Last night, the 40 Watt hosted two newfangled Americana bands, firekid and Delta Spirit. Despite a sparse crowd and little fanfare, firekid – a two-piece Nashville group – delivered an interesting and varied set of reimagined roots music. Initially, they seemed like a group in the vein of Shy Girls, mixing whispered vocals with plucked guitar and hip hop beats. But it soon became clear that they were aiming for something bigger and not heard before. Singer/guitarist/sampling maestro Dillon Hodges and drummer Josh Kleppin combine traditional bluegrass and tex mex guitar picking – very skilled picking at that – with the hip hop beats of today’s top 40. The masterful guitar playing should come as no surprise, as Hodges won the National Guitar Championship at the age of 17, making him the second youngest person to ever do so. He struck as a contemporary of our own Sam Burchfield. Both traffic in blue-eyed soul that has clearly been practiced and perfected, and both are unabashed fans of big, poppy choruses, back porch cred be damned.
Hodges grew up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which any music fan worth their salt knows as the birthplace of much of our favorite soul and southern oldies, a creative hotbed in the middle of nowhere. The highlight of the set was a “song about hipsters,” as Hodges introduced it (the heavily hipster Watt crowd was nonplussed), chronicling a metal band who traded in axes for banjos when the winds of changes shifted. “Everybody’s chasin’ the Americana dream,” he deadpanned, slyly knocking groups like Mumford & Sons, whose recent aesthetic change from suspenders to leather jackets proves Hodges’ point. But ironically, despite the Alabaman and Nashvillian ethos firekid so clearly possesses, one could easily lump them in with the very same bro country/brograss movements that irk them.
The song about hipsters even seemed to defend bro country at one point, noting that if Hank Williams is spinning in his grave, it’s not due to what’s happening in Nashville. Any way you slice it, roots music is going through growing pains and identity crises out the wazoo these days, and firekid are a perfect example. The group’s Nashville relocation, and its old and new ways of doing things, were on full display in their songs like “Getaway Car” and “Lay By Me”. The group even covered pop hits like “Bang Bang” and “FourFiveSeconds”, albeit a little less powerfully than the songs’ originally tigresses – if you’re gonna cover Ariana or Rihanna, you’ve gotta COMMIT. Songs where Hodges’ guitar playing was front and center were miles ahead of the sample- and synth-laden ones – it didn’t help that the 40 Watt’s continuing sound problems drowned out his vocals and overpowered the drums. Fortunately, as Hodges revealed in our recent firekid interview, their upcoming record will heavily showcase his flatpicking. But no matter where your chronological preferences lie, this is quite literally a band like no other.