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Fair to Midland at the Whiskey
By Ashley McCall

The Whiskey was home to a musical showcase of eight bands, hard edged and progressive, introspective and moshpit-inducing, the least notable of which was most certainly not the Dallas quintet Fair To Midland. The bank, whose sound was categorized by Rob Gary of The Indie Scoop as the "mutant offspring of Rush, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, The Mars Volta, Gary Numan and Pantera," and was recently signed to Serjical Strike Records (headed by System of a Down frontman Serk Tankian) hit the state just after 11pm and blasted through a forty-minute set of energetic, emotional, and intricate songs.

Word in the ladies' room was that the band's sound just can't be described in mere words. "I'd rather just let the music speak for itself," I heard a girl tell her friend. After not being entirely blown away by the group's The Drawn and Quartered EP (their first Serjical Strike release, comprised of demos from an independently released 2004 full-length album as well as live tracks), I smirked to myself slightly, envisioning self-indulgent instrumental noodling, nasal vocals, and obscene top hats (my imagination sometimes gets the best of me). Once the band hit the stage, however, the skepticism vanished almost immediately.

After setting up their own instruments, the band took the stage, playing a prolonged instrumental introduction with sampled dialogue, which the Whiskey's acoustics rendered unintelligible, while frontman Darroh Sudderth lurked in the shadows behind an amplifier, waiting for the perfect moment to make his entrance. Suddenly, after pouring nearly an entire bottle of water onto his self-consciously shaggy name, Sudderth took the stage with a frenzy that's nothing short of affected, jumping around like a possessed clown monkey, provoking cheers from the varied audience, composed of equal parts pierced hardcore kids and Hollywood club hoppers, many of whom were clearly already familiar with the band's music.

As soon as Sudderth began singing, any hesitation I'd had about the band vanished. His vocals are strong, flexible, and have amazing range--and the songs are a great showcase for his talents. He isn't a big man, but he has a powerful voice and delivers his lyrics (admittedly cliche-filled) with a passion and earnestness that's lacking from much modern music, especially in the hard modern rock genre that can be used to partially describe Fair To Midland, where anger, no matter how contrived, superficial, and shallow, is often seen as satisfactory and used in place of genuine emotion. And while his stage presence may seem a little over the top, Sudderth's passion for the music cannot be missed or mistaken. On Tuesday night, he threw himself 100% into his performance, as did the other members of the band (most notably bassist Jon Dickens, sure to be heartthrob of the band when their videos hit MTV rotation), provoking an excited reaction from the fans in the audience, as well as those of us who had not previously been very aware of a band called Fair To Midland.

Live, many of the songs sound more like a combination of Tool and System of a Down than anything related to Pink Floyd of The Mars Volta, and they were much harder edged and energetic than the studio recordings (which themselves show great promise). Much of the music's complexity and intricacy was lost in the sound of the crowd and amplifiers, but enough remained to show that Fair To Midland is more than just your typical hard rock band. They take the best elements of their influences, combine them with an almost emo edge: they're loud but earnest, angry yet sensitive, and their music is at once contemporary and hearkening back to a time when it was cool to be complicated, when keyboards were still en vogue and power chords weren't the apex of musicianship.

It remains to be seen whether Fair To Midland's first signed album, which will be produced by Serj Takian and David Bottrell (who has also worked with Peter Gabriel and Tool) will become a commercial success, but judging by their performance on Tuesday night and on the audience reaction--both people who came specifically to see Fair To Midland and those who were previously unaware of their music--the band has a bright future to go along with the mass amounts of potential that they are already harnessing and turning into music that is complex, emotive, and, at times, balls to the walls rock. Perhaps next time Hollywood sees Fair To Midland they'll be headlining at the Whiskey--or somewhere bigger.