Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Alberta Cross/Hacienda :: 02.08.10 :: Kyber Pass :: Philadelphia, PA
Sneaking into Philadelphia between two massive snowstorms was no easy task. Yet, San Antonio rockers Hacienda and Brooklyn-based rising stars Alberta Cross pulled it off without as much as a hitch. Alberta Cross was the driving force that packed the Kyber Pass to the gills with a well bundled posse of onlookers and fans on a snowy Monday night. This Philly show was the tour closer before Alberta Cross packed their bags for Europe, and it was clear from the start how much practice and heavy touring have paid off.
Opening many of the shows on this tour was aforementioned Hacienda. No slouches themselves, these guys were plucked by The Black Keys' blues rock virtuoso Dan Auerbach. He produced the band's debut album, Loud Is the Night, and recruited them to play as the backing band on his solo effort, Keep it Hid. Playing with Auerbach has definitely impacted the sound of Hacienda. Their set came out of left field as a lively, throwback garage rock romp that complimented Alberta Cross' psychedelic blues beautifully. Hacienda was powered by a trio of brothers - Abraham (keys), Jamie (drums) and Rene Villanueva (bass) - all originally from way up in the Pacific Northwest now transplanted to San Antonio.
These fiery Texans offered more pizzazz and gusto on a Monday night than most bands can muster on a Saturday. The spunk exhibited and dynamics between guitarist Dante Schwebel and the Villanueva brothers accentuated all the various things that live music dreams are made of. These guys had a strut to their playing and they showed it from the opening tune, a smoldering, bass-driven builder that bounced with Rene's bass whacks and dirty echoing strums from Schwebel. Their raw riffs brawled with sleek '60s harmonies that flowered from Abraham's electric organ. The band rattled off three homespun songs that recalled the likes of The Beach Boys and Dr. Dog before raging on a cover of "Louie Louie." Abraham was right on when he said that this cover was a version all their own. It was a rowdy reading smothered in red sauce and Tex-Mex styling that would have made Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs proud. "Hear Me Crying" showcased one of Hacienda's melodic, heartfelt rockers, offering an even greater depth to their danceable rock sounds. They finished the set with "Mama's Cookin" dedicated to their friends Dr. Dog. This tune sounded as if it could have been a Dr. Dog song as Schwebel and Rene drenched the rock 'n roll standard in a passion that made our pulses rise as they plowed through the raw metaphor for gettin' it on.
With a few feet of snow blanketing the streets outside, the bar quickly became a sardine tin. The crowd was anxious for Alberta Cross, a band that seemingly sprung up from nowhere. I had caught one of their first large gigs at the Camden Download Festival in 2008 with few in attendance. Their latest tour has been a whirlwind as they traveled North America in support of their debut album, Broken Side of Time. In Santa Barbara the venue was so packed that they played two separate sets for two different crowds. They sold out L.A.'s Troubadour, Schubas in Chicago and The Basement in Columbus. DC, NYC, VT - almost every show on this tour was packed or sold out. As we listened to them work a very traditional blues rock sound it was easy to see why the crowds love them.
|Hacienda :: 02.08 :: Philly|
Onstage, Alberta Cross lives up to everything you hear on their albums and then some. Petter Ericson Stakee, their ex-Swede frontman, sung with one of the clearest and most listenable crowd friendly tones since Kings of Leon and Jim James (My Morning Jacket). His prevailing approach lacked grit or throatiness as his voice poured out pure, clear excitement. Stakee's performance showed that he's an accessible frontman whose range is a star-crossed version of a slew of artists past but still tells his own story. He can hit the high notes without trouble plus he has that cadenced knack that makes a singer great.
Just like their leader, the band produced a most comfortably familiar sound that hearkened back to many different decades. Listening to the cool '70s folk rock fused with guitar blues of "Lucy Rider" was like settling into your favorite pair of sweatpants. Even the people not there for the show took notice and left their spots at the bar to see what was going down. Apparently, Alberta Cross had played a gig at the Kyber Pass before and when Stakee inquired who was here years ago, to his delight several people applauded before he wound us through another pleasing passageway filled with bent guitar riffs and even more evocative singing. The intense guitar solos on "ATX" and the grimy, ringing sound of "The Thief and the Heartbreaker" surely melted snow on all sides of the venue. These were clearly the crowd favorites that silenced the repeated shouts from spectators not satisfied with the setlist until they had a chance to sing-along.
|Alberta Cross :: 02.08 :: Philly|
There were tender sides of Alberta Cross during "Low Man" and raging moments during "Broken Side of Time." Both were fun and satisfying, but it was "Rise from the Shadows," described as a gospel tune by Stakee, that truly stirred the blood and separated the men from the boys. He stoked the front row as he leaned over his mic stand and dipped his torso into the crowd. Stakee, silhouetted by a lone orange light that played tricks with the brim of his Stetson hat, banged on a tambourine and kept the tempo at a slow stroll while Alec Higgins sashayed along on the keys during an extended intro. Then, building like a rogue wave in the ocean, Terry Wolfers trudged in with some ridiculously hard thudding bass, producing blasts from the stacks that made us actually feel the music. The twisted gospel song caught us by surprise and a cheer erupted as they woke up the sleeping rock & roll giant and paraded it around the cramped venue. It was a perfect shift in styles, moving the music from a lulling gospel number to a head shaking, thrust inducing screamer of a rock song. Stakee lurched back towards drummer Austin Beede and then over to lock horns with Sam Kearney's guitar. This lively exchange grew and grew, making the seven-minute album version fade into oblivion as they rocked us for over fourteen minutes.
The guy next to me kept muttering how this band has teeth, and he was right. Alberta Cross was able to connect with the audience and perform better than we could have hoped. Before calling it a night, Stakee and company jumped back onstage to leave the rest of their energy in a two-song encore. After laying down a wonderful tour closer in Philly, they played a surprise set a few nights latter at the former CBGB's with Guns N' Roses (details here). Their next visit to Philadelphia is in April at the TLA, so those who saw Alberta Cross in February should feel lucky because I'm guessing that this was one of the last times they will play a stage that small.
For more on Alberta Cross see our exclusive feature interview here.
Alberta Cross tour dates available here.
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