Show Review: HIGHLY SUSPECT at JUANITA’S [12.14.15]
The Final Countdown
I’m a sentimental fool. Let me just get that out of the way. I thought The Revolutioners/Highly Suspect show was going to be my last time at my beloved Juanita’s, but I wasn’t able to quit my second home that easily. I saw it out until the end. Last week was a very emotional one for me, so I had to experience everything in real time. Now that the stage has gone dark for the last time, I can look back on shows like this one, and I can remember the things that jumped out at me. Both bands were on fire, the room was packed (as shows backed by 100.3 The Edge tend to be), and the crowd was totally into everything happening onstage. This entire show was one that felt like “a moment” from start to finish.
I know I give Revolutioners’ vocalist Phil Houston twenty different kinds of hell, but he brought it home. Wearing a shirt blaring “RIP SCOTT”, an ode to his fallen idol, Scott Weiland (The Revolutioners were actually supposed to open for the Scott Weiland Juanita’s show that never was), Phil turned his intensity up to twenty and attacked the songs with a ferocity I can only describe as sincere. The full band was driven throughout the set, paying tribute to Scott Weiland with an aggressive cover of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Wicked Garden”. In what can only be described as a “live your dream” moment, Phil closed out the set by leaping into the (thankfully) packed house, surfing halfway back through the crowd, who passed him around the middle, then deposited him safely back onstage. The Revolutioners have graced the Juanita’s stage countless numbers of times, but they definitely went out with a roar. Great job, guys. I’ll see you around.
The crowd was definitely hyped for Highly Suspect. The show was sponsored by 100.3 The Edge, and as such, was heavily promoted. I hate that it took the venue’s imminent closure to get people to snap out of their apathy and turn out for a show, but it is what it is. Regardless, it made my heart happy to see such a full house.
By the time Highly Suspect took the stage, the energy in the room was almost visceral. The band fed off the love and gave it back, just as hard.* They’ve been on tour since March, and the Little Rock show was one of the remaining few before they headed home for their much-anticipated break. They’re also coming off the announcement that they’ve been nominated for two Grammy awards (Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song – “Lydia”), which vocalist Johnny Stevens could only describe as a Cinderella story. That just added even more intensity to an already emotional night.
* It should be noted that, along with all of the love-vibes from the band, they made crystal clear the one thing for which they held near-contempt — cellphones. At one point, they even encouraged concert goers to stare down and embarrass anyone they saw using one. They’d rather people experience the show in the moment, rather than secondhand, through their phone screen. It seemed to work. I know it worked on me; I took maybe half the number of photos (uh, not with my phone) than I typically average at a show. That’s fine, because Highly Suspect is a band not just to watch, but to experience. This trio is captivating live. No elaborate stage decoration other than a fat bottle of Patron, yet there was plenty to watch. Johnny Stevens is quite talented at guitar. Bassist Rich Meyer is no slacker, either. I haven’t seen a show with a bass solo in quite some time. I thought drummer Ryan Meyer‘s use of mallets on some songs made for some interesting dynamics, too. My ears were happy.
But my heart. My heart knew the show would inevitably come to a close. Remember what I said about being a sentimental fool? This show was a “moment” for me. I had another obligation the last time Highly Suspect came to town, so I’m glad I got to see them. I’m super happy for their success and wish them the best with the Grammys. After they finished the last song, Johnny knocked over the mic stand, telling Juanita’s to rest in peace.
Sarcastic Sydney with the pitch black, scathing sense of humor? I almost cried. It’s not just that Little Rock is losing a venue that is, as their sign proclaims, “World Famous”. It’s more than that. I can’t begin to count how many bands I’ve fallen in love with in the 16 years I’ve seen shows there. I’ve made some incredible friends at shows. One was there, and as the lights came up, we both looked at each other with an almost-wild expression.
I don’t know. Juanita’s was something special. I developed by style of music photography there, over the past 6 years. I’ve had a couple of people even tell me they picked up a camera after seeing me shoot so many shows (You wanna talk about heart explosions??). Even more than all of that, it’s the people. Juanita’s isn’t just a second home to me; it’s family. I’m going to miss this great bunch of people I’ve gotten to know over the years. I’m sure I’l see most of them again, but not all at once, and that makes me sad. I ended up going to two of the three remaining shows last week. I had to be there for the end.
The holidays are, after all, meant for showing family how much you care, right?
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