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Review: It's 1997 all over again at Transitions Art Gallery

(This is the 15th entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club. For previous entries, click here.)

I remember 1997. I was 17, and Liam Gallagher was the coolest effing bloke on the planet.

If you're a Noel man, the hell with you. Noel wrote some pretty good songs, but he also wrote some pretty dang bad ones, too. It was Liam's drunken howl and eff-you swagger that made the first three Oasis albums* total '90s classics.

One thing I wasn't doing in 1997 was skateboarding. I never learned how. So there would have been no reason for me to go to the Skatepark of Tampa, or even the Transitions Art Gallery, a haven for local grom punk and ska bands that sits about 60 feet north of Interstate 4.

On Wednesday, the Chicago melodic indie-pop-punk sextet 1997 came to Transitions on a van tour through the South. And because my love of Oasis has evolved into a love for melodic indie-pop-punk, I decided to check it out.

I can't be positive that 1997 was the first band to bring a glockenspiel to the SPoT. But my gut tells me yes.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the years over the greatness that is the Skatepark of Tampa. It's a nationally known skateboarding venue and destination for everyone from Ryan Sheckler to Paul Rodriguez Jr. The kids of this city wouldn't be the same without it.

As a music venue, though, Transitions Art Gallery is, well, a bandbox. Often when the SPoT brings in bands from out of town (like Band of Horses or the Hold Steady) the show moves to a larger venue in Ybor City. This is probably a good idea, because Transitions looks like it was built by the kids who skate there -- which, now that I think about it, could be a distinct possibility.

Red- and white-painted wooden panels line the walls. Speakers dangle from the ceilings. And oh, by the way: There's no art to be found, unless you count band stickers and a couple of groovy-looking steel benches. (They do have art shows there from time to time. I'm definitely going to have to check one out, because I'm having trouble picturing one in my mind.)

I am 29, and at this show, I was definitely Old Man Winter. I wore a T-shirt, jeans and Chucks -- and I still felt overdressed, because they weren't the right kind of T-shirt, jeans and Chucks. None of my clothes were properly distressed. No neon splotches, no wolf stencils, no checkerboard Vans. I might as well have been clad head-to-toe in herringbone tweed.

Warped Tour alums 1997 have an unusual lineup -- six members, five dudes and a lady, half of whom take turns singing, and half of whom spend the show thrashing about the stage and even through the crowd. Their songs have a caffeinated, up-with-people feel, and when they plug in the guitars and get cranking, the energy on the stage feels kinetic. It was loud, proud and harmonious, even when singer Kevin Thomas started plinking on the glockenspiel, or when he had trouble with a wobbly mic stand. (Once, it collapsed right in front of me during song, and nearly landed on my shoes.)

For you hardcore fans of 1997, a little bit of history took place before the show. Singer-keyboardist Arthi Meera got her first tattoo in Tampa, a flame symbol on her left wrist. She'd been looking to get one on this tour, but on every stop, the nearest tattoo parlors were always busy. Naturally, when the band arrived in Tampa and went out for dinner, she found three places right away. Color me shocked.

As for the crowd at Transitions? Well ... let's just say that it was a rainy Wednesday night. I counted maybe 24 people there, which made for a 4:1 musician-to-audience-member ratio. Good for, say, group guitar lessons; not so good for merch sales.

And for whatever reason, it was kind of a tough audience anyway. No matter how high the energy level got onstage, the crowd was so small that the applause died quickly after each song. That led to some uncomfortable banter on the part of both Thomas and the singer for opener No Reply**. Both dudes joked about how difficult it was trying to engage the audience between songs when no one was saying anything, and everyone was staring at them, and no one was saying anything. I believe it.

The first opening band was Tampa's was No Inside, a young slacker punk trio from Tampa. They were okay. But I've really got to give it up for another area band, Set and Setting, who came on second. They play that familiar style of soaring, atmospheric, spacey, guitar-driven instrumental rock favored by Explosions in the Sky***, but with synths.

Their set was extremely solid, really moody and catchy, and the band was totally willing to let the music speak for itself. Their last song featured an extended mid-song breakdown involving synths, bongos and two guys on the same drum kit, which sounds like a terrible idea, but it was actually totally awesome. I couldn't find a MySpace page for this band, but the singer plugged a gig June 12 at the Brass Mug. You should check it out.

So on the whole, I thought 1997 was pretty good, but I think the next time I come to Transitions, I'll come to see a local band. This is a venue that best suits young kids who love the SPoT like they would a second home.

Sad to say, 1997 didn't make me feel 17 again. In fact, I felt every one of my 29 years. I didn't know anyone else at the show, so between sets, I roamed the parking lot, where kids were hanging out in makeshift tailgate parties on the wet blacktop, or went back to write in my car. Like I said: Old Man Winter.

In 1997, Liam Gallagher would have turned 25. I'm sure he would have fit right in.

Next up in The 50-50 Club: Deleted Scenes, June 4 at Arts on 9th, Ybor City.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

* Yeah, that's right, I'm putting Be Here Now on that list. Some bloody fantastic songs on that album, like I Hope, I Think, I Know. If you want to go a step further, I'll even defend The Masterplan. You heard me.

** Scheduled opener That Was Something was nowhere to be seen. Which was a shame, because I actually kind of like them.

*** Help me out here. Every time I write about a band that plays soaring, atmospheric, spacey, guitar-driven instrumental rock, I end up comparing them to Explosions in the Sky. This is terrible, terrible journalism. So what's another band I can plug in in this situation? Mogwai, maybe? Give me your suggestions. I can't write Explosions in the Sky one more time. I just can't.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 8:00am]


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