Watching my friends make music: Purple Church at Guestroom’s Record Store Day

One of Lacey's most recent Purple Church ShotsI will always, always, always get a thrill out of seeing friends perform on stage. Just like you, I’ve seen some stuff that deeply satisfies, stuff that anyone inherently knows is a rare treasure – a Yo La Tengo acoustic set with about 150 other people, the Unrest reunion last summer, Eef Barzelay solo or any of several incarnations of Xiu Xiu, etc etc ad nauseum. But when people ask me what my favorite shows of all time have been, I can’t help it: I turn first to my favorite shows performed by people I know. There’s a specific magic that happens when you see people already relatively close to you reveal a side of themselves they cannot naturally incorporate into day-to-day interactions. When what they reveal actually gets at the heart of what you enjoy listening to, it’s even more than a thrill – it’s downright supernatural.

I saw Purple Church at their first live performance a while back, and I certainly dug what they were doing. None of our friends were using vocals like Robby Harris – that ghostly, well-enunciated echo meshed surprisingly well with the hard-driven, ballsy foundation. Austin and Aaron Tackett were visibly thrilled to be performing again; it was apparent they had broken free of something, either internal or external. Lucas Dunn was well-prepared as a drummer, ready to wow us with what he’d learned in the space between bands. Together, these guys had come up with something pretty rad, and were ready for some deserved attention.

At that show, the enthusiasm ran high; yes, yes, they were doing it, they’d begun. The momentum grew, and local press turned their heads. Purple Church has been featured on ye olde Spy during the Oklahoma Rock show, in the Gazette, and, of course, on our own site. They quickly established themselves as a frequent local act. I kept my ear to the ground, but didn’t get out much to see them. This past Tuesday at the Anal Cunt show (another story in and of itself – would that Seth Putnam had been amenable to doing an interview!), Lucas Dunn mentioned they’d be playing again at Record Store Day.

“How much is it? I just shot my wad payin’ for this show…” I asked, wincing.

Without missing a beat, he put my po’-girl guilt to rest: “Free! Yeah! And there’s free beer!”

“Whaat? Well, um, shit, I’m in, man.”

When Saturday rolled around, I didn’t know it, but I’d be taking the full day off. The poor folks at Guestroom OKC were stuck with a power outage early in the day, and generously re-booked all their acts down at the Norman location. We took a few hours dallying around Guestroom OKC and Size, spent a few bucks, and collectively migrated south for the in-store Purple Church show. It was a good way to spend a Saturday.

Around 6 in the evening, free beer and free food in hand, I planted myself a few feet away from the band. After these several months having only a vague idea of what they’d been up to, I was dang curious. While they futzed around with mikes and sound levels, I tried to help Erica Salinas procure a hair tie for Robby Harris, to no avail – turned out his hair looked just right long and shaggy, actually. Mr. Harris’ most recent take on vocals took me back somewhere into mid-90s grunge; his lyrics were still powerfully enunciated, but with a more raw, vital quality than the psychedelic/monolithic tone I’d first heard from him. This is not to say Robby sounded like Kurt or anything; his voice was remarkably modern for something that could hark back a couple decades. His guitar work alone signaled a divorce from singular emulation, and the combination of band elements only furthered the complexity of their identifiable sound.

Austin Tackett blazed on bass – there’s a joke that circles this crowd about “fart bass,” possibly a term first employed by Austin himself. Think: something between the Sienfeld theme song and Korn. I expected to hear echoes of that half-disgusting-half-hilarious twaung when Austin introduced their song ‘Sick Dick, Bra,’ but he had moved right on from that genre, taking only the best elements for his own use. His screaming voice was powerful and awesome; it’s developed into tonal passion, transcending youthful multi-directional aggression and becoming a focused beam of disarray.

Lucas Dunn was outstanding on drums – the drive behind the layered melodies was pronounced and skillfully employed. He was quicker and more precise than I’d ever heard him before, and I was already impressed by his performance at that first Purple Church show. All of these boys envelop themselves in their work when they’re onstage, Lucas most of all: his concentration nearly separates himself from all but his bandmates. He’s mentioned setting up a hanging-cymbal drumkit, and I hope he goes for it when they get the dough.

The magic that brings the sound together, though, comes from Aaron Tackett – this feller’s been studying the art of electronic sound/noise manipulation for a long time, and it shows. I would bet money that the pedal kit at his feet was entirely handmade by him, or that at least 90% of it was his creation. Working at Keeley Electronics, Aaron’s been making pedals for a living; this appears to be his main outlet for all the experimentation. Watching him slide on that wee, bright guitar, hopping around back and forth between speaker feedback and pedal kit, it was easy to see this was his idea of a damn good time.

The members of Purple Church are people who put on a good, solid show. They don’t have that excess braggadocio, or on the other end of the spectrum, any shade of mousiness. They simply get down, and they do it very well. I was struck by how all traces of “Here we are! You like us, no?!” I remembered from their first show had been swept aside for a genuine appreciation of their own music. They’re not concerned anymore with what you think of them; they’re in it because this is what they love. Its satisfying to love something you’re good at, and its much easier to do that when it’s not just for the crowd. At one point, Robby, Austin, and Aaron all turned their back on the audience and locked in on Lucas at drums, bowing and rocking back and forth to each other. It was a beautiful insular moment; we were just lucky to be witness to it. Purple Church’s sound is becoming a well-developed treasure, and I forsee it being highly worthy of that favorite-show-ever tag we all so lovingly bestow.

Purple Church
Purple Church at the back of Guestroom Records in Norman, Oklahoma – Photo courtesy of the lovely Kristina Tackett

Purple Church
Purple Church gettin’ the f*ck down on some sick licks – Photo courtesy of the generous Kristina Tackett

Purple Church
Hallelujah, its Raining Blood – Photo courtesy of the amazing Kristina Tackett

With Norman Music Festival just around the corner, urges you to take to the streets to see your favorite local bands, especially The Purple Church. The next show they’ll be playing is on Thursday April 28th at Bill and Dee’s in Norman for NMF. May 5th, they’ll be at the Blue Note playing with Los Hijos Del Diablo, and on June 16th they’ll open for The Young Widows at the Conservatory.

The Purple Church – ‘Snake Eater’

(c) Liz Drew All rights reserved. Email Purple Church for any questions (For example: What was that guitar you play? How can we book you?) or email Liz to send feedback on this article or anything else your heart desires.

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