A few years ago a certain old rocker decided to go on tour and try something a little, well, different. He’s been around for well over forty years, has developed a cult-like following that has been in place since before Nixon was booted from the Oval Office, and has managed to sell a ton of records over the last half century. He came through Northeast Ohio three separate times on a tour that took him from Kent to Lorain and on to Northfield’s Rocksino. Replacing his set list with a DJ, two dancing girls in big afro wigs, Elton John-style sunglasses and go-go boots, the evening went a little bit different than anyone expected.
Fans were shocked; the EDM beats that replaced the classic tunes that much of the crowd had grown up with and had plunked down a few of their hard-earned drachmas to reminisce within the nostalgia and warmth of those compositions had been replaced in favor of a, god forbid, new sound and decidedly-different look.
What the hell?
Many folks walked out halfway through the show.
When a band tries something new…and radically different than what their base knows them for…it can go one of two ways. Look at Garth Brooks and his experiment with “Chris Gaines,” the alternative identity that Brooks created for an album in the early aughts went over like a lead balloon and caused Brooks to go into a self-imposed exile for the better part of a decade.
The Band Perry, a trio of siblings who first burst upon the Country/Pop scene a half dozen years ago, has built up a stable of loyal fans due to a bevy of singles that cracked both the Country charts and tapped into the pop sensibilities of that same crowd. “If I Die Young” was a chart-topping tune that spoke to a number of people. “Better Dig Two” and “Done” were catchy little ditties that mashed up a bit of twang with a shredding electric guitar.
After two albums and a crushing touring schedule over the last five years the trio has eschewed their Country roots and decided to take the band in a new direction. Their new album, My Bad Imagination, will stress a pop sound and a fresh sensibility, seemingly, far from their Mississippi roots. After changing labels last year lead vocalist Kimberly Perry, a blonde, dyed her hair raven black and now sports bangs a la Bettie Page. Her brothers, Reid and Neil, now wear jeans with the knees shredded out. Or black leather pants.
Will it prove to be a success?
Last night’s Hard Rock Rocksino show showed that the crowd, no matter what they played, approved of their set list. The show started with “Better Dig Two,” from their 2013 sophomore effort, Pioneer. Followed up by a raucous “Chainsaw,” also from that album. They played all of their hits through the truncated show, which ran a little over seventy minutes. The casino hosted a Kentucky Derby party, so perhaps the show, which started an hour later than the normal 8:00 Saturday start time, was cut short due to the lateness of the hour.
As opposed to playing a handful of their hits as full-length tunes, they did a mashup midway through the set. Two well-known songs from their second album, “Independent” and “Pioneer,” were sung medley-style and interspersed with Tom Petty’s “Free-Falling” and then closed out with their own “In It Together.”
Perhaps the best-received tune of the night was a long cover of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.” The crowd dug the band’s take on the song, and it got the audience up on their feet, hands clapping and bottoms, skinny, large, and otherwise were shaking from side to side.
They encored with “Done,” re-imagined as a pop anthem. The anthemic “Look At Me Now” was a perfect way to close out the show.
Have they successfully transformed themselves? In a world full of Country artists striving to be the next big thing their move was a bold one: How do you do something different enough to bring in new fans but not depart so radically from your core to not piss off those that religiously buy your albums/downloads?
Judging from fans’ reactions last night it seems that Chris Gaines has nothing to fear; he’ll hold that nadir of a top spot while The Band Perry continue to entertain their core.
Which will grow beyond their Country, and seemingly, blonde roots.