in," he jokes, "we'll get that taken care of." Of course, Lea and the band changed their minds shortly after our interview: The group recently pressed a four-song demo EP for sale at shows.
For the moment, that will have to suffice. The band hopes to be in a studio by the end of the year, working on its first real recordings. Its widening reputation has caught the attention of major labels. Reportedly, Island, Capitol, and Universal are among the entertainment conglomerates interested in the band. But until then, the members of Flickerstick are content to continue polishing their live act, both around the metroplex and on the road. Just don't try stage-diving at one of their shows.