It was a treat to see two great rock bands, The Black Moods and Them Evils, Thursday night at the What’s Up Lounge in Mankato. Both groups were en route to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to play at the Rock USA Festival on Saturday night. Sadly, it was an embarrassing turn out by Mankato’s rock fans for this outstanding show. Being generous, there were 50 people. Get off your lazy butts and get out to a rock show people. With two awesome bands, $10 tickets, a promised work night 11 pm end time, and some powerful air conditioning, there are no excuses. Heck, we drove down from the Twin Cities to this upstairs live music bar.
We just beat a downpour when we climbed up the stairs to the What’s Up Lounge just after 7pm on this hot and stormy evening. It was a surprise to see Them Evils on the stage doing a sound check when we entered. They are one of my favorite young bands and it appeared they were the headliners if you look at the concert posters. Plus, The Zealots were supposed to be the opening band tonight. Where were they? It turns out that Iowa band double-booked themselves here and at Rock Fest so had to continue on to Cadott, WI to perform Thursday night. With the openers absent, management allowed the other two bands to move up their set times, meaning we were likely to be out of here by 9:30 tonight; unheard of in world of late-night rock shows. I bought a sharp-looking black Them Evils concert t-shirt and we were ready.
It was indeed Them Evils kicking off the show with “She Got Nothin'”, with nothing held back on the volume for the smaller crowd. The band played as a three-piece (Jordan Griffin on guitar/vocals, Jake Massanari on bass, and David Delaney on drums) when I saw them back in February at the Turf Club in St. Paul. For this tour they have added a long blond-haired guitar player to fill out their sound and to take some pressure off of Griffin. They both played similar Flying-V’s tonight. The styling frontman wore a Rolling Stones t-shirt and urged those standing in the back of the room to come up front. This band can really rock and the loud guitar work is infectious. It is hold school LA rock ‘n’ roll, long on the guitars and less on the vocals.
Long-haired bass player Jake Massanari is about as cool as they come (although I can see these guys constantly debating who is the coolest). He played shirtless to show off his impressive tattoo. “Untold” is one of my favorite Them Evils songs and they treated us to that on their short opening set. A special moment was when Griffin jumped down off the stage, with his guitar cord trailing him, and played a spirited guitar version of “Shout at the Devil.” He soon urged the small gathering to yell, “Shout, shout, shout, …” and pump those fists. Their popular single, “Got Me Rockin'” followed. They finished with “Have One on Me”, during which Massanari sat on their new guitarist’s shoulders while continuing to play bass. After their set, the band was kind enough to chat with fans back by the merch table. What a rare chance to visit with these blossoming stars before they get too big for their britches.
She Got Nothin’ / Bleed / Untold / Put Your Love on Me / Shout at the Devil (instrumental) / Got Me Rockin’ / Have One On Me.
THE BLACK MOODS
I had not heard of The Black Moods before seeing they were on the slate with Them Evils. Tonight I learned they are a heck of a band and certainly have plenty of songs to play a headlining show. They caught the audience a little off guard when they just started playing. Was this still the sound check or the start of their show? It was the show and the song was “Without a Warning” which was quite fitting. It starts with a guitar pickin’ sound that’s a bit country but transforms into more of a Gin Blossoms sound. This makes sense as singer/songwriter Josh Kennedy was once a guitar tech for the fellow Tempe, Arizona band. The Black Moods have toured with the Gin Blossoms before and will be again later this July. Make sure to see both bands in Minneapolis when the Gin Blossom are at the Varsity Theatre on July 31st.
In this nicely air conditioned venue, the gentlemanly frontman decided it was cool enough to don velour pants with his black tank top. He commented that it was a nice treat having air conditioning on this hot and humid night after no A/C at their Des Moines show the night before. He also sounded truly happy that the bar had Busch Light, or latte, as he called it. The fans were also put on alert that the band also enjoys Jamison and this hint produced results. Kennedy asked for some applause for their good friends, Them Evils, who he said seriously rock and also send some of the dirtiest text messages.
Making up the rest of the trio are bassist Jordan Hoffman and drummer Chico Diaz. Hoffman wore a drivers cap with a fan blowing his long hair for that rock star look, while Diaz was perched neatly behind his kit. Kennedy and Diaz have been playing together in the Phoenix area since 2003, but The Black Moods got more serious in 2012 with the release of their self-titled EP. They took it up another notch with their 2016 album, Medicine, and now have two more-recent singles, “Bad News” and “Bella Donna” being played on the radio and hitting the Billboard charts. For years they have been playing straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll music inspired by the likes of the Doors, Bad Company, Foo Fighters, and Gin Blossoms. They chuckle now that the current trend with new rock bands is steering back towards those classic rock roots. This may work out perfect for these experienced “modern classic rockers.”
Their second musical offering tonight drew fans closer to the stage for the song the casual listeners didn’t know they knew, “Right Now Anywhere“. Just take a listen and tell me you don’t recognize it. They also treated us to a couple of unreleased new songs that will be on their upcoming new album scheduled to be released this fall. The first one was a song Kennedy wrote about the walk of shame. Named “Dirty Mess,” it has a really cool guitar riff and has the makings of a hit. “What You Got” was the other impressive new song and proved that the upcoming album should be received well. However, there was awkward silence between songs. We are talking “you could hear a pin drop” silence. The lead singer joked that this made Mankato the quietest place they have ever played. A very polite place. A high humidity town but also polite. But after the next song he praised the small but entertained crowd, that they did kick Des Moines ass. Stepping back to play a few older songs, it was “Whenever It Rains and “Sunshine” before one of their older radio-played songs, “Someone to Save Us.” The song reminds of a Sammy Hagar tune I can’t quite put my finger on.
Kennedy genuinely thanked sponsoring radio station, Mankato’s Rock 95, for playing their next song and helping make it their highest charting song yet. It was one of their newer singles, “Bad News,” which reached Billboard’s #26. And they closed with the other recent top 40 single, “Bella Donna.” The frontman started it off with some Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar styling before getting the crowd involved in singing along to this one. He joked it was very easy because they don’t write complicated songs, since they can’t read or write very well. Anyway, those simple songs, like the Foo Fighters have proven, make it great for fans to sing along. It was a great closer but I held out hope we might get an encore, including what seemed like a glaring omission of perhaps their biggest hit, “Say It For the Last Time.” To be honest, the disappointing turn out in Mankato did not deserve an encore. Instead, it was the rare rock show over by 9:30pm. Good for those of us who had an hour drive back to the Cities. I’m hoping to see The Black Moods again July 31st at the Varsity Theatre. With the Gin Blossoms making a rare appearance, I’m expecting a full house for that show.
Without a Warning / Right Now Anywhere / Can’t Sleep / Dirty Mess / What You Got / Whenever It Rains / Sunshine / Someone to Save Us / (unknown song) / Head in My Hands / Bad News / Bella Donna.