By: Zachary Kolesar
When is too early to show up to a show?
Never having basked in The Tree Bar’s cozy glory, I passed the entrance to the quaint, red brick building that plastered the bar’s name with a subtitle that was short, sweet and truthful: music bar.
Packed neatly away in the right corner of the bar just past the pool tables lies the entrance to a mystical room no more than 10 paces wide and long. Inside awaited an ambient mood, set by subtle baby blue and pink Christmas lights, green, blue and red stage lights, bountiful concert posters and self-placed stickers littering the walls and a wide-eyed octopus lining the right side of the platform.
But the true treat decorating the room was the giant tree stump fittingly sitting in front of center stage, doused in an azure blue light.
For what seemed like an hour, I was sitting in a room full of musicians planning out their sets. Clearly I was the oddball out. But hearing the witty banter and setlist strategy organically talked out between four groups set the tone for a special night. I was living in B.F. (Before Fans).
But that was just the environment.
More than 30 people ended up tightly packing into the magical dive venue on Friday night to release their energy to Nashville acts Oginalii and CHICO, glorious Cleveland indie-rockers Punch Drunk Tagalongs and locals Cousin Simple. With the Columbus crew not taking the stage until 12:50 a.m., they had an amassed amount of energy to follow up.
With Oginalii taking the stage at 10:20 p.m., the self-proclaimed sludge rock band came out garnering silver and gold glittered guitars. But these soon become weapons of musical war. With slower psychedelic parts aided by guitarist and vocalist Emma Hoeflinger, the sludge really came alive during the breakdowns.
Sit-in drummer Austin Seegers—never seen throughout the night without a gigantic smile on his face—guitarist Ryan Quarles and bassist Kürt Kraftt helped Hoeflinger ease the audience into tracks like “Static” and “Red,” one of the group’s earliest cuts. Amped up, controlled chaos would take over the last quarter of each track, and Hoeflinger brought the audience back down with some witty banter in between tracks.
Oginalii without a doubt set the mood for the night with its half-hour set, with the other Nashville act CHICO—also consisting of Seegers and Quarles and bassist Grayson Schweers—ready to rip apart Tree Bar just before 11:15. A band that has advertised that its “all about the monkey business,” CHICO’s heavy rock, jammy set lived up to that expectation.
Continuing with the intensity set incredibly high by Oginalii, breakdowns came at you with unrelenting power, yet smoothed out with a psychedelic vibe to sign out. Highlighting the set was “Perfect,” a song described by guitarist and vocalist Carson Mays as being the exact opposite. It greeted the crowd with dreamy chords, shortly transitioning to the dynamic rock-and-roll that defined CHICO’s 30-minute set.
Midnight approached, and it was now Ohio’s turn to show Tree Bar its stuff. First up were Cleveland indie rockers Punch Drunk Tagalongs. It is extremely hard to pigeonhole Punch Drunk Tagalongs into a genre, as they took Tree Bar through a multitude of moods. Blissful rock turned into raucous jams, as singer and guitarist Alisha Stahnke switched between a distorted microphone, really adding a nostalgic vibe to the group.
“Hazy,” the name of the band’s album due out in April, was one of the more captivating songs on the setlist. Albeit at a slower tempo than its fellow performances that night, Punch Drunk Tagalongs still brought the noise while spanning multiple uses of guitar and vocal effects.
After 45 more minutes of wild, wide-ranging rock, it was now Columbus’ time to turn up.
And Cousin Simple sure did.
With around 30 in attendance throughout the night, most stuck around for the 12:50 appearance of singer Will Hoag, guitarist Ryan Ulibarri, bassist Mitch Whittaker, guitarist and keyboardist Luke Hamrock and drummer Henry Morris. Five people and even more instruments and microphones would cramp any Tree Bar performance, but the incredible, unmatched, youthful energy of Hoag set no limits on the compact stage.
Donning John Lennon-esque shades, Hoag had the rest of the band and audience in good spirits. All under 21 and playing past 1 a.m., Cousin Simple’s set was convincing that it deserves a bigger stage to be showcased to the city.
Winners of Groove U’s 2017 Instaband competition, the alternative rock crew is already making a lot of local noise. Literally.
Once Hoag announced, “Let’s get the party started right here,” the crowd was hooked when Cousin Simple instantly broke into The Strokes’ “Last Nite.” Of course this led to Hoag jumping atop the sacred tree stump.
The cover proved that the group is more than garage rock stars; they need the limelight. “Smooth Ride” and “Detroit”—songs off of the band’s 2017 album And We Would Never End—were fun performances for the audience to observe, as Hoag lost his shirt in between the songs, microphones became unplugged and stands fell over.
Sweat was flying around the stage, as Cousin Simple never let up during its nearly hour-long set. Ending with “Strangers”—a song beginning with a mysterious key melody—the refined rock of Cage The Elephant came to mind; pleasantly perfected, yet still capturing the nature of bands that develop in garages.
Just before 2 a.m., a show in an elegantly low-key side room showcasing vast genres of bands with a similar roaring mantra let out. Four bands crunched sets into a four-hour period in a room that began full of organic performance talk but evolved into a gravitating collection of music junkies itching for raw rock-and-roll.
They definitely got it.