The crowd at The Prophet Bar stayed pretty full for the pretty much the entire show -- pretty impressive stuff considering that the venue had booked four bands on a Tuesday night.
But most of the people hanging out at the end were there for one reason: curiosity.
See, the headlining band, Leagues, is fronted by one Thad Cockrell, a Nashville singer-songwriter who has made a name for himself writing brilliantly crafted country songs. He has a way with a melody as well as a chorus, writing many slow to mid-tempo country songs that stick with you for years. His last record, To Be Loved, his best-selling record to date, was met with critical acclaim. But Cockrell never really toured in support of the album.
"I couldn't get a booking agent," he confessed during the set of one of the opening acts.
The missed opportunity to perform in Texas when To Be Loved came out in 2006 left many of his fans wishing to catch a show from the seemingly elusive performer. So when Leagues announced that their tour would reach as far as Texas (and all over the country next month when the group goes out as Matt Kearney's opening act), a buzz began to grown.
But it was bittersweet. Because based on the band's only release -- a three song EP -- Leagues is nothing like what fans would expect from Cockrell. The straight-forward pop-rock of the new act is a stark contrast to the Cockrell's earlier stuff. The Don Williams and Johnny Cash influence has been replaced by arena rock from U2, Tears For Fears, and My Morning Jacket. And with only three songs to go on, about 150 curious people crammed their way into The Prophet Bar with the same question in mind: "WTF, bro?"
The foursome was quick to answer. They started their 45-minute set with a song that was foreign to everyone except the four guys on stage. Cockrell, not particularly tall or slim, bounced around awkwardly, but eventually he owned the frontman role he was clearly going after.
The EP's best song, "Haunted," came next. The guitar chimed its way through the song's introduction, paving the way for Cockrell's impeccable vocals, which came through the PA with so much charm and grit, it was easy to forget that the band wasn't playing country.
In fact, they seemed to have worked hard up to this point -- to shed the over-slicked up stereotype that follows Nashville bands. They did a good job, too. Every melody was sincere and each part was tastefully played -- a little too tasteful at times, to be honest -- but Cockrell's sense of melody and his perfect pop hooks kept the band on track.
He did falter, however, on "Mind Games," coming up flat on the song's introduction. And having two bass guitars on the EP's single, "Magic," which nicks a part straight from a Cold War Kids record, was a bit ridiculous.
It didn't matter, though. The band was having fun, which is what made the show good -- so good, even, that everyone seemed satisfied not hearing a single country song from Cockrell's back catalog.
What made the show not so good was the barrage of opening acts fans had to wade through before the headliner took the stage at 11 p.m.
Katie Caroll, despite hiring some of the absolute best studio musicians in town and being very pretty, was just plain boring. And The Old Home Guard could benefit from a few more rehearsals and a stack of better songs.
Personal Bias: I've been a Thad Cockrell fan for years, and I was excited when I heard he be coming to town. I was thrown off by Leagues when I first heard them, but I really enjoyed their set.
By The Way: What's the worst thing that can happen if I were to hypothetically get a parking ticket just up the road from The Prophet Bar and hypothetically not pay it?