Lights, The Mowgli's, and Phases at Mercury Ballroom Review
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Setting the Scene
A line filled with diehard fans extended beyond the doors of the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville, Kentucky more than an hour before the doors opened on November 15th. The conversations in line ranged from favorite songs to showing some of the homemade gifts for one of the groups. The excitement of the crowd was that of anxiously awaiting this concert for months.
Staff started coming out of the building 30 minutes prior to doors opening to go over the rules of the concert. In light of recent events in Paris the security measures were enhanced to assure safety of the concertgoers and staff. Everyone understood and the line entered the building after a brief pat down on the sidewalks. My assistant, Keith, and I endured the most searches since we had to carry bags of camera gear inside the venue. Typically we would wait inside the venue, but again, events like this can alter the norm in any industry to be more cautious.
Walking into the Mercury Ballroom was as if we were walking into a physical form of a mood. The regal vibes of the ballroom were quite captivating. From the magnificent mood set lights to the giant paintings of past performers along the walls. Including the floor space, balconies, and VIP seating on the seconds floor, it was obvious there was not a “bad seat” in the entire venue. I would be happy with any perspective offered.
It was time to set up my drum camera on stage. Just a wide-angle 11-16 f2.8 lens on a Nikon D7100 to camera a unique perspective from behind the drummer. However, The shots from the balcony behind the band trumped anything the drum camera could have possibly captured.
We moved upstairs to scout the venue for unique angles as we do at every venue we photograph at. When arriving at the pinnacle of the stairs you could feel the energy and excitement of the patrons standing below. It was obvious they had felt the mood change as well, as the small murmur of the sidewalk line had escalated into girls and guys all talking to each other about their favorite songs. One group even singing a short section of their best rendition of The Mowgli’s, “San Francisco”…”I’m in love with love and the idea of something binding us together…”
After finding our spots we moved back down towards the photo pit. We instantly noticed a few things that would add a level of difficulty in the shoot that we needed to work around. The stage was about 5 feet tall. The pit was about 2 feet wide…This means unless we stood up and potentially blocked the crowd we would be getting a majority of shots right up the artists noses. So we chose to move out to the sides quite a bit. We also noticed that there were 3 bands worth on equipment on the stage. This wasn’t the first time I have shot for this line-up, but this stage was not as large as the others. If it were a single band, the stage would be massive, but for three bands that each have several keys, percussion, and multiple guitars stations…it created a bit of a tight situation. Knowing the set list of each, we calculated where shots would be able to be captured without too much interference. As a photographer, my job is to capture the experience, not alter the reality.
We take our seats in the pit, lights fade to black….silence. Silhouettes can be seen entering the stage. Another few seconds of silence as they take their spots. The crowd went from a energetic to buzz to an anxiously excited calm. A synthesized keyboard starts playing as an energetic young lady enters front stage. Phases has taken the stage.
The crowd listens intently as the group is newer to a lot of them. As they play their music that could best be described as a high-energy synth pop, the crowd starts accepting them. Within the first song the crowd is hooked. Heads start bobbing and hands start going in the air. Only shooting for the first three songs, I like to look back and gauge the audience’s initial reaction. Opening for bands with diehard followers such as The Mowgli’s and LIGHTS, isn’t an easy task, but Phases hits a home run with the crowd. I typically look back to see people browsing their phones and talking to each other, but not this time; eyes were affixed to the performers on stage.
As the lead singer dances on the stage, she makes the most of what room she has. She dances, and moves along with the music with amazing rhythm. Knowing their music, I can attest that their live performance is spot on with their professionally recorded material. Their sound is uniquely satisfying in that is makes you want to smile. From the melodic and satisfying repetition of feel good phrases (I’m in love with my life) to the keyboardist beautifully whistling during a song and catching the whole audience off guard in a great way.
As the super group The Mowgli’s take stage there is one thing you will realize, front man Colin is super passionate about connecting with the audience. His whole band is focused on bringing the crowd together and enjoying music. This was obvious by me meeting and talking with complete strangers in the crowd who were just happy to be there. Not all concerts are this friendly and open…coming from a guy who has been kicked in the back of the head during a concert, this one was inviting. As the photographer we can often be perceived as the enemy by the fans, but not in this case. It is obvious that The Mowgli’s message about being yourself and nice to others actually connects with their following.
As they begin playing their music the crowd is instantly drawn in to their feel good sound. There are so many dynamics in their music that is just feels right. The veteran fans pump the hands in the air and the new fans quickly join in. The band constantly smiles and interacts with each other on stage and the bond between them is obvious. You can tell they love what they do. Prior to each song they give a short heads up of what they are playing. This is an excellent addition to the show and allows people to better understand what is coming and only costs the 10 seconds a song.
As they jam on stage, Colin consistently gets the crowd to help him finish lyrics as he holds the microphone over the pit and into the crowd. The energy in the bands quickly translates into energy in the crowd. I know this, because I am right between them both and can hear the crowd singing and moving almost as much as the band.
As they approach the end of their set, they decide to go out with a real crowd pleaser. They start playing the amazing hit, “San Francisco”. The energy is through the roof. Typically I look to see if the bands plays as well as their recording, the Mowgli’s don’t….they are better. The energy in their live performance adds a touch of vigor that is impossible to record. As the song finishes out, guitarists Josh and Spencer take middle stage in a battle for the end. A brotherly type of competition casts smiles on both of their faces and the crowd goes crazy as the lights strobe at a rapid pace. The performance is a 10/10.
The ambience grows dark and the crowd goes wild knowing LIGHTS is on her way out. LIGHTS enters the stage with her intro song. The light is low as she sings with amazing vocal range. Black sheer curtains on a square frame cover her bands as she sings in front of them. The message in her songs captures the heart of her fans. Overhearing some people in the audience, they had to drive over 3 hours to see this show. As she finished the first song the lights raise up to a more upbeat setting. She dances around stage with amazing energy, which is translating nicely to the audience. The crowds are up and people are dancing in the crowded group. She does not disappoint. Her vocals and band members are spot on.
As a she enters the second song, she pulls the sheer covers off of the bands positions and the square frames illuminate with brilliant alternating colors. The crowd maintains excitement throughout the next few songs. The point in which things take a turn is when LIGHTS reveals an acoustic guitar…just when I thought the crowd couldn’t get any louder, LIGHTS utters three words that is like a volume switch for the group…”Little Machines Acoustic”…. She goes on to sit with her bands and perform songs from her Little Machines Album. The performance is top notch and one for the books.
This event was an overall amazing line-up. From the mood set by the venue, the amazing sounds quality throughout, the entertaining light show, everything worked nicely. In the venue side, their employees could not have been more accommodating and friendly. Whether you are looking to enjoy a band specifically or just a night out with friends, this venue make you feel like a VIP. The bands delivered a performance that made the tickets seem underpriced. Live Nation knocks it out of the park once again on this one.
I will be shooting for The Mowgli's and LIGHTS once again on this tour in Chicago at the House of Blues on November 25th, 2015. Come join us if you are in the area. Again, a special thanks to Schiller's in St. Louis for accommodating some gear to try out during the concert. Go visit their Facebook page and give them a "Like".
Have a good one,