(Photos: Parachute/Mercury Records/Facebook)
By EMILY SAKA
Though Boston’s House of Blues is the biggest venue on their 2013
spring tour, Parachute frontman Will Anderson picks the very edge of the
main stage as his prime perch. Parachute may have second billing under
Andy Grammer tonight, but the ear-splitting participation the pop-rock
band is working from the audience is atypical reception for your usual
opening act. So far, the crowd has supplied resounding back-up vocals
to the first two tracks, including “She (For Liz),” a fan favorite off
Parachute’s 2009 debut but never an official single. It makes sense,
then, that Anderson is practically in the arms of his screaming fans,
working the energy into synchronized arm-swaying of epic proportions.
Meanwhile, the band members behind Anderson – Johnny Stubblefield, Alex
Hargrave, Kit French, and Nate McFarland – feed off the verve to drive a
goose bump-inducing crescendo into the second chorus of “What I Know,”
sending the venue wild. It’s a heartwarming display of affection for a
highly underrated band, one whose five-year-career has spawned few
mainstream hits but legions of dedicated fans who’ve committed every
infectious hook and powerful chorus to memory.
The five-piece outfit from Charlottesville, Virginia is of the tight-jeans-and-leather-jacket variety, but the hipster edge belies two albums of radio-friendly pop-rock. Anderson tells the crowd, to thunderous applause, that they’ve been “cooped up” in studio working on a third, before slowing down the mood with the piano-heavy new track, “Drive Me Home.” It fits much more cleanly into their repertoire than their newest single, “Hearts Go Crazy,” a blatant shift towards the electronic dance tracks currently overwhelming the charts. The studio recording of the song is sunny and fun, but the live version they perform later in the night, sans synth, is a much less unsettling rendition for fans of their traditional sound. The middle of the set is just as artistically on-point but slightly less compelling than the beginning, save for an inspiring performance of “Kiss Me Slowly,” the hit single they co-wrote with Lady Antebellum. It’s to be expected, as inevitably far fewer people will be familiar with fresh material, but a testament nonetheless that Parachute’s real charm comes from direct audience engagement in the music.
Parachute burst onto the scene sandwiched between the NSYNC and One Direction boy band eras, and thus, being an all-male ensemble, were often unfortunately bestowed the label in the interim. But if they were in fact a “boy band” of the late 00’s, at least they made an idiosyncratic effort; their upbeat melodies and addictive refrains are ensconced in layers of guitar, piano, drums, and the occasional thrilling string arrangement. In a live setting, this makes for beautiful acoustics but, if there’s one downfall, a lack of immediately palpable camaraderie. Each member is unquestionably talented, enthusiastic, and one-hundred percent present in the performance, but at times seemingly too focused on his own part for the on-stage presence to feel completely cohesive. On this particular night, it takes a rousing cover of The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin,” featuring co-opener Andrew Ripp on vocals and tambourine, to bring the group dynamic back again. With guitarists Hargrave and McFarland finding new looseness in their knees, Stubblefield switching the rock beat to bluesy percussion, and French leaving the keys for a soulful saxophone solo, it’s an organic moment of music-making. But the highlight of the night is still to come: a toe-tapping, hand-clapping rendition of the anthemic “Something to Believe In.” It’s in this moment when you can fully understand how genuinely Parachute loves performing music. It’s hard to tell who’s egging who on, the all-out performances of the five rockers on stage or the frenetic audience throwing their hands in the air, but each seems bent on one-upping the other in a truly uproarious finale. After the final note, there’s a collective gasp to regain breath and, long after the band’s left the stage, a lingering positivity in the air. It’s the same familiar sensation you’re left with after listening to a Parachute album, one that’s kept fans coming back to their favorite under-the-radar band and convincing them that real mainstream recognition is just around the corner.
Emily Saka is an ardent music lover and soon-to-be recipient of a BS in journalism from Boston University. As she waits for the two to combine in an illustrious career in music journalism, she curates a humble music blog: thesavvemusic.tumblr.com.