While it can occasionally be disheartening to be a smaller city, there are some positives that come with that status, especially as your reputation builds.
I think it's hard to argue that Tulsa's reputation as a music town hasn't been growing recently, between a local scene that's in season and blossoming again and a slew of touring acts that come through now that we have viable venues in a variety of sizes from small and large clubs up to our arena, which is about to celebrate its second anniversary next month with a series of big shows.
Perhaps the real reward, however, is finding a host of developing bands that want to stop in Tulsa to either make their mark in town, feel a part of our local scene, or both.
Whether we're considered a whistle-stop town, a stop for gas money, or one of those cities you want to play because of audience response and the support of original music, we've got more and more bands planning their tours to include Tulsa, even if it means taking a gig in a small club.
An example of that arrives in town Thursday night as Denver-based band Flashbulb Fires returns for a personalized show at Soundpony.
The band came through town during the winter with a show at Eclipse on Jan. 20, but the summer and touring cycle for the band's current CD, Glory, brings it back this week to follow-up in Tulsa and take an opportunity to really connect with the audience in the intimate confines of the Soundpony.
Unfortunately, when Flashbulb Fires came through town this past winter, our schedule was too busy to pay them proper attention, and the band's show went largely unnoticed.
Those who did have opportunity to catch the group, however, found a band that creates a unique blend of indie rock and chamber pop, seasoned with a distinct dose of Americana and roots rock sensibility.
The band's debut disc, Glory, can be difficult to pinpoint, implementing horns and strings to complement the reverb and chorus soaked sound, giving the band a nearly orchestral sound at times; although the backbone of the band is built around standard rocks structures and jangling guitars.
"We've been together a little over four years, and our first songs were definitely less individualistic," said singer/guitarist Michael James. "It's really important to us to make music that we feel is unique to us, though. It would be easy for us to write generic, indie rock songs, but that's not us or how we do things."
While discussing the development of the band and the songwriting process, James said that although the band discusses its direction and what it wants to do as it begins the songwriting process, things often change and the group ends up with something completely different. For James and Flashbulb Fires, however, that's just the natural evolution of the band.
As a result, Flashbulb Fires' sound fluctuates and morphs, even within the confines of the band's CD.
"Heavy Hands," perhaps the disc's most straight-forward single, opens with a piano and simple delivery with a melodic hook, but as the song progresses, swells with distorted guitars in one place and strings in another, making it all the more intoxicating as the song always circles back to a melody that grabs you and draws you back into the song.
Elsewhere, "Rope and River" sets a somber and haunting mood, even as its arrangement starts up with slide guitar and a nearly choral background vocal, leading it into chamber-pop territory.
The very next track, however, opens with a lilting trumpet line and delivers a bouncy pop hook and huge melodic chorus, ending all too soon.
"Having a unique sound is something we strive to do," James said about the band's direction and inspiration. "We're not interested in replicating anything, but at the same time, we're not so far out that it doesn't feel familiar, still it feels unique and fresh.
"I feel like that is the only way in this day and age to set yourself apart. We have no desire to just sound like an indie rock band, have one hit and fade into obscurity. We'd rather do our own thing and see where it gets us."
So far, that's gotten the band quite a few miles logged and tons of shows played.
After releasing Glory in late 2009, Flashbulb Fires toured heavily for the first four or five months of 2010 before taking a short break during the summer to refresh and begin writing material that could potentially end up on the next album.
A short regional tour brings that band back to Tulsa as it tries to return to cities where it drew a positive response and continue to connect with its audience. The fall schedule will then see the band tour the East coast and down through the South during October and November.
Thursday evening's show should be an incredible one as Soundpony's close confines will allow the band and audience to connect on an even more intimate and visceral level, making it the perfect opportunity to become introduced to the band, if you didn't catch them in January.
While Flashbulb Fires has already opened for acts such as Langhorne Slim and is working on securing a show with The Antler in Denver, it's easy to see the band tied to a larger tour, with James admitting a spot opening for someone like Grizzly Bear of The National would be ideal.
Personally, however, I see Flashbulb Fires as being more similar to Bon Iver, albeit a little more orchestrated and upbeat than Justin Vernon's critically lauded project. All it should take is a little exposure and you can say, "I saw Flashbulb Fires when ..." Check 'em out.
Upon first glance, it might seem like a sleepy weekend for Tulsa's music scene, but that just means you haven't looked much. As always, there is plenty going on if you're willing to search a little.
Thursday night's highlight should be obvious: the aforementioned intimate Flashbulb Fires show at Soundpony on Aug. 26. If you're looking for something bigger, you can take a few steps down the sidewalk, however, and catch a full evening with Ween at Cain's Ballroom. Also, not to be forgotten is the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which continues its summer concert series with a free show by 12 Stones at Friction.
On Friday, Aug. 27, you can get your fair share of Americana and roots rock by checking out Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy at Mercury Lounge or settling in with Brandon Clark Band on the patio at Hunt Club.
If you're in a little more country mood, be sure to check out one of Tulsa's most promising young female voices as Chloe Johns plays Woody's.
Also on the calendar for Friday are Travis Linville at The Colony, Hi-Fi at Arnie's and Indie darlings La Panther Happens at Soundpony. Or if you want your fix of blues and R&B legends, you can make a short road trip to Oklahoma City's Zoo Amphitheater to catch BB King, Buddy Guy and Al Green performing together.
If you're looking to be cool and check out one of the hottest emerging bands on Saturday, Aug. 28, you can stop in for Civil Twilight at Bob's and see what all the fuss is. Otherwise, Saturday night is all about local music as Mercy Street rocks Downtown Lounge, Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers play Shenanigan's, and Alex and the Anders continue the party at Arnie's.
Meanwhile, The Colony retains its reputation as the hot spot for cool indie acts with Young Savage and Fiawna Forte, and Soundpony gets extra groovy with The Rebellion and Bubble.
Sunday sees the metal arrive at The Marquee with Vital Remains and a stack of local openers, but if you're looking to relax as you wind down out of your weekend, Pilgrim holds court in its standing weekly gig at Colony as does Brandon Clark with an acoustic set at Mercury Lounge.
Finally, Cain's Ballroom rounds out the week with Alejandro Escovedo on Monday, Aug. 30, and Kottonmouth Kings on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
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