Memorial Day weekend has passed, and that means it is officially summertime. What do I think of when I think of summertime music? Festivals. And jam bands. As far back as I can remember, there were always a few bands that didn’t seem to sound right unless the music was echoing off of trees. Bands like the Allman Brothers, Phish, the Greatful Dead, or Bob Marley needed to be heard with that shimmery delay that comes from wafting through the outdoors. For similar reasons, there are bands that have the kind of energy that means they sound best at night time. I think Common Center is one of those bands, and the sweetest sweet spot you could find to hear their music is at night, outdoors, at a festival. I’ve seen them that way a few times, and if they don’t completely engulf your attention then you are at the wrong show.
A few years ago I met Liam Hall at an open mic night. He played a 12 string guitar, which isn’t anything unusual. Watch the way he plays it and you’ll see what’s unusual about his style. It takes extraordinary strength and dexterity to be as active as he is on an instrument like that. There is a commanding knowledge of music and creativity of expression in the way Liam plays his instrument, and he has surrounded himself with musicians who have that same avante-garde approach to music. The band that has resulted is called Common Center, and the phrase “original music” doesn’t do enough justice to describing their sound. Covington, KY-based Common Center is Liam Hall on guitar and vocals, Lewis Connell on keys, Dennis DeZarn on bass, Adam Gockenbach on drums, Jessica Graff on violin, Ian Smith on percussion, and Sasha Suskind on tenor saxophone.
Common Center recently released an EP called, To Swallow Something Half Your Size. Now normally, this is where I’d give you a breakdown of each song and let you know what images were conjured in my head as I listened to the lyrics. These songs aren’t those kinds of songs. Lyrics and vocals are not to communicate the songs’ messages the way a singer/songwriter would write them. For Common Center, the vocals are layered through the songs as accents and interludes, provoking thoughts and emotions that fit the flavor of the music they accompany. Their sound has so many layers to it there is no way to take it all in at once. They’re one of those bands that is so stacked with skilled players that you can get drawn in to any one instrument throughout a song. That is a luxury only afforded to bands that know their roles and need to play that tight to leave room for everyone. This kind of music isn’t listened to – it is washed over you and soaked up by the experience of so much happening.
I have played “To Swallow Something Half Your Size” at my desk at work for a week now. To be honest, I still couldn’t name the songs or sing along to them. However they are in my head. They’re making me want to kick down my cubicle walls and put up a hammock. I want to be at the front of a stage watching Common Center weave their tapestry of sound for my dirty, bare-footed summer night. I am going to their website to find out where the band will be playing this summer, and I am buying a ticket. I would very much recommend you do the same, but don’t forget to get a copy of the EP to tease your soul while you wait for the sun to go down.