A Swagger Their Own

There are bands that you think the world of when you hear them. You want to catch them live anytime you can. Then, something happens and they disappear. Sometimes that is it, but in others they continue on. The latter is the case with Harper and the Moths, who since their last album release have had a little turnover in their ranks. The changes and break only further makes it wonderful they are back, with new music and bolstered by a strong set of bands on their album release night.

Up first was the School of Rock Sugar Skulls. This is a band made up of kids coming up through the School of Rock. They perform familiar covers, with members rotating instruments and vocals on each. There is an obvious sense of joy coming out from them.

That joy and enthusiasm only further reaching into the crowd who returned it in spades. However, while they are still learning, these kids already show strong skills on the stage. The Sugar Skulls were a wonderful way to open up the night’s festivities.

Following them was the band New Heat. This duo was accompanied by El West’s Marty Welker on the drums. They are a little bit pop, a little bit alternative rock, and a little R&B.

They have the vocals to stand out, along with a good steady baseline to get into it. It was a good first time catching New Heat. I look forward to seeing them again.

WHSTLE was a band that I went into blind, and felt blown away. They are dynamic, shifting instruments throughout the set. Saydi’s vocals are fantastic, but then she accompanied them with an acoustic guitar and a keyboard depending on the song.

William Butler, mostly guitar, but switched to keys later in their set showing his musical diversity. Plus there was Jake Briggs, on percussion, blending the high hat and drum pads. They combined for such an excellent sound of a rock, blues and hip hop. By the end of their set, WHSTLE was cemented in my head as a must see again.

Following on that energy, El West was the perfect amount of enthusiasm and personality. Bryant is a ball of energy, releasing it through the entire set. He brings the right amount of personality to rope in the crowd between songs. His bandmates share in that common trait thus explaining the great chemistry on that stage.

A perfect example was when Ricky jumping down to play bass from the crowd, while looking up at his bandmates as if an excited fan. El West is such a fun band up there in all the right ways.

Last were Harper and the Moths, a band with a little retooling came out swinging for the fences to celebrate their album release. Their new album, “Dark Enough to Dance,” is one of the best I’ve listened to in 2019. It is superb in two ways. First, it is a surprise that very few local bands have tackled new wave since these guys first debuted. Usually success is mimicked, but it makes it more standout with so few attached to this kind of sound. Second, the quality of the songs is fantastic. The vocals to the instrumentals have such a clean and excellent mix to them from top to bottom.

Their on stage performance has only got better too. Harper is one of the most charismatic front men in a band. The two others still in this band, Etti and David, are animated and look like they are feeling that music as they play it. Their latest addition, Salah, brings the perfect complement to the package with his own charisma. If you haven’t caught him in his other bands, Audrey Heartburn and Brother Teresa, you will see he exudes personality in all he does. When you watch a Harper and the Moths’ show, it is a pleasant spectacle from the lights to the additional performers.

Captain Squeegee’s Danny Torgerson joined for the horns along with Henri, from Dry River Yacht Club and CHKLZ, for percussion. A cool moment included bringing up one of the Sugar Skulls to sing vocals to what looked a delight on her face. Harper and the Moths, even with the changes, this night showed why they are one of the standout artists in Phoenix. This show goes down as one of my favorites this year.

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