Day 140: Summer’s For Music – The Weeks in Philly

by Tom Noonan

Potential is always a tough thing to quantify, especially in music.  It’s usually something that’s there on a gut level, something easily recognizable but nearly impossible to verbalize.  Some bands just have it, and you know that sooner or later they will make a truly great and wide-reaching album.  Potential is what made Vampire Weekend’s first two albums, which were both very good but by no means great, so exciting.  You knew it was only a matter of time before the self-indulgence receded and left the unadorned, haunted brilliance that is Modern Vampires of the City.  It’s always energizing to have your suspicions confirmed.

The Weeks are a howling whiskey jar full of suspicion.  They’re debut, Comeback Cadillac, which was released when the band’s average age was 16, is a truly great, genre-touring misfire.  An album that switches gears from hardcore to folk duet to blues injection within minutes, Comeback Cadillac is endlessly dynamic, if poorly paced, and doubles as a showcase for the songwriting ability of lead singer and sky gazing frontman Cyle Barnes.  Even when the frame gets shattered, he manages to keep the picture in tact.

Now, around seven years out from the release of Comeback Cadillac, their potential has been refined and suspicion is spreading.  Touring behind their latest and tremendous slow burn of a record, Dear Bo Jackson, the Weeks played two shows in Philadelphia on Saturday.  The first was an in-store at homey Main Street Music in Manayunk.  Pushed up against three walls of CDs, the Mississippi natives trudged through their more intimate and heavy stories, the finest of which was the oft overlooked Southern confessional “Steamboat”.  After closing with the rousing “House We Grew Up In”, Barnes thanked the audience for coming out and plugged their second show at the North Star saying only, “It’s going to be louder.”

He wasn’t lying.  With one of the opening bands being the festival-ready Junior Astronomers (for real, give these guys a Lollapalooza set already), the second show was all cymbal crashes and sing alongs.  Served up in the legendary North Star, songs like the Weeks’ “Brother in the Night” and “King Sized Death Bed” were suddenly more massive and imposing.  Up on that stage, Cyle Barnes was less a 23-year-old prospect than a fully formed rock star.  By the time he nearly choked himself with the mic wire while powering up the Comeback Cadillac standout “Buttons”, I realized what we were seeing wasn’t potential; it was success.  This isn’t a band to keep an eye on.  They already were that band.  Now they’re a band to take notice of.

Midway through the show a misguided fan yelled out, “Do a Kings of Leon cover!”, a reference to the stadium rockers most critics recognize as cloth-sharing brethren to the Weeks (a comparison well supported by the Weeks’ allegiance to the Followill brothers’ imprint Serpents and Snakes).  What could have been an ugly moment gave way to the night’s best quote when guitarist Sam Williams shot back, “We’re gonna play some songs we wrote” then launched into the keg-dwelling riff that opens “The House We Grew Up In”.  Even hearing the song for the second time that day, those anthemic crests on Barnes’s screams of, “They can’t stop us now”, played just as well, probably because, by that point, they’d proven to be prophetic.