MERGENCE: Live At The Crescent Ballroom

Mergence is one of my favorite bands. Period. Not one of my favorite local bands, but one of my favorite bands beyond the scope of Arizona music.  A week does not pass where I go without listening to their music. I also can’t recall a time since I heard their debut album Those Vibrant Young People Are Dead and saw them live for the first time (this was the same evening), that more than 72 hours would pass without a guitar riff or lyrical passage of theirs passing through my mind. While it was the seriously infectious, radio ready “Dynamite & Kerosene” that captured both my heart and mind at first, as I have memorized their work, followed their progression and written about every moment of brilliance they’ve shed on our world for the last two years, every song of theirs has become special in my soul, tuned to a unique mood and mind frame. Indeed, they have also become one of my favorite live bands and it’s a very, very rare occasion where I miss a performance of theirs. When they appear on a bill, though usually headlining, it doesn’t matter where they are in the lineup–that show becomes an imperative event that I must attend. This urgency is only shared with a scant few other bands in Arizona. Not only has Mergence produced some of the finest local recordings I know of, but their live show is simply captivating, brilliant and each one is seemingly better than the last–which stuns me now, nearly two years on, because it didn’t seem like it could better right from the start. This past February Mergence played a magnificent show at Crescent Ballroom, it was the first time I saw them at the Crescent, which was something of a highly anticipated event. What I  didn’t know at the time was that the entire show was being recorded and filmed. Just over a month ago, in super secret fashion Mergence released Live At The Crescent Ballroom through the avenues of You Tube, iTunes, CDBaby and Spotify. Every moment of it is brilliant and it reveals Mergence at their best, a band who not only lives up to their powerful recordings on stage, but very often exceeds them.

Before it’s release, lead singer Adam Bruce and I had discussed the idea of releasing a live  album–something that doesn’t happen too often these days and something local bands have avoided for a long, long, well, very nearly forever. I loved the idea and I sincerely urged him to do so. Mainly I loved the idea, because no one does this and releasing your second album as a live album is a bold move that few artists could pull off, Mergence can pull it off because there performances are simply that strong. Within less than a month Live At The Crescent Ballroom became a reality and was released somewhat silently, yet it screams loudly everything that makes Mergence a great experience whether it is their mindblowing original songs or cover they absolutely nail–this live album captures Mergence at an early peak and seems to serve as a bit of punctuation on the first stage of their career, for it is suspected that in 2013 we will start receiving new music from one of our most amazing treasures, a series of singles or EPs that will eventually lead to a full blown new album. For the time being though, we can revel in the glory that is this live document.

Starting off with the deep blues feel of “If You Know, Then You Know”, Mergence kicks right the hell into it. It’s a flawless opening, Bruce’s and Yod’s guitars blaze against each other, Jason Roedl’s drum are an apocalyptic explosion, while Brandon Shupe’s bass holds the whole thing together, heavily underlining everything else going on. For Adam, this is his favorite memory, “The opener, ‘If You Know, Then You Know’- there is a pause after the solo and then Yod and I and scream ‘There’s a Ghost in your head’  When we do it live, it gets a little more out of control and climactic.  It got really intense in the live setting, the whole band sounds gritty to go with the vocals.” The recording also captures the crowd reaction with beauty and precision, both in the sense of  excitement and instant gratification. It’s deeper numbers like this that benefit the best in their live setting and far surpass the studio originals–there’s just more space in this realm for the number to breathe. “The Road” is another fine example of this phenomena, Yod’s guitar is practically on fire in this song, channeling something otherworldly here and blowing everyone’s mind, if your not watching the video and just listening, you can practically see everyone’s jaw agape in stunned wonder at his relentless fretwork pyrotechnics. These first two tracks are some of their heaviest and best in the proof of just how much Mergence rocks. I remember the night I first heard them, I interviewed them for a feature in JAVA magazine and they told me another writer had described them as “indie blues” to which they laughed and responded that, “Isn’t that called rock’n'roll?” The answer is yes, that’s called rock’n'roll.

This show marks one of the first times I remember Bruce sitting down at the piano only two songs in, because most Mergence fans know what it means when he sits down at the keys, but this used to be saved for the end of the show–which is awesome, but this is the first time I recall it happening and being happily surprised by the shake up. “Girl. Fear. God.” will always be one of my favorite Mergence tracks and it simply has a pop-single appeal about it that it will make its way into your mind frequently upon either first hearing it on record or seeing it live. This particular performance seems to demonstrate the  particularly acute desperation of the lyrical message–it’s thriving in its own way, certainly not as subdued as the studio original, it’s slightly unhinged. The space odyssey of it’s instrumental other half,  “Eulogy 29″, is brilliantly dressed in flourishes not typically seen, unintentionally or not, since mid-era Pink Floyd. This is not your typical rock number and the great thing about watching the film of the evening is seeing how much the crowd authentically digs this fucking number.

Adam Bruce, sitting down at the keys, after the previous numbers inevitably leads to the smash lead off album track “Dynamite & Kerosene”–this is the song I use to lure newcomers and the unbeknownst to learn to love Mergence, it’s an easy hook, immediately brlliant, likeable and hell, it’s what caught my attention. It is one of the finest constructed songs they have and one that I imagine will continue to garner fans for  years to come. Here it is in all of its glory, searing, live, Bruce pounding on the keys, a guitar line that could that never be more brilliant, and a rhythm section I have yet to be able to express no matter how many times I write about it. It’s a perfect song. Whether it’s on the record or live, it’s simply perfect. Period. When one unitiated friend, asked me after witnessing a show what the hell the last song was and could sing the chorus, I realized these guys were golden. The “I’m Alive” chant that now follows this particular song is a recent added touch, that has blown friends minds as well and has almost become a song unto itself.

Keep in mind in mind that Live At The Crescent Ballroom was recorded early this past February, which at the time meant that not only was Crescent Ballroom fairly new, but so was the double A-Sided post album single “Wintertime/Harvest”, the only officially released songs from Mergence before this fine document of a tremendous evening had by all. The real cherishing moment of  this moment is that in “Wintertime” (which is one of my all time favorite tracks by Mergence at this point) after the first time Bruce sings “I would just as soon sedate myself, yes, that’s what I said” he releases this burst of manic laughter which is simply golden and brilliant in its madness. They’ve dropped that from the song in recent performances and I miss it every time. “Harvest” is every bit amazing as the recording, but delivered with a delicious viciousness that may just be a result of the venue and being live on stage or it may be just how magical that night was.

“Time Flies”, so I’ve been told by countless female fans of Mergence, is their sexiest song. Perhaps, this is because it starts so soft and pretty, builds slowly with serious intent, rocks with restraint, growls under the radar and grinds through magnificent work from every band member on every front. It at points contains some of the most beautiful and raucous moments in Mergence’s catalog and here is another sweltering live rendition that far outshines the album version. As one female fan said to me of this song, “That song is simply pure sex…from the easy start to the screaming crescendo…that song moves every fiber in my body, every time, in every way possible.”  This performance certainly makes that sentiment clear and  it’s clearly a highlight of the night.  “Thanks guys, you guys feel great,” is all Bruce can say to the crowd after their near rabid reaction. Every now and then, Mergence throws the crowd a cover and it’s always brilliant–more recently Adam has been playing solo acoustic gigs that show a bit more of this side (His version of Dylan’s “That’s Alright Ma’ I’m Only Bleeding”  at a Rock Local Lunch was stunning in this regard) At this particular show, Mergence went deep into the blues or grunge or  both, it’s difficult to determine as they explore the blues/folk classic “In The Pines.” Now, in modern times this was made famous as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” by Nirvana during their infamous unplugged set, but I’ve heard about 23 versions of this song and for my money, Mergence nails it better than anything that has come before. On “In The Pines” Mergence channels an amazing energy, perhaps a dark  energy, but this is freaking unwieldy.

The crowd is literally singing the chorus to “My Prayer” before the song really even begins–this is pretty amazing considering there are hundreds of people in the audience. Yod picked this as his favorite moment of the show, “In the intro to “My Prayer” the audience is singing the response to the guitar and I start to laugh when I notice it.  It’s pretty awesome.” It’s another blues driven number that on the album might seem somewhat subdued, but live becomes a completely different beat. For me the grand moment in this song, the brilliant departure point begins when we hit the bridge with “Oh, in a sense, the innocence is  gone…” the word play just makes my brain marvel and as soon as this interregnum begins, it ends for one last blues licked conclusion. At this point, Adam promises one more and almost immediately (and I may be one of the voices screaming it) the crowd is calling for “Robots”! So it  is that they can only conclude the proper set with “Me & My Family Vs. The Robots”, which is perhaps the finest song they have ever composed, ever constructed, ever recorded. It is simply stunning live and  it also provides Roedl with his favorite moment of the show. “There are two spots, both during Robots,” Roedl said. “The first, “Hold so dear” the crowd was so loud they were all I could hear. The second was some guy jumping up and down near the end of Robots.  He was really feeling it.” Every one was feeling it, everyone loved it, everyone wanted this song so bad that it was simply an amazing release as the finale, but we still wanted more.

The crowd literally clamors for more at the end of “Robots” and literally there are only two songs they could have chosen from in their litany. They could have done “At The Salt” the only original song of theirs that they did not play that not and one quintessential cover that  has  graced their early shows, a cover of The Beatles “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” I will never know why they chose the latter, but I will also be eternally grateful that they did. This is Brandon Shupe’s favorite moment that defines why I feel that way, “It’s a cover, which we don’t do very often,” he laughed. “We used to do it a lot, but we probably won’t do it ever again and I like that it was recorded and preserved. I think it’s the best we ever did it.” The biggest supporting factor is the guy in the audience that yells out in the end, “You guys  rule!” It was the best they did it. It’s funny,  because the first time I saw them live they performed this cover and all I could think was, “Damnit, that’s a tough Beatles number to nail and they just fucking nailed it.” That, with the combination of “Dyanmite & Kerosene” pretty much sealed my souls agreement with their music that I would be a fan and supporter for the rest of their existence.

I would highly recommend that you click on all of the links below, check out the songs and the vids as well, especially the one in which Mergence finally lays down some tracks for “White Bark” which has yet to be released officially. There is a lot of splendor available here. Most of all, what I would recommend above all else, is that you get your ass to the Crescent Ballroom tonight to catch Mergence doing what they do best–rocking out your soul with some of the best bands in town. The details are below, but believe me, if you haven’t heard about this show yet…you may want to alter all other plans you had otherwise, because this will be assuredly epic. Get there early, it starts at 7pm and it will be amazing…


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