Live music, Beer Buffet and The Handlebar; a trio of good reasons to venture out on a cool December evening in Pensacola, Florida. Devoted to red wines and never really cultivating a taste for beer, I was enticed into enjoying two of the elements mentioned in the previous equation.

Everyone in The Handlebar knew they were in for a good time (or a lot of trouble) when the rocking vocalist/guitarist/”tambourine-topped bass drummer” of Hollowman/Badwater looked into the crowd and proclaimed “Don’t say Betsy Badwater never gave you any cock!” Consistently delivering a mix of wit, humor and southern charm, clarification may only taint the joke, but Badwater was referring to the rooster proudly displayed on buttons they were giving away along with home-made food she had prepared for everybody at the show.

With Lang Hollowman (guitar) and Jeff Glickman (snare, ride cymbal, tambourine) by her side on this musical Mt. Calvary, Badwater released everybody’s sin and led their set, even introducing a new song cleverly titled “Dear Delilah…..Love Samson.” Hollowman/Badwater eased the crowd into confession and bared witness to the power of gospel, blues, rock and a good time. Before ending their set, she updated the status of their recording sessions and provided tender affection for the crowd in between songs while conspiring to get their feet moving during them.

Following Hollowman/Badwater were fellow Pensacola musicians, Hello Crescendo. Stirring ingredients comprised of Taylor Stoll (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Richard Hohn (vocals, bass, keyboard) and Trey Stoll (drums), Hello Crescendo served a sonically intoxicating performance that held the audience in a trance-like state for most of their set. Even when Taylor Stoll’s guitar string broke during the first song, Trey Stoll and Hohn collected whole and improvised a hypnotic groove that pleasantly distracted the crowd while giving their bandmate time to restring. Thriving in layers of sound that would challenge most five piece bands, the trio seamlessly orchestrated their set by hovering close to their monuments of skin, wood, steel, keyboards and effects pedals; Their set proved to be the auditory foreplay leading to the nadaville of headliners, Mr. Gnome.

Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Gnome are formed by the duo of Nicole Barille (vocals/guitar) and Sam Meister (drums /vocals). More human than math rock yet completely void of the parody that poisons even the most outer realms of indie rock, their music is skillfully unpredictable and soulfully evocative in the same heartbeat. Arnold Schoenburg talking shop and collaborating with Tchaikovsky is the visual that comes to mind when thinking of Mr. Gnome. Barille and Meister seem to have added yet another layer of uniqueness since I saw them on their last tour stop at the Handlebar. A perfect example was the inclusion of a song that was propelled by Barille’s Scotty Moore style swing guitar intro and Meister’s fluid jazz/rock hybrid playing style. While melding single-note bass melodies with compelling chord progressions on her guitar, Barille would sway to her double-microphone stand and release her haunting lyrics with lips barely pressed on a thin layer of air between them, while Meister teased his drum kit with a mix of finesse and governed aggression.

Like a twisted carnival ride, their compositions leave the most automatic of human functions in shock. After finishing what Barille had announced would be their last song, the crowd, in pleasant protest, responded with chants and cheers for one more song, to which Barille and Meister reciprocated and granted their wish. Such is the way of their sound; you have an idea of what the end result will be, but the dramatic twists and unanticipated turns make the event even more memorable. Such is the dynamic created by Mr. Gnome.

Check out their sites!
Mr. Gnome
Hello Crescendo

– Michael L. Smith