I was giddy with excitement when the High Drops took the stage. I had seen them play back in February at the Biltmore’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Pizza Party and loved their sound. Following a quick wave from lead singer Alexi Baris, the High Drops launched into their set. The band ripped through “Street Girl,” a garage-infused number that would’ve made the Sonics proud. Surfy, snappy drumbeats filled the room for the most part, but the High Drops can also work it slow. “Dying on the Vine,” for instance, was a hazy song with warm guitars and psychedelic roots. These guys are sitting on some very special music.
Slam Dunk was next. I had heard positive things about this band leading up to the show, mainly that they were poppy and fun. Anchored by Jordan Minkoff’s yelpy, high-pitched vocals, the group started out of the gate sweaty, displaying a ton of energy. A few songs in, a saxophone player came from back of the room, riding on top of some guy’s shoulders, parting the crowd as they approached the stage. It was like watching a skinny Andre the Giant snap in half as the sax man jumped off the other guy’s shoulders to join Slam Dunk mid-song.
Slam Dunk have a punky vibe that really works for them. Boasting scrappy chords and screams from the entire band, “It’s Only Fun” was a big hit that sent the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Their cover of the Misfit’s classic “Attitude,” with its chugged guitars and blaring sax licks, came across like the E Street Band on crack.
I’m not sure whether it’s their skilled guitar playing or their long, shaggy haircuts that do it, but Sun Wizard bring out a good looking group of ladies to their gigs. The girls were screaming as the band played “World’s Got A Handle,” the opening cut off their recently released Positively 4th Street, early in their set. The wailing guitar solos from James Younger and Malcolm Jack sounded great, and when Younger started singing about “screaming to the heavens,” the rest of the crowd joined in. For his part, Jack sounded fantastic singing the countrified “Too Much On Yer Mind.”
Having listened to their new album several times, it was great to hear poppier tracks like “Middle of the Heart” performed live with a louder, tougher edge. Frankie Lyon’s bass playing and Ben Frey’s drumming were solid, backing up their front men with just the right mixture of groove and swagger. It’s the duel vocal harmonies of Younger and Jack that really highlight Sun Wizard’s strong melodies, though. They’re a big part of the band’s appeal.
Sun Wizard closed their set with “Buildings,” the last song off their new album and one of my favourites. “Where do you go at night when you run away?” Jack crooned, as the guitars slowly built into a swirl of psychedelic fuzz.
Having played every song in their catalog, Sun Wizard left the crowd to stagger home happy, sweaty and ready for summer to begin. If you couldn’t already tell, the warm, shiny guitar work of Sun Wizard is the perfect soundtrack for the better days ahead.