'Freaks' are all right: Hot Chelle Rae in Nashville

Guest Blogger: Todd Dills
Best guess: Could be one of several reasons you’re at a Hot Chelle Rae show. You’re somewhere between the ages of 10 and 25 and you saw the Nashville group on their U.S. tour last year as the opening act for Taylor Swift. Maybe you’ve picked up last year’s unfortunately titled Whatever record (RCA), and you just can’t stop waving your hands back and forth over your head to radio tunes like “I Like It Like That” or “Tonight! Tonight!”

Or: you’re one of the many fathers standing head-nodding against their expectations in the back of the Cannery Ballroom, where HCR were joined by Action Item and Electric Touch on the next-to-final all-ages stop on the Beautiful Freaks tour Friday, May 4, in Nashville (the tour ended the following night in Atlanta). Your daughter’s up front joining the chorus of ear-splitting exhaltations at every even moderately exciting moment, of course.

There are many such exhaltations throughout the night (queue earplugs). The place is, after all, packed 75 percent teenage gals, as noted 19-year-old Joseph, the tallest guy in the room (that's technically more a trilby hat, by the way, Joseph). Before the four-man crew even takes the stage, little more than an appearance of guitar whiz Nash Overstreet onstage to fiddle with his equipment prompts a high-ptiched onslaught. When the opening strains of the tune that names the current tour start up, it’s hard to hear much else before the kick drum knocks it all off right. 
These guys know how to put on a show, that’s certain. Though maybe too much is made of their Nashville music industry lineage, here it is for good measure: brothers Ryan (lead vocals, guitar) and Jamie Follesé (drums) are the sons of country songwriter Keith Follesé, Overstreet'd dad is Nashville singer-songwriter Paul Overstreet, and bassist Ian Keaggy is the son of prolific guitarist/writer Phil Keaggy. 
There’s a reason the lineage is relevant -- though part of their appeal undeniably lies in personal style (and, of course, all that feel-good music), their formation is a quintessentially Nashville story. Follesé and Overstreet take pains to tell that story throughout the set. After clipping through radio-rock anthems like “Tonight, Tonight” and the various hip-hop inflected singalongs that is their stock in trade (I can't rightly get Third Eye Blind's old "Charmed Life" track out of my head every time I hear them), singer-guitarist Follesé strips off his too-small American-flag-backed-and-shouldered denim jacket (prompting the biggest scream of the night, by far) and tells that story. 
“We all grew up just down the street from here,” he says, meeting at acoustic writers’ nights around the city and eventually collaborating further. They found common interests in music they were fans of, too. 
Example: Weezer’s “(If you’re wondering if I want you to) I Want You To.” During HCR’s cover of the song, the Nashville comes out. The four-piece is nothing if not a collection of young, though seasoned pros with their instruments, including their voices -- they hit the three-part harmonies in this tune square on. 
This might, in the end, be the very best reason to check them out. These guys can do hard-rock Bon Jovi-esque anthem, serviceable rap, singer-songwriter with more than a little grace and self-deprecating humor, and for a snatch of a moment opening the fifth number of the night I caught minor-key notes that brought to mind post-punk bands like Interpol. 
Fourteen songs and two encores in, with a repeat of "Tonight Tonight" done with only the audience chanting the verses and chorus, what I'm left with: It'll be interesting to watch where they can move from here.

And speaking of players... The 1980s are back, my friends. Show opener Electric Touch, a Houston-formed band fronted by a Brit in singer Shane Lawlor (from Nottingham, U.K.) and based today in Austin, brings to mind nothing if not big arena rock of the days of yore, combined with an occasional touch of the post-punk dissonance and octave-chordal head-splitting of bands like Jawbox and Shudder to Think. Guitarist Chris Leigh ripped off some rarefied solos on his left-handed strat, played right-handed in mirror-image homage to Hendrix, no doubt.
He may not be that good, but he and the rest of the band are definitely worth any price of admission. For sheer rock energy, they stole this show, no doubts.  
New Jersey pop-rock five piece Action Item was less impressive at second bill, but they too stacked up no shortage of crowd adoration. Props for the funniest use of Facebook and Twitter -- citing embarrassment at the myriad of pics of the band fans have been posting online, catching members in odd and/or compromising poses, they gave the audience the chance to take a perfectly set-up shot. The crew did their best bad-ass rockstar and the phones came out. 
Scan their Twitter feed for some of the May 4 results.  
After, they turned around and took this shot (above) with the crowd. They called it one of their "favorite pictures of us ever. Nashville was a dream come true."
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