A show I'd pay to see: Burning Mansions and Niche on the same bill together. Well, one of these days.
The Effingham-based Burning Mansions, as I've described here before, is a smoking-hot rock 'n' roll trio centered around the singing and riffing of Jonathan Murphy, an electric guitarist who has some sort of genetic cerebral link to the great axe-men like Hendrix, Kossoff and Trower.
Niche, born and raised in the heart of Savannah, has evolved tremendously from its 2009 beginnings as a Southern-rock boogie machine. With this week's release of the second album, The Other Side of the End, Niche is now — in this writer's opinion — The Best Rock 'n' Roll Band in Savannah.
Qualified, of course. There are many different strains of what you and I consider rock. Niche is not punky, like Cusses. Not overtly bluesy, like the Eric Culberson Band or the Hitman. Not atmospheric, electronic or experimental. Not metal or R&B or string-band acoustic.
Niche is raw and riff-based, with swirls of psychedelia, swamp blues and even prog. Like Burning Mansions, there's a definite and very welcome '70s feel. Justin Dick (guitar), Michael Redmond (bass), Corey Barhorst (organ and keyboards) and Lee Vallier (drums) don't fight each other but work together as a cohesive melodic unit.
And — this is important — the songwriting on The Other Side of the End is uniformly strong. Bad songs can ruin an otherwise great band.
Niche celebrates the release with a show Friday, Oct. 4 at the Jinx. Sauna Heat and Omingnome will open.
Justin and Redmond, fixture for years on the Savannah music scene (Whiskey Dick, Two Days of Freedom, The Bricks), recruited Barhorst as the already-in-place first album (So Be It) was being recorded.
Vallier (from the naturally heavy band Bear Fight!) came along as the new album was being written.
Barhorst, who also plays (along with Vallier) in Tonto, says Niche's move from tough twangbot to sizzling riff machine was "a natural evolution, with the four of us. Heavy '70s rock is definitely a favorite of mine. I think bringing in that organ-driven sound helped Justin's songwriting to go that way. I think he wanted to go that way. And also, Lee is a more aggressive drummer than what the other drummer was."
With songs like "Chasing After Daylight" and "Dogs of the Plague," The Other Side of the End adds thrilling time-signature changes and phase-shifting instrumental turns to what are, at their core, catchy (and cool) rock 'n' roll tunes.
"I think it would be pretty lame to pigeonhole ourselves with a certain 'sound,'" Barhorst laughs. "Rock 'n' roll is definitely a good term to use, but it's also kind of a misleading term. Because there's so many styles that could be associated with that."
He admits that the Southern-rock vein still runs through their lives shows, on occasion ("I mean, well, we're four guys from Georgia").
Now that the record's out, Niche will be hitting the road — hard — in support.
In Savannah, Niche and the Jinx are almost synonymous. Whenever they play, they seem to play there.
Bassist Redmond is the club's soundguy. "But that's not really the reason why," Barhorst explains.
"Since that place has opened, it's been a mainstay for all of us, from Justin and Mike's old band to the old bands that I played with. It was always our second home. And it's pretty much the only place most of us usually go and hang out, anyway. It's like your living room, you know? And that's where you go."
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