For the first time in a long time, I went out to see a band this weekend. It is a rare occurrence because most of the bands in my area aren’t any good. That is to say, I think they aren’t any good. The critical musical darlings of my town all want to be Wilco except they can’t write a hook if their life depended on it. The last band playing original music I dug was the Red Hot Valentines who wrote catchy, power pop a la Cheap Trick. I miss those days.
So, when I headed to Radmakers in Tolono for The Stone Electric show on Friday I didn’t know what to expect. I heard their album and it was full of blues-based, rock riffs with a singer who sounded like Chris Robinson of the Black Crows mixed with a little Janis Joplin. Would it be all studio trickery?
Radmakers at 9:30pm had about 15 people in the place and I’m pretty sure I’m counting the three band members, the bartender and the doorman. It’s an odd feeling walking into a practically empty bar. I had no idea what kind of following the band had or where they would come from. As it turned out, two people entered the bar after me and I learned later it was the sister of two of the band members and her boyfriend.
I grabbed a vodka and Red Bull, sat down at an empty table and reveled in one of the most blistering sets I’ve ever heard. Take a dash of Humble Pie, some Zepplin, a hint of the Small Faces and a hit of the Rolling Stones and you’d come close to The Stone Electric. They shot right out of the gate with their strongest tunes off their self-titled album: BFM, The Elephant and my favorite track, Soul to Shine.
Bassist and lead singer Noni Crow, her guitarist brother Austyn and drummer Rich Matlock make up the band. While Rich told me they never practice, the band was one of the tightest I’d ever seen. Several times Austyn would take the audience on a musical journey and the rest of the band would follow along never missing a beat or note. The closest I’d ever seen a band do that kind of jamming was the Derek Trucks Band and even then it felt like it was somewhat rehearsed. Not here. They were watching and listening to each other to know when to come back into the song and it was a magical experience.
The lineup is exceptional. Noni kept the foundation heavy with her bass lines and Rich is arguably one of the best drummers in downstate Illinois. Austyn plays a bit like a less sloppy Jimmy Page or Steve Marriot. When I mentioned that to him, he laughed it off and said he was pretty sloppy.
Cover bands are fun. They play songs the audience wants to hear. The audience doesn’t care if they sound like crap as long as they can dance and drink. The Stone Electric may do a few covers (Zep, Rolling Stones), but they aren’t a cover band. It was a pleasure to see them at a venue without a dozen 40-year-old cougars pretending they were 20 in front of the stage. It was a front row seat on the ground floor of something big.