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Last night I went to The Valarium in Knoxville, TN to check out a couple local bands – Tabula Rasa and ARC. Both were opening acts for Opiate, a TOOL tribute band out of LA. Since I’m not a big TOOL fan and Opiate has their own cult following, I didn’t stay to hear them. In fact, most of the people I talked to in line said they didn’t even know there were 2 other bands. So most folks were there only for Opiate.

Luckily for the sociologist in me, this was also a social experiment in the making [giddy laughter], because I was amused by the variety of people I saw. To use stereotypes, I saw the spectrum – hippies, hipsters, nerds, jocks, rednecks, college co-eds, richies, old rockers, disabled, lesbians, hookers, punks, gold digger, freakishly tall man, boozers, stoners, and more, including a very creepy looking serial killer/stalker type in a dark brown duster style coat (I tried to avoid eye contact). I really can’t get over the vast variety of folks, some of whom looked very misplaced.

First up: Tabula Rasa
Websites: Their Site or MySpace
Who are they: A local Knoxville, TN band with four member, consisting of a drummer/lead singer, bass, guitar/synthesizer, guitar/keyboard and they label themselves as experimental/progressive/rock.

As the first band up, they had a short set at only 40 minutes. Throughout, I could hear the definite influences of Primus. I’m sure there were some other obvious influences, but this isn’t my genre.

My thoughts: Through the set, I kept thinking “disjointed.” Several times I wondered if they got so caught up in playing that each ended up on a different measure. That’s pretty much what it sounded like, but maybe they aimed for that kind of sound. But despite the fact they could play the instruments, I thought the music lacked a clarity in the music (and sometimes even lacked a rhythm) .

The other thing that really stuck out was the drummer who was the lead singer. He had the mic stand behind him, angled up over his right shoulder. From my perspective, it looked like any minute he might knock the mic into his mouth with a drum stick. I’d recommend a head-set mic to eliminate potential mic catastrophes. He also wasn’t the best singer. Besides hard to hear (which I blame on the sound folks), he was really pitchy with a narrow range. So really, I recommend a new singer. Luckily most of their music had few lyrics, so not a huge issue.

However, I did appreciate that Tabula Rasa used original material. No covers at all. For me, I’d rather hear an okay band playing their own music than a good band playing someone else’s.

Audience Response: Unfortunately, the audience responded much like I did – very little. With the exception of the happy drunks, Tabula Rasa received only a smattering of half-hearted applause. This might be explained by the fact that the crowd was there to hear a TOOL cover band and this was not of the same  genre. But I think the bigger problem was they just didn’t come across well.

Next up: ARC
Website: MySpace
Who are they: A local Knoxville, TN band with 5 members, consisting of 3 guitars, bass, drummer. No singer, as this group just jams, hard rock style, with some occasional head banging. Bonus points for giving out copies of their first 3 singles for free.

Disclaimer: the lead guitarist is my guitar instructor. But he didn’t tell me anything about the band, other than they were playing, prior to me going to hear them. I had no idea what to expect, other than I’ve seen him fiddle around during my lesson and demonstrate what he wants me to do, but he has never really played it.

My thoughts: Blown away. I typically have medium to low expectations for local musicians. But these guys went straight to the fantastic level. First of all, what a talented group of musicians and good stage presence, engaging the crowd, not only in between songs, but during songs too. Second, very impressive all original music (check out their first three singles at MySpace).

My only small complaint is no lyrics, so no singing. I’m a lyrical girl. How am I supposed to sing in my car/shower/anywhere I think I won’t get caught if there’s no lyrics? And while hard rock isn’t my first pick of genres to sing in those aforementioned places, I’ve been known to belt out a Rage or Prodigy song or two.

Audience Response: Fantastic. They drew the audience in from the beginning and kept them there. The applause was thunderous and the only minor complaint I heard was mine – no singing. I can’t imagine that Opiate’s response was any better.

When these guys make it, I’ll be able to say I heard them when…