I was fortunate enough to see At The Drive-In before their untimely demise. It was a chaotic and visceral performance that made a larger impact later in my memory when the band broke up soon after. Jim Ward soldiered on to form Sparta who immediately won me over when I saw them open for Weezer at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine in 2002. This admiration was permanently solidified when Sparta covered Jawbreaker's "Kiss The Bottle".
Nico Stai opened with their introspective indie folk tinged rock. Nico Stai (Guitars/Vocals) had has vintage Gibson guitar howling as he plucked away during "Like Alcohol". Jeff Evans (Guitars) was armed with a Fender Telecaster Deluxe as deftly added clouds to the gray skies of Nico Stai's songs. "The Song of Shine and Shame" was one of their many standout songs that made me want to catch a full set from them. It is no surprise that they will be playing Indie 103.1's Monday Night Check One..Two at the Viper Room on March 31st.
Jim Ward appeared on stage with a lonesome Gibson Acoustic guitar as he started to strum "Without A Sound". I was already blown away because I figured he would only play selections of his new acoustic based album "Quiet". Jim has a very powerful voice live but I think his guitar playing and song writing skills have been criminally overlooked. "Taking Back Control" sounded even more powerful as an acoustic number. Jim also managed to include the chord fragments of "Breaking The Broken" to make the song sound very full.
At the end of his mini Sparta set, Matt Schmitz from Sleepercar joined Jim on acoustic guitar as they tackled "Take It Back". Sleepercar is another project that Jim is involved in. Sleepercar plays like a Texas infused version of Wilco and are worth checking out. Jim also took time out to reassure the crowd that Sparta was still alive and well and that they would continue on but he needed another outlet for his other musical endeavors. I applaud Jim for branching out. He mentioned that he got the idea for his acoustic based project seven years ago while messing around with an Old 97's riff.
"Take It Back" was the first foray into Jim's solo album "Quiet". Jim and Matt harmonized well on vocals and guitars as they worked their way through the jangly number. "Easier Said" was an emotionally heavier song that played like a Texas hymn. "On My Way Back Home Again" had Chris Weinrich come out to play pedal steel to augment the country vibe of the songs. Chris had a Boss Digital Delay and small Boss Looping pedal to add some space effect sounds to characteristic pedal steel. It was amazing to Chris play the pedal steel up close as he conducted an informal clinic. The vibe in the room was very relaxed as the pedal steel guitar was gently crying during "Mystery Talks". The instrumentation was taken to new levels when Chris later came center stage for a ukulele solo during "Coastlines" that couldn't help but put a smile on everybody's face. I don't know who was smiling wider, the crowd or the performers.
Jim Ward setlist for the Paul Gleason Theatre Late show (1/25/08)
"Without A Sound"
"Taking Back Control"
"Breaking The Broken"
"Take It Back"
"On My Way Back Home Again"