Review: Planes Mistaken For Stars at 3 Kings, with Fire Drills and Kingdom of Magic, 8/13/11

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With special guests Kingdom of Magic, the Fire Drills and Vamos!

Right before Planes took the stage, you could see the anticipation on the faces of many people who had been looking forward to this show as soon as it was announced. Most of those people were friends of these guys, because that's kind of what you became if you showed up to a gig, especially in the early days when this band often played warehouses.

Planes wasn't kidding when it was announced this would be a reunion show. No, Jamie Drier didn't take the stage but a good chunk of the beginning of the set had Aaron Wise on bass. And it was Wise who started off the show with, "Alright, motherfuckers, here's an oldie but a goodie." Then the band erupted into "Copper and Stars."

Planes have never been less than generous with its collective energy on stage, but hearing this classic older song and seeing the sheer passion with which the original line-up (including Matt Bellinger on guitar, Mike Ricketts on drums and, of course Gared O'Donnell on vocals and guitar) performed the song set things off with an inspirational bang. And during the break in the middle, the band paused and O'Donnell told the crowd how he missed Denver.

Before "Knuckle Hungry," O'Donnel told us that he'd had a lot of "daddy issues" and that the three guys behind him helped him work through a lot of that and that so did some people in the audience. Even more so than the studio version, the harrowing "Knuckle Hungry" clearly illustrated that if this band could ever have been connected with emo, it was only in the best sense of emotional catharsis with compassion for those who suffer as you suffer the slings and arrows of a life lived not glossing over the full richness of experience.

After a handful of songs, Bellinger and Wise stepped away, and Chuck French took up duties on guitar for the rest of the show and so did Neil Keener on bass. The first song with this last line-up of Planes sounded like the desperate "A Six Inch Valley." Where the energy level of the room raised to a fever pitch was during the chorus of "Glassing" with the band and so many people in the audience chanted the chorus: "We're all getting fucked now!"

Periodically throughout the show, O'Donnell told us to take care of each other and you knew he meant it. Because as emotionally amped and seething the songs of Planes have always been, it's also been obvious that the music, in both the writing and the execution, has been about friendship and brotherhood not just between the members but also with the audience.

It's an emotional catharsis that the music embodies, both by expressing the angst and psychic wounds everyone seems to have and in exposing them to work to heal them -- and knowing that it's a work in process, both the friendships and the healing. Yes, some people got a little out of hand but O'Donnell addressed this briefly as a reminder that the music wasn't, indeed, about taking things out on others, but in working through things with integrity and honesty.

After a stirring version of "Sicilian Smile," to close out the main set, Planes performed one of its finest numbers, "Thunder in the Night Forever! (We Ride to Fight)" during which the other members of the band came on stage with members of the opening bands as well as punk scene stalwart Dave Paco (Messy Hairs, Deadlock Frequency) to sing the chorus of "We'll wash in blood, and bathe in vice." During this flurry of sound and activity, Paco crowd surfed as did O'Donnell.

The show would have been over but somehow the crowd chanted for one more song, with some wags chanting "U.S.A.," and Planes played a rare encore with Mikey informing us that getting O'Donnell back on stage for an encore was like pulling teeth. And so Planes sent us off with "Spring Divorce." But at some point in the set, O'Donnell said they'd probably be back. Let's hope so.

Opening the show was Vamos!, a band from Chicago that played its amped up power-pop songs with such unbounded energy it felt more like punk rock than anything else -- maybe if Joe Walsh decided to do something less silly with his solo projects and garaged things up a bit. It was like rock and roll but slightly twisted like The Tubes but not so tongue-in-cheek.

Fire Drills followed Vamos! with a completely different take on power pop. More a bluesy, soul thing delivered with a palpable enthusiasm. Ben Roy joked about how the audience should come closer and dance because later the later acts all had hairy, bearded men in them. "We are the band most likely to shower after the show," Roy quipped.

Rather than stay on stage and sing to the crowd, Roy came down to the "dance floor" and sang to people and gestured about while the other members of the band seemed to hurl themselves into each song with an unrelenting and infectious enthusiasm. Toward the end, Roy joked that "The dead air has been the weakest part of our set," after being informed that the second to last song wasn't the cover he had announced. Afterward, the band closed with "Little Girl" by Syndicate of Sound.

One set of the bearded men Roy spoke of took the stage next as Kingdom of Magic set up its gear, with Joe Ramirez's stack of Ampegs and Luke Fairchild's large Sunn cabinet, providing some of the thickest, strongest low end you're likely to experience at a small venue show. Volume aside, Kingdom's sound this night proved to have more clarity than in the past, with the music breathing a bit more with a broader dynamic range than ever.

Rather than the fascinatingly crushing sound the band had two years ago or even a year ago, it felt like this Kingdom's set-up allowed for Fairchild to play with the atmospherics a lot more and his leads, urgent and angular, also warped and swirled a little amid the hectic flow of rhythm provided by Ramirez and Andrew Lindstrom. Out of town, among metalheads who go to underground shows, you hear about Kingdom of Magic. This show proved even more why that reputation is well deserved.


Personal Bias: I've been a fan of Planes since first seeing them at the "last" Messy Hairs show at The Raven on August 25, 2000. Random Detail: Ran into Joaquin Liebert of The Reckless Nights at the show. By the Way: Beer is probably best shared between friends and companions of the moment and not sprayed on a few dozen people.

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