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The Unmerciful Truth

Black Mercies
Kelly's Olympian
Portland, OR
Feb. 14, 2009
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Story and photos by Tina Minster

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a Black Mercies show in downtown Portland, Oregon. Portland is considered by many to be one of the main hubs for up-and-coming music on the West Coast, and Black Mercies definitely helped support this belief. The evening was filled with lyrics you could taste in your mouth and melodies you could feel in your chest and on your fingertips. Following their own statement that rock generates romance, participation, energy, and love, the band played an intense yet intimate show for their fans and newcomers alike. Their interaction with the audience was both honest and charming as they played through their headlining set.

Together for a year-and-a-half now, Black Mercies split any genre-defining mold, combining post-rock elements with early 80's melodies and harmonies. The band states that its influences include U2, Duran Duran, and Echo and the Bunnymen, and it shows. The group itself is a mixture of the aforementioned bands with a little bit of She Wants Revenge and late-80's Cure thrown in to spice things up a bit. Lead singer and guitarist BB Gun sounds like Bono with balls as he unabashedly sings about the kind of truths, weaknesses, and points of view you don't hear most people confronting, yet alone most bands. Songs like "The Arsonist" reveal the romantic side of setting things on fire, a theme of showing the beauty in things not traditionally considered beautiful that is prevalent in several of their songs. They maintain a delicate balance between heavy and gentle. Their song "Wreckin' Ball" undulates back-and-forth much like the titular tool, swinging the listener through differing levels of intensity and emotion.

Bass player Colby Hendricks has described the band's energy and force as akin to "[that kind of] new romantic passion that is sometimes good, sometimes ugly, but always raw and emotional and true." One couldn't help but feel this passion as Black Mercies played their set which included both classic tracks and songs from their upcoming album. Keyboardist Caleb Skinner sewed together brutally honest chords that pierced your very soul, and drummer Eric Storm reinforced the music with steady-yet-melodic beats that made sure both your convictions and your attention hung on for the full ride. Unlike many bands, no member or instrument played a supporting role. Every element of the music took center stage in its own way. No one part stood out, nor was its impact lost in bland amalgamation; all pieces complemented each other equally while remaining unique. This melting pot-esque style allowed each member to contribute their own personal musical flair without sending the band spiraling into experimental rock cacophony.

This close-knit feeling was not only limited to the music however, as the members' friendship with one another shined brightly through the mantle of "the band." The charm they exhumed onstage carried offstage as the band joked with one another as well as with the fans and happily answered any and all questions to anyone interested in them. This sense of camaraderie and brotherhood is a vital element that many bands lack, an element that keeps bands strong and their music pure and honest to both the fans and to itself. Unlike the rockstars of yesteryear, each and every member was quite down-to-earth and friendly, spending equal time between talking about their music and talking about their families. It's a refreshing sight in the current sea of prima donnas and elitist snobs that plague most streams of music.

Black Mercies are currently touring the West Coast and have a UK tour coming up in the next few months. This is a band whose on-the-verge of greatness is apparent not only in their catchy sound but in the honesty and energy they're willing give both their music and their fans. See them now while you have the opportunity to experience them in intimate local venues, because when they come back they could very well be tiny specks on an arena stage.
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