Every day, we’re all subjected to a million messages. Emails and the internet. YouTube. Advertising. TV. Radio, Pandora and Spotify. Sometimes, it all swirls together so loudly that we fail to hear anything. We miss the details.
On Saturday night, a band of five artists and musicians reminded me that shouldn’t be the way things are.
If you’re a veteran concert goer like me, you become a bit adjusted to the “pattern” of performances. Doors. 30 minutes of house music. Opening act plays a 45-minute set. 30 minutes of house music. An hour and a half set by the headliner. Applause. Buy merch at the back of the room. Repeat in six months in the same market. Of course, there are exceptions – my beloved Bruce and his 3.5 – 4 hour marathon sets, fesitvals, etc. But by and large, going to a show can be pretty routine.
So what happens when a group of creative visionaries upends that long-established routine? When they demand that the performance should elevate the music to a higher level? When a live show should be an experience for the fan from the moment you step foot onto the venue grounds, down to the smallest details?
Expectations are shattered. And perhaps, the paradigm begins to shift.
Enter the Quiet Hounds, a five-piece indie rock band from Atlanta that has remained a relative enigma to those that have heard about them. Coming together from previously established acts on the Atlanta scene, the group recorded an impressive EP and released it for free in the summer of 2011. Wanting the music to speak for itself, they chose to identify the members of the band only by an initial. Instead of saturating the Atlanta scene with shows, they have instead played only four shows in their 18-months of existence. They followed up the 2011 release with another stellar EP in 2012. More recently, the Hounds released their single, “Beacon Sun,” a tribute to the 13,000 soldiers that died in prison camps at Andersonville, Georgia during the Civil War.
And that’s where this Saturday night in November gets its start.
Booked at The Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta, an artists’ collective space, the Quiet Hounds entitled their concert bill, “An Ode to Lost Souls,” continuing their quest to shine a light on the victims of Andersonville. The venue is a collection of old, industrial buildings, hollowed out and used as studio and performance spaces. Arriving at the venue, it was impossible to forget the reason for the night…from the very moment we stepped out of our car. Signage with the Quiet Hounds logo pointed the way. The logo also found its way onto a spotlighted water tower via projection. And after a short walk up a winding driveway flanked by fall trees, we were greeted two flaming guard hounds masks, carefully metal worked and ablaze, a precursor to the evening that would set fire to my idea of a concert forever.
Turning in my ticket, I was given a carefully scripted program, laying out the “cast” for the evening and the setlist, divided into three “acts.” A few more steps inside the Goat Farm’s gates led to the evening’s theme projected onto a series of glass windows.
A few steps further down the path, we were faced with a choose your own adventure option (and by this point, I was committed to exploring every option, because I didn’t want to miss anything). To the left, a smaller building with a metal-worked Hounds sign leaning outside of it and times listed for the screening of the “Beacon Sun” video. To the right, the performance hall, also adorned with a Hounds sign, and the entrance draped with a dramatic red curtain.
We took option one first, and stepped into a sparsely decorated room. On the right, a display of photographs of the members of the band taken while shooting the video. Scattered throughout the room, overstuffed couches and chairs for watching the video. There were still a few minutes before the screening, so we decided to check out the performance hall.
Parting the curtain, you walked down into a cavernous room, buzzing with anticipatory excitement. On the right, a bar, a local food truck and coffee shop were set up for pre-show eats and beverages. On the left, a small merch table with carefully selected and crafted goods – two t-shirts (guy or girl), a dual-disc CD with both of the Quiet Hounds EPs, the CD of Meghan Arias (more to come on this), and a hand-pressed, limited run poster commemorating the evening. Further into the room, you found a photo station with a Hounds-logo backdrop so you could document your presence at this one-of-a-kind show.
We headed back to the video hall to see “Beacon Sun.” Having already watched the video online, I knew what to expect. But having the director, Scott Lansing, introduce the video and talk about the vision around it was a lovely touch. Filmed on site in Andersonville, the clip is powerful and dramatic, and seeing it on the “big screen” helped to further set the stage for what was to come in the evening.
We returned to the performance hall, and milled amongst the growing crowd. As the time neared 9:30, a group of string musicians took the stage quietly, sitting in a small circle towards the back of the stage. The sounds of the string section filled the air, playing soft and hauntingly. After a short time, Meghan Arias, the “opener” for the evening, stepped on stage – wearing a Hounds mask, seating herself at a keyboard. She was accompanied by a small horn section, who remained on stage for the evening. These fellows, too, were bedecked in their Hounds masks. Meghan began to play parts of the music for “Beacon Sun,” and then started singing – as if to the lost souls, and then, seemed to call to her “brother Hounds.” [In the program, this was listed as “Daughter’s Prayer.”] The sound of a swelling chorus began to stream from the back of the room. We spun around to see the band walking in, dressed in their masked regalia and forming a tight group.
They continued to sing, marching forward towards the front of the room, where a Civil War soldier had mounted a small-ish stage area to the left. Spotlighted by a soft amber light, the soldier mimed and turned, an obvious representation of the “lost soul.” As the Quiet Hounds approached him, they stopped in deference, singing to him for a brief few minutes, with Meghan joining in to make a beautiful dirge. Then, they continued their processional to the main stage, where they doffed their masks and launched into the music.
And oh, the music. Taking off with a staccato percussion intro into “Pocket Change,” the show began. And with every passing moment, the layering and depth of these songs came alive. Multi-instramentalists, the night saw them seamlessly trading out their instruments as necessary. Lighting seemed to be carefully selected for each song, and as they moved to more fast-paced songs, white lighting popped, giving glimpses of the wild-haired, smiling players who were obviously in their element. Their gratitude for the crowd, at my best guess numbering between 400 – 500 very unlost souls, was palpable, and they played their hearts out for us. For a little over an hour, I think I must have stopped breathing as the music flowed from their instruments and voices to my ears. I was completely wrapped up in the music, the artistry, and the beauty of it all. From Hound E conducting the crowd with a percussion mallet while he sang to indulging the crowd in sing-along choruses as they went, every moment was spontaneous, although the band stuck to the program as they had it listed. And even a slight instrumentation issue at the beginning of “Calling All Gamma Rays” seemed to give band members a chance to step up and fill the hole. The high points of the evening for me included a new version of an “old” song called “Danger Love,” “Too Young, Too Wise,” “Worn Crush Corduroy,” “I Get Up” and the closing number, “Hemlock.”
And then, it was done. No encore, no overly-dramatic ending, just a classy “Thank you for being part of this night” and an exit from the stage. As the crowd dispersed, band members drifted amongst us, talking about the night, thanking us for our support… There was such a large part of me that didn’t want the evening to end, that we hung on, taking our time walking out.
Since I started keeping count in 2004, I have attended over 500 concerts/shows. I have loved many of them, and almost every one of the most memorable moments of my life has been the result of a live performance. But this Quiet Hounds show has no parallel. It was simply the best concert I have ever attended in my life. No combination of words I could write could capture the emotions this show stirred in me. The care that they took in the details of the night, the sheer power of the music – everything seemed to serve as a reminder that everyone one of us is part of something much larger. And their constant focus on the theme seemed to charge all of us with the responsibility to ensure that the future doesn’t forget the past. Five days have passed, and I have thought about this performance every day, replaying parts of it in my head and on my computer.
To the gentlemen of Quiet Hounds, I say thank you. Thank you for inviting me to listen to your music and take part in this truly incredible evening. In every true music fan’s world, there are moments that change how they absorb music. The landscape of my musical world is now permanently altered in a profound way because of your show. I will expect more from my music, from the live performances I see. You have set the bar. Thank you.