So long guys! The Mom Blog gig has been great, but I’m outta here. Gonna become a rock journalist.
OK, maybe not, but I did get to experience a minor Cameron Crowe moment when I was invited to a meet and greet with Whole Damn Mess before the Candlebox show at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. I’m going to be honest and let you know I had to Google Candlebox. There’s just a blur of the early ’90s for me that involves raves, pigtails, giant pants and the thumping beat of “boots n hats and boots n hats.” And speaking of “the whole damn mess,” that’s a pretty accurate description of what I had to let happen just to get ready for the night. I let the toddler get into the stack of board games he’s been forbidden to touch, and it kept him pretty entertained while I put on make-up and did my hair.
Whole Damn Mess only recently released their albumThe Queen and the Outcast, so the media person who contacted me helpfully sent some links to their music. I took a moment to actually listen to several songs before accepting the invite, because I value my journalistic integrity and knew I couldn’t just pretend to like it if I thought it was terrible.
And, I liked it! Like, right away. The sound was familiar, but the songs were new. It was kind of like when you meet someone new and already feel like old friends. After getting to meet and chat with front man Don Miggs and band members/co-writers C. Todd Nielsen and Lawrence Katz, it became pretty clear that they had managed to create exactly the sound they were going for. According to Miggs, their goal was to “make music that’s easy to listen to, but not easy listening.” All the band members cited several favorite bands as inspiration, plucking from different decades, and explained how they wanted to create a sound that brings it all together, the classic and the new. That theme also carried over to their album cover art, featuring a juxtaposition between classical and modern art.
My friend Jenna and I arrived nice and early so I got to chat with the band for a good 45 minutes before the show, as different band members wandered in and out of the dressing room, bringing pizza and beer and using an impressive amount of hairspray as they prepped. Nielsen and Katz looked straight outta Riverside (Jacksonville peeps will get it) while Miggs’ look was a little more on the L.A. side.
I was wearing my favorite KISS t-shirt, which is always something of a conversation starter. I’ve been a KISS fan since I was little and my mom went to their concert. To four-year-old me, with their white make-up and costumes, I thought they looked like fun singing clowns. (and I mean that in the best possible way) Unfortunately I lost all KISS cred when a member of the other opening band, State to State, asked me my favorite KISS album and I totally blanked. The answer is of course, Destroyer, but all I could do was picture the album cover and answering “the one where they look like they’re all dancing together” seemed like a bad choice. So I all I managed to do was mumble and turn red. Dammit! I wasn’t prepared to be the interviewee.
There was a good amount of back and forth during the interview though, as I found Miggs to be a totally likable, relatable guy. During my pre-show research, I noticed a trend of WDM album reviews popping up on a lot of “mom blogs” and asked about the correlation and their target audience. Yep, that’s us! Once you dig into the lyrics you’ll find many songs inspired by Miggs’ wife and children, even one called “Be Good to Yourself” that came from his wife’s struggle with post-partum depression. With two young sons, Miggs is no stranger to the world of parental struggles and even co-wrote a book calledDads Know Best, filled with quotes on fatherhood from both famous and everyday dads.
As it moved closer to show time, the guys swigged a little tequila out of a flask, as they got ready to perform their very first show together. While everyone had an accomplished musical background, this would be the first time in a long time any of them were going to be part of the “opening, opening band” or the first in a set of three. The fact that they were going on so early, with a recently released album, set the tone for the performance and you could really feel that they were just going out there to have fun. This wasn’t just checking off the box and going to work. It was the culmination of their hard work and they were going to get to share it and introduce it to a whole new group of people.
Jenna and I got a spot near the stage, in a good vantage point to see both the show and crowd watch. The room was about half full when they started, and completely packed by the time they finished. I noticed there were some ladies up front singing every word and when I asked about them later, Miggs mentioned he had some fans from his previous band, aptly named MIGGS, that came out to see the new band perform. And those weren’t the only people I noticed getting into it. There was a lot of foot tapping and head bobbing throughout the crowd as they worked their way through a short 30 minute set from their new album.
It seemed to take only a couple minutes for the band to warm up and find their groove and just have fun up there. Miggs made it look easy, deftly handling some initial technical difficulties while not missing a beat. I was doing a bit of bouncing myself and even sang along a bit to the extremely catchy “We Don’t Need a Reason.” I can say that I truly enjoyed the show. We actually headed home only a few songs into Candlebox’s set because it was getting close to 10:30 and we are after all, stereotypically tired moms that have to get up early even if we go out and live out our rock journalist dreams for the evening. Also, wow, there’s a lot of screaming in those Candlebox songs. My ears could only take so much. How’s that for sounding old?
And that’s where Whole Damn Mess comes in. I could have listened to them a lot longer, and that’s what they want. They don’t need to scream their message at you. They just want to make music you can enjoy listening to and maybe even put on when the kids let you listen to something other than Elmo’s Greatest Hits. Even my toddler decided to sing along when I was sampling songs, instead of yelling at me to turn it off like usual. I think that’s a good sign right there. The hard to earn, rarely given on things not made of chocolate, toddler stamp of approval.