Does The New Quaker City Night Hawks Album Finally Do The Band's Live Performances Justice?
One sentence in particular from our review of Quaker City Night Hawks' sophomore album release show this past Friday at Magnolia Motor Lounge perfectly sums up most people's thoughts on Fort Worth's undeniably solid live act: “Them fools sure can play.” It's become an almost universal truth — one that's manifested itself time and again as the quartet has emerged as preeminent figures in Cowtown's live music scene.
Over the past three years, the merits of the Night Hawks' capabilities as a live outfit have pretty much stopped being questioned altogether. Really, the only questions anyone ever asks about Quaker City anymore is if they'll ever get around to releasing an album that can live up to their reputation as live performers.
But not even last year's Live at Magnolia Motor Lounge EP managed to succeed in that regard, despite the band's more-than-capable execution of their material and the audible whoops and cheers from the crowd that were heard throughout. Sure, it sounds like it was recorded live — but it still didn't necessarily match the energy that comes with seeing the band play firsthand.
Something is inevitably, and rather infuriatingly, lost in translation.
Enter Honcho, that sophomore full-length. From the first falsetto group whines of “Fox in the Hen House,” there is indeed an urgency in these tracks not wholly captured on any of the band's previous efforts. Immediately out of the gate, the band emits the perception of a band locking eyes with the beer-clutching set in the front row, all the while with that desperate thought looming in the back of their minds that they sure as hell have better won over this crowd by the end of this first tune.
This, of course, was by design. Quaker City Night Hawks guitarist and co-vocalist Sam Anderson says it was a concerted effort of the band's.
“We just tried to get it to sound as close to what you're going to hear at a show,” Anderson says. “There's not a lot of tricks or studio magic on it. We just kind of captured what we sound like live. This time, there's a little bit less post-production on it.”
For the 41-minute duration of the disc, the band dabbles through the gamut of southern-influenced genres, mixing in a hard rock edge when they see fit, and tying the whole work together with their rowdy, yet impeccably executed, backing vocals and harmonies. Although they don't necessarily tread any wholly uncharted territory on this journey, the band does manage to demonstrate a mastery of each new approach as they gallop through the 12 tracks on the album.
“We don't want to be an inch wide and a mile deep,” Anderson says. “We like to touch a lot of different genres because we like a lot of different music. We enjoy playing a lot of different music. It all still has a common thread running through it. What I enjoy about this band is we get booked at country bars, we get booked at rock 'n' roll bars, and we get booked at blues bars. And we don't feel like we're out of place at any of them.”
As of late, you can add biker bars to that list of joints Quaker City Night Hawks feels right home at when playing these days. After a couple of their tunes appeared in episodes of Sons of Anarchy last fall, it seems the band has been embraced by the biker crowd as well.
“We played Tyler a few weeks ago at a place called Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Que, and all these bikers showed up,” Anderson says. “We played shows up there before, but this was an overwhelming amount of bikers. And they were all shouting for the song from Sons of Anarchy. That was funny, getting thrust into that biker culture. We'll play for everybody.”
Besides just the SOA nod of approval, it's pretty obvious what a road-worn crowd of bikers hear in a band like Quaker City Night Hawks that's so appealing. Take Honcho's closer, “Sweet Molly,” for instance, which is equal parts '60s-era blue-eyed soul a la the Detroit Wheels and a tune that wouldn't be hard to imagine playing on a jukebox during one of the many fight scenes from Roadhouse. The raw, group backing vocals give the impression that the song is being heard live in a nondescript bar off the interstate. All that's missing, really, are the sounds of a few beer bottles breaking in the background to complete the illusion.
Other standouts from the disc include “Rattlesnake Boogie,” a creeping, mid-tempo blues grinder that slithers along, looming and gaining ground ever steadily. Then there's the boot-stomping, fist-pumper “Lavanderia,” and a slower country-influenced tune called “Yellow Rose,” that's probably the most unique tune from the album.
A pair of cuts even more different than “Yellow Rose” actually didn't wind up on the album, Anderson says. Instead those heavy, psych-influenced tunes will be released separately in the near future as part of a seven-inch called Texas Heavy.
“This album kind of runs the gamut as far as what our genres go, from country to rock 'n' roll,” Anderson says. “But Texas Heavy's a little druggier sounding. It's got some psych-rock influence. It's definitely out there. It's weird. We like to get weird sometimes. Hopefully, people still dig weird. It definitely leans more towards [my other band, Epic Ruins], for sure. [Guitarist] Dave [Matsler has] always had a penchant for writing heavy music, too. He played guitar on the Epic Ruins track “Child and Cobra,” so he's got that mentality, too. It's fun to step out and do stuff like that and see how it sounds. It's definitely something we want to get more into.”
For now, though, Quaker City Night Hawks is content to stretch their legs a bit, and Anderson says there are plans to take their recently purchased “Steely Van” out on the road much more often in the coming months. That much makes sense: No matter how succinct QCNH gets as musicians, no matter how tight they become and no matter how perfect their next studio effort turns out, being on stage is where the band truly thrives.
“Today, no one is really paying bills with selling records,” Anderson says. “We make the records so people come to the shows. The show is the most face-to-face contact you get with anybody, music-wise. It's so much more personal than the Internet or CDs. Hopefully, they get one hell of a show.”
Stream Honcho below — or, better yet, catch Quaker City Night Hawks on Thursday, March 7, at Andy's Bar as part of 35 Denton.