all images courtesy of New Madrid
Out of nowhere, like a flash, New Madrid came and went from Columbus last Wednesday night. The time was 8 pm and the place was Ace of Cups. They were promoting their newly released fourth record, which is self-titled.
Back in 2012 their debut album Yardboat was released. Here they established a sound of indie, neo-psychedelic rock with a dash of California surf sprinkled in there. You can even string together a loose concept to the work if you’re of the over-listening nature, as I am. Throughout their second and third albums (Sunswimmer and magnetkingmagnetqueen, respectively) are expansions and experiments to the established sound.
Their current record holds in some part a return to form from Yardboat, with the addition of lessons learned in the middle records. Not to mention leaps and bounds on the production front. Between these progressions you have a clear, crisp laser beam of their aesthetic. The new record is a place where the vocals pop and soar, and the guitars constantly crash against you in waves, ranging from gentle to playful to aggressive. Sometimes you get a mix of these like combining Kool-aid packets.
Yardboat was an album I discovered in March of 2020, when one had plenty of time to listen to albums. It was also the only time Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” did its job properly for me. As the world began to re-open I was delighted to hear New Madrid had a new album on its way. From their amount of material, their sound and great production on the new record, I had assumed they were as big as say, Jukebox The Ghost, Wolf Alice, or a slew of other bands you hear on CD 92.9.
Before the doors opened at Ace of Cups, I stood outside counting cars. A man I recognized as lead singer Phil McGill walked by in red flooders coughing, a tired look in his eyes. He retreated into a van for a few minutes, then walked past me again coughing a little more and his eyes looking a little more tired.
Once I entered, I was curious what their gear would look like. I hadn’t been to a live show in so long that I wondered if small boxes with pre-tailored, built-in effects that feed right into the house sound had taken over completely. Were the days of moving wind over? In the case of New Madrid I was happy to find they were not over moving it. A big Fender block of an amp sat on one side with its silver screen ready to scream.
I hung around while the crowd filled in. I imagined the crowd the last time I went to Ace of Cups for The End of The Ocean in 2019. It was packed shoulder to shoulder, max capacity. For this show I found myself surprised that only 40 or so people were in attendance. This is not an awful size, and the club wasn’t empty by any means. However, the sound of New Madrid is big enough to sell out Express Live. For their efforts and artistry, I feel they deserve at least that much.
A good friend of mine, an economist, was one of the 40 people. I was happy to see him, and we grabbed a beer and went outside for a smoke. He passed me a Delta vape and I figured one hit wouldn’t hurt. He sucked on a dart and hit the vape several times, getting more and more pumped for the event. The Economist was a recently converted New Madrid fan since I started shoving them in his face a few months ago. I have done this to several people over the last year wondering if anybody had heard of these guys.
We also talked about the headliner, Liz Cooper. Neither of us really knew her music, so we did a sampling on Spotify. The top five songs on her page were mostly soft folksy type songs that I thought were a strange mix to put with New Madrid, the first of which was a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s America.
We headed back in and promptly at eight o’clock the band jumped on stage and started playing. The medium-sized crowd formed its natural arc shape with an awkward gap between us and the band. Nobody was yet bold enough to actually stand at the front of the stage. They got started with the more mellow Q & A that transitioned straight into It’s Okay (2 Cry) to really get us grooving with heads bobbing. The mullet on top of The Economist flew around, and I thought this song really outperformed its studio counterpart. Towards its close we got our first dose of Graham Powers’ guitar driven tsunami. It consumed the whole room. They know how to go big, use tone to their advantage, and aren’t afraid of fun vocal harmonies.
Next, they played Queen for a Day and the feel of this one instantly drew the crowd in to close the gap in an almost synchronized motion. I was glad the slow intro was abbreviated to get right back to jamming on this one. The next song was Don’t Hold Me Now, with another wash over of Powers’ guitar. His mass of bouncy hair was moving flying up and down as he played. This was the only number played that night that was not from their current album.
Once again, I think it’s important to relate sound and size. Between the Fender I mentioned earlier, the psychedelic leanings, and some knob twisting on the ground, even a more chill song like Like A Flash surrounds the audience. Even more remarkable is their ability to maintain clarity. Notes on the twin guitars don’t fuzz together and the vocals aren’t drowned in the mix. Far too often a lead singer is reduced to a muffled mess under a live band. Plenty of large-profile bands and venues could take notes from their sound guy.
The last song they played was I Want It, and I asked myself “was this everything?” I was surprised as it had only been 36 minutes. I knew they were the opening act, but they just hit their full stride. It was like we carried a sled excitedly up a hill, ready for the main event and finale of the ride down. But once we got to the top we just decided to go home.
Liz Cooper’s set followed not long after and it was a happy, red drenched surprise as she defied the expectation Spotify had given me. It was mostly upbeat heavily guitar driven bangers that had the slightly larger crowd jamming along. She won over a new fan in me.
Despite the short run time of New Madrid’s set, it was a stellar one. Songs I didn’t necessarily care for on the record were given more breath and made me reconsider my position. Bassist Ben Hackett was having so much fun on stage you would think it was one of the best shows he had ever played. The pocket between the group made every song easy to move your body to, probably even more than on the record.
I asked their drummer Will Hefner if there were plans to headline a tour in the near future. It doesn’t look like they are just yet, but who knows what the future will bring. I think they could really do something with a longer form performance where their ideas can expand and they won’t need to blow through the songs. Needless to say, I was left hungry for more.
- Q & A.
- It’s Okay (To Cry)
- Queen for a Day
- Don’t Hold Me Now
- Like a Flash
- I Want It