The Tea Club/Bent Knee/Thank You Scientist @ The Masquerade in Atlanta – 12/3/19
Review by Tamara Comstock
I imagine many of my concert stories are going to happen at The Masquerade, so I feel it’s only fair to explain what makes this venue so special to Atlanta as well as one of my favorite places for a concert.
For thirty years, The Masquerade has been the premier live music venue for a diverse array of less mainstream genres and bands. With 3 separate stages you can always find a show, and the intimate venue allows you to really feel like you are connecting with your favorite artists. The beloved “old” Masquerade spent 27 years in the historic Dupree’s Excelsior Mill in the Old Fourth Ward, and having been to several events there in the past, I cannot argue that it was probably time for it to go (or the theory that it was haunted).
But I also can’t say I was excited about its move to Underground Atlanta – despite the benefit of it being a 14 minute walk from work.
Underground Atlanta was built in the 1860’s and has history dating back to the prohibition era. It peaked in the early 1970’s, and has had years (or even decades) long spans of complete abandonment. Rumors have been swirling since 2014 about a mixed-use development revitalization effort of the area. So when the original Masquerade was forced out of the Old Fourth Ward, Underground Atlanta’s goal of becoming once again a mainstay in the city’s nightlife scene seemed within reach as the venue relocated to Kenny’s Alley – the lowest level and designated entertainment area—in 2016. Unfortunately, The Masquerade is pretty much the ONLY thing happening in Underground Atlanta, and that pocket of downtown is still a bit rundown and shady. Looking back, especially as a lone female concertgoer, that 14 minute walk wasn’t much of a benefit.
After dashing from work to The Masquerade, fending off unwanted advances from peddlers as well as one persistent man who assured me for a block and a half that he was a really nice guy and just wanted to know my name, I finally arrived at the arched entrance to Kenny’s Alley. (Pro tip – ignore whatever your GPS tells you and use the address 92 Pryor St SW, otherwise you will end up vaguely wandering the area which is not recommended). After waiting about 40 minutes past doors, we were finally let in from the cold, and I was able to secure a spot front and center in the venue’s smallest and most intimate stage, Purgatory.
First up was The Tea Club. I have really been enjoying their latest album If/When and got chills when they started playing the title track. They next announced that they were only going to play one more song, which I first thought was a joke to get the early crowd going but turned out to be their segue into playing “Creature”: a nearly 30 minute musical journey which, while enjoyable to listen to pre-recorded, was a beautiful adventure live. Watching Dan McGowan switch between guitars for the changing music was fascinating, and it looked like Joe Dorsey on keyboards and Dan Monda on drums were really caught up in the music and were a joy to watch. I was able to snag an abandoned pick for my collection from bassist Jamie Wolff before they went off stage, which made up for my disappointment at not getting to hear “Rivermen.” I can only hope the next time they come to Atlanta I get to experience more than 2 songs!
Bent Knee was the perfect transition band, providing a high energy, eclectic shift from the emotional and dramatic prog rock music of The Tea Club. I was almost right in front of lead singer Courtney Swain’s keyboard and had a great view Ben Levin’s on-stage antics which were not limited to wild dance moves. The man has a sense of humor and an affinity for great catering (especially homemade hot sauce). My favorite line was “I know this room is called Purgatory, but with all of you in it, it really feels like heaven,” after which the audience simultaneously “awwwed” and then laughed. Their ability to balance chaotic intensity and the hauntingly serene is inspiring to watch. The whole band looked like they were having the best night of their lives on stage, and I was just fortunate to be along for the ride. At the end of their set, bassist Jessica Kion handed me her setlist, which was an unexpected surprise! I thanked her personally after the show, and she said she saw me singing along and knew I was “the one.”
Before Thank You Scientist even hit the stage, I knew it was going to be fun. Drummer Joe Faden spent the end of Bent Knee’s set dancing and air drumming off to the side of the stage, and you could tell he was ready to get up there and rock! As the band worked through their line check, I noticed with a laugh that 4 out of the 7 members had on shirts from Buc-ees, a Texas convenience store with a beaver mascot which I was introduced to while visiting my friend in San Antonio. The band made a couple of jokes about their new “corporate overlord” during the show, and it made the whole night more memorable because it made me think of my friend and how I “had to experience Buc-ees” while in town.
Thank You Scientist was a wild ride of jazz-metal-orchestral-fusion insanity and an experience all live music lovers need to have at least once. Since I only discovered them recently, I never really figured them out before the show, and to be honest, I don’t think it is possible to; just when you think you’ve got it all sorted, saxophonist Sam Greenfield picks up an electric clarinet! Their set was dizzying and overwhelming from so close, and I enjoyed every minute. In another stroke of extreme luck, Joe handed me a setlist (two in one night!?) and then presided over a quick tournament of Rock Paper Scissors to hand over the last one. Because how else could you expect that rollercoaster ride to end?
After the nearly four hour show, I made my way to the merch tables and got to chat with the guys of The Tea Club. Vocalist Dan McGowan is not just a musician but also an artist! I had to pick up a tee featuring his two faces illustration. They were all so friendly, and I could tell they were taking the time to really get to know me and even making a point to remember my name, despite it being 11:30 at night. I was already a fan of their music, but now I am also a big fan of the people in the band too, and I’m looking forward to the next time they roll through Atlanta.
I left that show with the warm glow of a concert high which I tucked around myself for protection as I prepared to return to the surface of downtown Atlanta. Upon exiting Kenny’s Alley, I was approached by a man who yelled at me from the archway to let him help me find my ride. I turned around and hightailed it back down the two flights of stairs where I waited outside The Masquerade and called my Lyft driver Darren, who was not only awesome and stayed on the phone with me while I found an alternate way to the surface, but also loves rock music. We spent the 30 minute drive home talking about our concert memories and dream acts. The night came full circle when a Tom Petty song came on the radio, and I recounted my very first concert (as well as my first trip to Atlanta) seeing Tom Petty at 16 and how it inspired a lifetime obsession with live music. I could not have planned a more perfect ride home, and Darren deserves all the accolades! If he somehow sees this I just have to say again: Thank you so much for helping me feel safe and the great music conversation, and I hope you realize your dream to see Metallica play live!
Head over to our Facebook album to see more photos from the show!