By Brent Michael, Rock At Night Tampa Correspondent
Venue: The Blue Note, Tampa, Florida–April 9, 2018
Band Links (in order of appearance):
The Blue Note is a new Tampa venue on the edge of Ybor, with a focus on up and coming bands doing original music from all over the country, and perhaps the world. It’s a place where you can be up close and intimate with bands normally seen on a much larger stage in a much larger venue, on a night not normally associated with pure partying – like Monday’s four-in-one concert featuring bands from Riverview, Florida; Houston, Texas; Minneapolis, Minnesota, and New York City.
The Cruz Brothers was originally founded by brothers Phil and PJ Cruz after composing the featured theme for television series Surviving Sam. The band’s original members were (and still are) Phil Cruz, PJ Cruz, Taylor Benson – and they were 13-14 years old, which obviously has changed. Playing Rock, Blues, and Alternative music, both covers and a significant number of originals, they have a wide and eclectic range of musical influences and an energetic live performance. Their original music is influenced by bands like The Foo Fighters, Nirvana, The Doors, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and BB King just to name a few. Phil Cruz, the lead guitarist and vocalist, brings the melody and audience interest, he’s a natural showman. PJ Cruz, the percussionist, forms the backbone by utilizing a variety of instruments to keep the sound tight.
Taylor Benson, who performs on bass guitar and keyboards, adds her knowledge as a multi-instrumentalist and her overall strong musicianship to the mix, though she seems a bit on the shy side, more often facing away from the audience than toward us. I look forward to hearing more from them.
Next up was The Scars Heal in Time, another power trio hailing from Houston, Texas. Founded in 2010, the band members are Kayla Smith – Guitar, Vocals, and Hair Whips, Tayler Smith – Drums and Dreads, and Tyler Niccum – Guitars. Kayla is like a modern day Joan Jett or Lita Ford, but we the attitude found in modern country songs like “Gunpowder and Lead” or “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” or perhaps “You Oughta Know” or “Before He Cheats.” Don’t get mad, get even! “In Your Flame,” “I’m About to Break,” are straight-ahead rockers, while “Walk Away” starts out mellow but builds. The two sisters have been known to break the rules since they first jumped into the music scene, and six months of 2017 was spent touring! Primal, raw, rock ‘n roll, at its most basic and pure.
An interesting tidbit: the band is focused on the two sisters. In their music videos, you rarely see Tyler’s face, and he’s not listed as a member on their Facebook page, though he is on the band website. At first, I wondered if the title of their latest album, Unidentified, referred to him! Definitely adds mystery, though the band is a must-see, not mysterious!
Hitting the stage next was City of the Week, the third trio – plus one. Founded in 2011, fronted by Stef “Stef with an F” Huschka, the sole founding member of the band (though Cody Hoffman [bass guitar] and Brent Lindblad [guitar, backing vocals] have been with the band since at least 2014) the band mixes elements of punk, metal, pop, rock, and just plain attitude. From Sonicbids: “We’re kind of a big deal. You can’t deny our good looks and orgasmic musical style! We are unique and unlike anyone else, we are City of the Weak.”
About that “plus one.” Yes, they had a drummer, but I couldn’t find anything posted about him anywhere. He was definitely competent, but he may be a “just for this tour” drummer or a more permanent addition. Speaking of tours, COTW is known for their hard touring schedule and appearances with big acts/at big deal festivals. Just a few:
- Rock Fest 2017 Main Stage w/ Rob Zombie, Shinedown, Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, Megadeth + more
- Rock USA 2017 Main Stage w/ Ozzy Osbourne, Avenged Sevenfold, Volbeat + more
- Chicago Open Air 2016 w/ Rammstein, Slipknot, Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, + more
- Northern Invasion 2016 w/ Rob Zombie, Disturbed, Korn, Bring Me the Horizon, + more
- Rock Fest 2015 w/ Nickelback, Avenged Sevenfold, Judas Priest + more
- Vans Warped Tour 2014
- The All-Stars Tour 2014
- WIIL Rock Fest 2015 w/ Hollywood Undead, Pop Evil, Saint Asonia, Nonpoint, Butcher Babies + more
- South By So What?! 2015
- North American Independent Rock Music Awards 2016
- Scream It Like You Mean It Tour 2012 w/ Attack Attack, The Acacia Strain, Woe Is Me, We Came As Romans + more
- Asking Alexandria; August Burns Red; We Came As Romans; Crown the Empire; Born of Osiris
- August Burns Red; Of Mice & Men; The Color Morale; The Overseer
- South By Southwest 2015
- The Heart of Texas Rockfest 2015
- Spring Break ATX 2015
- Red Gorilla Music Festival 2015
- Slang Metalfest w/ Powerman 5000, Butcher Babies, Battlecross, The Bloodline, + more
- Lita Ford, Jack Russell’s Great White, Kip Winger
- Life is Beautiful Tour w/ 9Electric (August/Sept 2017)
- Tour w/ The Scars Heal in Time (August 2017)
- When Did We Learn Not to Love? Tour (June 2017)
- Ungrateful Tour (March/April 2017)
- BlondTOURage w/ Scarlet Canary (Sept 2016)
- Tour w/ Adelitas Way & Cilver (Sept 2016)
- Not So Sound Tour w/ SOLICE (Oct 2015)
- About Time You Got Your Own Taste Tour (Sept/Oct 2015)
- Hit Me With Your Best Shot! Tour w/ DIVIDES & Black Sky (May/June 2015)
- Make It Or Break It Tour w/ Young Medicine (March / April 2015)
- Attitude Adjustment Tour w/ Scarlet Canary & Autumn Stay (October 2014)
- The Heart-On Tour w/ Stitched Up Heart (August/September 2014)
- Midwest Headliner w/ Left Astray (August 2014)
- Skeletour w/ Stitched Up Heart & Blindfold the Devil (June/July 2014)
- Paper Dolls Tour w/ The Nearly Deads (May/June 2014)
- Bitches Get Stitches Tour w/ Gabriel & the Apocalypse (April/May 2014)
- Midwest Warriors (October 2013)
- Driven Tour (May 2013)
- Waffle House Tour (September/October 2012)
I get tired just reading about it! Oh, and they’ve managed to put out a couple of studio EPs, seven music videos, and are soon to release their first full-length album! Hitting 400 shows this year, along with interviews, etc., they stay busy, and the buzz is building! Catch the as they come by during their #TurnItTo11 Tour!
Closing out the night was Echo Black, a band from New York City. Formed by front-man Danny Blu in 2015, Echo Black is a dance rock band based in New York City. Drawing on the differing influences of each unique member, Echo Black sets out to make evocative and visceral music you can feel in your bones. With lead guitar supplied by Felix Skiver, bass, keys, and growling vocals from Rob Gnarly, and the beat kept by Billy Long, Blu’s unique vocal range – few women can hit those high notes! – the band is definitely not another cookie-cutter pop band, blending genres and genders to create a unique sound, as well as a theatrical and cinematic look.
Co-headlining the tour with COTW, they switch off who plays last depending on the venue’s vibes, and for Tampa’s LGBTQ-friendly “Gaybor” section, the band was a perfect fit. Their album release, “Dawn,” is a great representation of the band as a whole. They also understand the part lighting plays in theatricality, even in the relatively small space, they had and made use of the most lighting of any of the bands. Definitely worth a listen, and very polished for an early-in-the-tour, officially 3-year-old band!
When not in custody, I've been involved with music, photography, and writing my entire life. Ever since I was a young boy and played those silver tunes, I've had the beat, but being a drummer didn't suit me so I became a lead singer, which lasted a few years. Settling down, sort of, I translated my knowledge of audio and glib tongue into mobile emcee work, and my training as a photographer and videographer into a living in the wedding, party, bar/bat mitzvah, and entertainment industry. During this time I also managed to bamboozle my way into a master's degree in writing, worked for a couple of magazines (yes, I took photos for a nudist magazine!), have photographed hotels, done commercial work (shot the cover of Tablet and Capsule magazine), published a few articles, hosted some public access shows (a couple times in drag, but that's another story), and generally made a nuisance of myself until I landed here.