Review and photo by Max Parker Dahl
SALT LAKE CITY — The Avalon Theater is a quaint little venue on the east side of State Street in Murray. An unassuming gray building with an empty message board, it is nestled between a barber shop, a car lot and is a stone’s throw away from one of the Utah’s few strip clubs; it is easily lost in the flashing lights and neon signs. In short, the Avalon gets no respect.
Originally the Apollo Theater, it has been in operation nearly continuously since 1947 and has housed a sprawling spectrum of artistic endeavors. Plays, concerts, and movies were regularly shown as it served the community. Although it doesn’t look like much, the acoustics and plain matte decorum provide a mighty fine vehicle for expressing an artist’s intentions. It may not be as flashy as Salt Lake’s other venues, but its history and long list of national acts that have stopped in provide a deeper appreciation for the place.
The headliner Tuesday night is equally underrated and profoundly impressive. They play sold out venues in Europe and have an extensive and devoted cult following scattered across the nation.
Dredg, a quartet from the Bay Area, has been playing for decades and still get no respect (At least from mainstream radio play). They are on tour supporting their fifth album Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy with guests Balance and Composure, and The Dear Hunter.
In their first concert back since vocalist Gavin Hayes lost his voice, an appreciative crowd applauded the strength of Hayes’ range and power. He apologized for missing two shows in California, leaving him entirely unable to speak, “It happens every once in a while when your instrument is made out of flesh and blood.”
A mature crowd gathered to have an experiential evening, and left satisfied. “The entire experience was surreal,” said Chelsie Whitaker. “I didn’t know what to expect, and can’t even convey how I felt. It was incredible.”
In Somebody is Laughing, Hayes reminds us that “so many people forget to exist” but for one night, dredg reminds us what our existence is about. Good music and good memories with good people. They played an hour and a half discographical set, with favorites from all 5 albums greeted with cheers from the audience.
The show started with a twenty minute set by a Provo band, Quasi Stellar Radio. They possessed excellent musicianship and with eyes closed, the songs were moving. A great blend of instruments, wonderful mood, but the lyrics were transparent. It was like the lead singer canceled, and left the backups to cover—no memorable vocal signature at all. Unfortunately they fit the Provo stereotype; conservative haircuts, clothing, overall presence. They get no respect from this reviewer, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.
The Trophy Fire was an excellent trio blasting three-part-harmonic rock tunes. Singer/guitarist Ben Flanagan led the mainstream sound that was reminiscent of early 2000 radio hits. Where were they when we were stuck listening to Creed and Lifehouse? They were an engaging act to watch, and had quite a few memorable songs on their album Armor. Flanagan lent vocals and supporting guitar to dredg later in the evening.
Balance and Composure came out loud and strong, but gave a compelling ultimatum first. “We’re not playing until everyone is on their feet,” singer Jonathan Simmonds said. “This is a rock and roll concert, and we came all the way from Pennsylvania to play for you.”
They were the loudest set, with 3 guitarists battling for attention. Not one looked a day over 17 years old—plaid and striped t-shirts and hoodies. Simmonds voice and style was reminiscent of early Brand New; think screaming and sliding between octaves. Their new album Separation was released May 10th, and copies of both the disk and vinyl moved from the merch table quickly.
The Dear Hunter took the stage and had nothing but difficulties arise. After about 20 minutes of checking and finagling and rewiring and changing levels they pushed into the set. Throughout the performance, the stage monitor needed to be turned up for the guitars, but down for the keyboards; Not so much on stage-left, but a little more needed on the right. Singer Casey Crescenzo apologized for the delay and the confusion, and was visibly upset when transmitting the news that they only had two more songs. Fans were on the brink of rioting. Their newest work The Color Spectrum is to be released June 7, and Crescenzo confirmed a summer tour that will include a Salt Lake stop.
Dredg also took time to sound-check their instruments, and a surprising number left once The Dear Hunter exited. The benches and standing room soon filled again as dredg opened with “Another Tribe” off of Mr. Squeezy. Their new material was well received, and fans enjoyed the expected hits descending into a frenzied insanity when Hayes started sliding out “Bug Eyes”.
There were no surprises or frills in the show; Straightforward, honest music with minimal dialogue. Some fans were shocked that there was no encore, having only sampled a few tracks from each of their albums. The music was fluid and played in perfection. Unassuming and graceful, dredg performed their function as the Avalon Theater has for the past 64 years, reminding us to exist—to appreciate who and what we are, and how we fit into the community. They also played great music, which is all we could ask.