City on the Make Varsity Theater, May 15 By Andrea Myers
Mike Massey of City on the Make, photographed by Alexa Jones.
It's always a good sign when a band takes you from wanting to leave a party to spontaneously running up to the front of the stage to get closer to the action. Such was the case for me last night at the City on the Make show at the Varsity Theater. As the clock neared midnight and visions of sugarplums began to dance in my head, I heard a whistle blow from the back of the room. That's right, a whistle. I was either starting to hallucinate about junior high gym class or something amazing was about to happen—and luckily, it was the latter, since junior high gym class seems like a terrible thing to have to hallucinate about.
A few short whistle tweets were followed by the booming thunder of a drum cadence, and the four members of City on the Make emerged from the back of the crowd and marched triumphantly through the middle of the room wearing over-the-shoulder, marching band-style drum sets. Lead singer/ringleader Mike Massey led the way, dancing around like a crazed color guard captain and blowing his whistle to the beat, as the band made their way to the front of the room and filed onto the stage. Drummer Colin Stumbras barely missed a beat as he transitioned from his drumline toms to his kit, and the quartet launched headfirst into their first song with Massey rapping and growling over the heavy, syncopated rhythms.
Of the five times I have seen City on the Make live, Thursday night's performance at the Varsity was by far their best. Which is saying something, considering I was blown away the first time I saw them over a year ago at the same venue. Combining all of the best elements of blues, punk, hip-hop and rock and roll, City on the Make masterfully skate between pushing the limits of their sound and embracing the longstanding conventions of rock: 12-bar chord changes and blues scale-based guitar solos are married with the sheer insanity of Massey's groaning, half-sung, half-spit lyrics. The result is intoxicating, a cross-genre sound that can really only be grasped by watching the four talented musicians interact live.
City on the Make bass player Stephen Rowe, photographed by Alexa Jones.
The band played songs from their forthcoming EP as well as crowd favorites from last year's album, In the Name of Progress, including a rousing "Howling at a Sliver of the Moon" that had the small but enthusiastic audience singing along with the wolf-mimicking chorus. New songs included the sunny, summer-infused "Chicks on Bikes" and the title track from their upcoming EP, "One Million Dollars," which Massey was sure to note with a smirk was "the same title as the EP but with a different spelling."
City on the Make will play a release show for their new EP, $1,000,000, on June 7 at the 400 Bar with Dragons Power Up and the Tender Sweaters.