The Newport-based trio played in the Lounge – the smallest of the three stages – and they immediately filled the room to capacity with exuberant fans, curious onlookers like me, and an unearthly powerful sound. As soon as their set was finished, I made a beeline to the merch table and picked up a copy of their 6-song CD, The Collapse.
The songs on The Collapse read like a post-apocalyptic diary written by those left behind after the cataclysm, but who have still been deeply affected by something much bigger and scarier than themselves. The tracks are punctuated by bits of radio static or odd recorded clips that seem to cry out “Is there anybody out there?”
The drummer, simply known as “Jims,” also moonlights as the rhythm section for the roots-punk band Martin Luther and the Kings. His playing ability is at a level that most drummers can only dream of, but what most impressed me about Smoke Signals when I saw them live were the never-stopping fingers of “Seth,” the bass player. The tightness of this rhythm-section duo was mind-boggling and made me want to jump right out of my shoes.
Leading the assault, however, is “Chad” on lead guitar and vocals. His ability to switch from roaring chords to delicate arpeggios with such speed and control is further impressive when you consider that he is doing all this while belting out agonized screams of heartfelt anguish.
If I had to pick a favorite track from The Collapse, it would probably be the song Collapse. It best demonstrates the spectrum of playing styles and abilities that the trio possesses, and when he lets loose with the phrase “To the river’s edge!” I still get chills every time.
My closest musical comparison, for the sake of context, would be Faraquet, a band from the Washington DC area that split up in 2001 only to reform a couple of years later, with a slightly different lineup, under the name Medications. Other close ties could be drawn to such bands as Fugazzi, Jawbox, Burning Airlines or The Meat Puppets.
As much as I love this recording and have recommended it to others, it does not come close to showcasing the virtuosity of Smoke Signals’ live show. Please make an effort to seek them out at a club near you.