I stood mouth agape. The performance hit hard. It made me smile, temporarily forget the crowded room, the cold beer in my hand, my lit cigarette. Tampa's The Beauvilles blew me away with a rock 'n' roll moment that was so fierce and effective that one audience member wondered aloud if maybe it was contrived.
It wasn't. It could not have been. I saw the dude's face after he was forced off stage. He looked ready to hurt someone.
Here's what happened. Last Saturday, the local-music support group BAAMO threw a rock party at Dave's Aqua Lounge in St. Petersburg called Send-Off: One for the Road — Take 2. The goal of the show was to raise cash for the six Bay area acts selected to perform in Austin, Texas, at the fifth annual Florida Bandango. The gig is scheduled for March 14 at the city's popular Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery on the eve of the massive South By Southwest Music Conference.
Dave's was packed with about 100 musicians and supporters of original Tampa Bay music. It was a good vibe. Everybody seemed to know everybody or was in the business of meeting like-minded folks.
I wasn't expecting any of the acts to let it all hang out and play as if they had something to prove. After all, each one had already been handpicked to represent in Austin. But a funny thing happened when The Beauvilles took the stage around 10 p.m.
The night's first act, The Human Condition, started things off at 9 p.m. sharp with a rousing set of country-rock. Ronny Elliott, local elder statesman and the night's host, followed with a crack about only receiving a "bruised ego" when he played SXSW, and then performed a slow-burning, solo rendition of the Merle Haggard classic "Silver Wings" while the four Beauvilles set up behind him.
The band's first song was a crunchy rock number, but something was amiss. Lead singer/guitarist Shaun Kyle Beauville kept eyeing relatively new second guitarist Christopher Tolan with suspicion. At song's end, Beauville draped his skinny arm around the guy's neck and apparently gave him the Fredo kiss of death. Tolan stormed off stage with his guitar, bumping a bunch of us on his way to the back exit.
But that's not the story. The story is how the Beauvilles soldiered on as an incendiary power trio, with stand-up bassist Randy Lee, drummer Craig Holmes and especially Beauville playing like men on the firing line. Beauville stalked the stage as he sang seething lines about red lips, nightclub waitresses and other forms of rock 'n' roll indulgence. When it came time for a guitar solo, he had to stoop down and adjust the effects pedals with his hands. When he arose, he spewed a flurry of noise that spoke volumes about how much steam a man can let off during a rock performance if he is truly pissed and intent on peacocking for all to see.
Luckily, it wasn't a rock band that had to follow The Beauvilles, whose remaining three members exited before I had time to ask them what the hell had just happened.
Geri X, the diminutive 17-year-old songstress with the soul of a grandmother, held a good portion of the crowd rapt with a series of sweet, detailed songs about the realities of young love that's supposed to last. Hangtown and The Mojo Gurus — two experienced local acts that are no strangers to Austin — brought the whiskey-soaked party vibe. Nessie closed the evening with their catchy anthem "The Process of Mythmaking." The polar opposite of something like Alice Cooper's arena-rock salute "Hello Hooray," frontman Scott Harrell's song chronicles the lowdown experience of being an unsigned musician playing weekend gigs in rough surroundings. Every musician in the room could probably relate. The most telling song of the evening, though, was probably Elliott performing his underground anthem "South by So What," a song he wrote after receiving that "bruised ego" in Austin.
Call me a convert. Call me a sinner. Call me what you will. I have witnessed the devil's music of the Black Diamond Heavies and am ready to testify.
The blues influences of the keyboards/drums duo became evident from the get-go. Drummer Van Campbell kicked off the action with a rat-tat-one-two-one-two drum explosion that eventually leveled off and provided an opening for both the rough, guttural voice (you can hear distinct shades of Tom Waits) and keys of John Wesley Myers. He worked his organ over in between puffs of Winstons that he threw to the ground when it was time for him to sing. The cold, damp weather didn't seem to faze the fellas. Myers was completely caught up in the aggressive fervor of the music and quickly removed his shirt in favor of a tank top.
Most of the set list came from the Heavies' latest release, Every Damn Time. Notable was the performance of "Fever in My Blood," during which Campbell and Myers launched into a vein-pumping, cymbal-crashing improvised freakout — a jam apparently so powerful that it caused one whiskey-soaked patron to stumble out of control, resulting in broken glass and a capsized speaker.
In all, the Heavies successfully managed to strike a balance between outright rocking and more restrained, bluesy riffs. I hope they found a couch to crash on.