Something I didn’t realize before heading in to the Sleeper Agent show at Schubas last night was that this was their first time headlining a show. For the past couple months they’ve spent their time travelling across the country with fellow Kentuckians Cage the Elephant and opening for Manchester Orchestra. If you’re gonna learn how to put on a show, those are pretty good teachers. The show was 17 and up, which played in the bands favor, I think. My wife and I made up about half of the 25-30 crowd, so it was definitely a younger-skewing show than I usually hit. Surprisingly the kids were well-behaved concertgoers who paid attention for the most part, and gave the band some great energy to feed off.
Not that the band is in need of any ancillary energy. You could power a small city with the jigawatts coming from the stage when these guys are rocking out. That’s one of the things that makes their show so much fun. You can see the sweat pouring off their heads after the first couple songs, and you know that they’re giving you everything they’ve got. Young bands in particular are very good at this earnestness. Often times, especially after popularity hits, bands tend to sit back a bit and allow their fans to come be in their presence more than witnessing a show.
The thing that surprised me most, I think, was the vocal work of Alex Kandel. When I listened to the recordings, I found her voice serviceable, but nothing too special. The phrasing is good on record, but the actual voice wasn’t amazing. But here, in front of a small but raucous crowd at Schubas, she let out her inner Janis and just belted out song after song. I was impressed with her ability (and in fact the whole band’s ability) to appear fun and professional at the same time. They were here to do a job, and do it well. Mission A-fucking-complished.
There’s a feeling that you get when you watch a band having such a good time performing for a crowd. If you’ve ever been in a band, it’s probably easier to understand. It’s that feeling when you get something exactly as you want it, and then you go out and play it for people and they eat it up. There is, probably, no greater feeling in the world than having your work appreciated. The crowd last night was quite appreciative, indeed. For such a young audience, they certainly knew how to show the band that they dug their sound.
Now, Sleeper Agent is not giving perfect performances. And they won’t for a long time. It takes work. When I see someone like Wilco, I expect the absolute best (and they usually deliver), but when I see a young band making their first headlining performance, I’m looking for potential. And that Sleeper Agent has in spades. I’m more than happy to go on record saying that they’re going to be hugely popular. It will take some time, probably a couple years of constant touring and recording. And that seems to be what the band wants. Reading the blog that they update fairly often, it seems like being at home just hanging out is fine, but being on the road and playing shows is where they’d prefer to be.
They have all the tools: Two vocalists who can get it done (Tony Smith plays guitar and sings in addition to Kandel), a guitarist with some major chops (Josh Martin), synth, drums and bass that sound pretty close to polished already (provided by Scott Gardner, Justin Wilson, and Lee Williams, respectively). With “Get It Daddy” they have a single that’s danceable and fun, but also displays a quality of musicianship that will get them far. Barring some insane scandal or rampant drug use that causes the band to split, you can look for Sleeper Agent to be making an appearance at Pitchfork 2013 and Lollapalooza 2014.
If you missed the show last night, you fucked up. But guess what…they’re gonna be within driving (or train) distance again very shortly. They are appearing at Summer Fest in Milwaukee on Saturday July 2nd! They’ll be sharing a stage with one of my favorites, The Airborne Toxic Event! If you don’t have plans for 4th of July weekend, now may be the time to start getting an itinerary ready.
For more pics from the show, check out the gallery we put together on Facebook!