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Monday, November 14, 2011

Meet the new Balkans

New kids on the block:  Frankie, Henry, Danny and Woody
  • Chad Radford
  • New kids on the block: Frankie, Henry, Danny and Woody
After months of speculation, a series of west coast shows thwarted by illness, and ultimately winning over hearts and minds at CMJ, all while remaining conspicuously absent from Atlanta, Balkans took the stage at The Earl Sunday night (Nov. 13) with a couple of new faces in-tow. Guitarist Brett Miller and drummer Stanley Vergilis are no longer in the band as they’ve out opted presumably to focus on school — Miller was accepted into Emory University this year and Vergilis is enrolled at Georgia Tech. In their place, former White Light Forest Choir/Soft Powers drummer Danny Bailey and guitarist Henry Kaiser, a Nashville transplant have taken their place alongside bassist Woody Shortridge and singer/guitarist Frankie Broyles.

When the band appeared on stage the air in the room was thick with reservation. Some people were surprised by the new crew, some expressed doubts. But with the new members in place, already with a minimal amount of touring together behind them, chemistry is brewing. They’re obviously still getting used to each other, and still in a nascent stage of development. But last night’s set showed off a raw, noisier side of Balkans than anything the old regime would have allowed. The group reveled in psychedelia punctuated by epic breakdowns steeped in tension, resonance and texture, while the stylized pop jitters that once drove Balkans' sound took on an abrasive hue.

Joey Ramone, back from the grave to sing with the new Balkans
  • Chad Radford
  • Joey Ramone, back from the grave to sing with Balkans
Throughout the set, old standbys “I Can’t Compete” and “Georganne” brought with them an air of familiarity from the beginning, reminding everyone that it’s been a minute since these guys played a show around town. Both songs were staggered around newer numbers, “Slow Return” and an untitled song, which were the real signposts showing off where the group is heading. Balkans have adopted a freer, more confident stride, and by slowing down “Flowers Everywhere” and “Troubled and Done” just a touch the group has generated new energy.

Kaiser brings precision to the guitar parts — he’s Shortridge’s cousin so he’s already got at least a little bit of DNA working in his favor here. He didn't draw too much attention to himself and didn't even really make eye contact with the audience while focusing on his his parts.

Bailey had a slightly more awkward presence on stage. He’s an integral part of the group’s new direction, and definitely a focal point of the show. Last night he nailed the songs while adding his own element of raw naïvety to it all. His drumming has more in common with the Stooges’ primal urges than the Strokes’ urbane pop restraints, the latter of which has been a comparison that the group just couldn’t shake, at least not until now.

Balkans are set to begin recording their second full-length this fall/winter, and although last night's show offered just a glimpse at how much things have changed for the group, and although no one will say how permanent this lineup will be, there's a lot of potential here.

Epilogue: Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox donned his Joey Ramone costume and joined the band on stage to close the show with a couple of Ramones covers — “I Wanna Be Well” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (the latter was a dedication to Shortridge’s GF who was there celebrating her birthday). He’s pretty good with the whole Joey Ramone thing; he’s got the stance, the sunglassed leer, the snarling hiccups, crooning and all.

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