The Empires were back in Philly last night to play at the Kung Fu Necktie, and once again they did not disappoint!
I first saw Empires open for A Silent Film on April 6, 2012 at the Union Transfer (which is an awesome venue, by the way). After a rather disappointing first act, Empires came on and worked the crowd into a frenzy from their first song, “Hello Lover,” all the way to the end. I happened to look over to my friend halfway through “Hello Lover” and saw her looking back at me with what I imagine was a mirror image of the look on my own face: the look that says, “What am I hearing and how can I hear more?!”
We were hooked from then on and sought out ways to hear more of this band that hails from Chicago. Fortunately, it isn’t that hard to indulge yourself with affordable listening opportunities where Empires is concerned. This is a total DIY band–their incredible lead guitarist, Max Steger, has produced, engineered and mixed all Empires releases. Guitarist Tom Conrad designs the album artwork and many of the band’s concert flyers and prior to his departure, drummer Ryan Luciani often filmed their touring experiences. In this spirit of “music for music’s sake,” the band made their first EP, Howl, available for free digital downloads.
Empires just released their second full-length album, Garage Hymns, and it is readily apparent from the first sounds of “Can’t Steal Your Heart Away” that the band has stayed true to itself while producing a more mature sound. When I was asked what three bands I thought could describe the Empires’s sound, I was at a loss. This is actually really important to me–the fact that I can’t pigeonhole or label this band as “the next so-and-so” tells me that they truly have a sound all their own that brought me back for a second performance in three months. I think I would have to put it in broader terms; to me, the Empires cocktail has a definite indie rock motif, with a dose of hard rock, more than a splash of punk, and a refreshingly healthy serving of blues undertones.
Vocalist Sean Van Vleet’s vocals are intense, moody and immediately captivating. I’m telling you, I’ve been to a ton of concerts and I’m not sure that I have ever had a front man draw me in so easily. It would sound cheap to call it “casting a spell” over a crowd, but the man truly does work his ass off providing strong, sometimes rhaspy, intelligible lyric wails from beginning to end. Guitarist Max Steger obviously has fun with his driving, catchy riffs and guitarist Tom Conrad (who appears to be the band’s spokesman in almost every interview I’ve come across) keeps the music layered and moving. Even though they have changed drummers since I saw them in April, Empires has not missed a beat and the bassist provides a barefoot groove that helps create their signature sound.
So…to the concert. They opened with the aforementioned “Hello Lover,” which happens to be the song that hooked me back in April and it was even better the second time live. They performed songs from each of their albums and EP’s, including “Spit the Dark,” “Shame,” and fan request “Hitchhiker.” The band rocked them all and the intimate setting was fantastic for enjoying them close up. After the show, we got to speak with Van Vleet, who proved to be absolutely personable and genuinely happy to speak with people who truly appreciate their music. And really, this is the essence of Empires. They have a unique, driven sound with a magnetic hook that matches the personalities of these band members who have depended upon word-of-mouth and making their music easily accessible to anyone who wants to hear it. They have even been known to play Words with Friends with happy fans!
I’m totally digging it. Trust me, this band is going to blow up soon and you can’t help but be happy for them because they keep things so real. If you see that they are coming to a venue near you–and they are very busy touring right now to support Garage Hymns–please don’t miss an opportunity to experience a great show. Oh, and added bonus…The Lighthouse and the Whaler opened for them last night. Halfway through the first song, I turned and looked at my friend and saw that look…
“What is this I’m hearing and how can I hear more?”