Event Review: Signal At The Stoddard Inn, Morgan, UT
Modern Rock Meets High Country
Venue: Stoddard Inn, Morgan, UT, June 25, 2005
Photos: Thomas Garner
Modern rock met high country when Signal packed up their saddles and headed off through the Wasatch to Morgan, UT, and the Stoddard Inn. Competing with the local rodeo, these guys were no clowns, and they proceeded to stay for the whole ride ... stompin' the sawdust out of this quiet little mountain pass. GIDDY UP!
When it comes to supporting my local scene, I'm pretty much willing to go anywhere to catch the bands that make it happen. It was this philosophy that brought me to Morgan, UT's, Stoddard Inn to see Signal. These guys are a pretty popular local rock act and they bring in a good crowd every time I see them, so I was a little surprised to find them playing a small bar in BFN where their biggest competition was a rodeo that seemed to have sucked up most of the town's population that night.
Being that the Stoddard Inn is more of a bar than a venue, it really wasn't set up to accommodate live acts. The pool table had to be moved to make room for the band and the hanging bar lamps had to be raised closer to the ceiling, after which there was quite a bit of space to set up.
People began to file in the door around 8:00 p.n. and Signal prepared for a night of rampaging rednecks and beer baths. Signal fired up their equipment for the pre-show sound check and Bret and Brian ... vocals and bass respectively ... trotted around the bar to make sure their wireless equipment was up to snuff. The folks at the Stoddard were very friendly and the service was excellent. To this point my beer glass was never empty for more than a few minutes ... somehow my wallet managed to stay full, too!
It was time for the first song, "My World." Signal came out of the gate with an unbridled energy unmatched by the 10 or 15 people at the tables and bar. When the guys finished, Bret hollered to the audience, "Everyone out there with a cell phone call your friends and tell ‘em Signal's in the hizouse ... and we're gonna fuck this place up!"
It was like a Star Trek convention ... communicators flipped open and the Stoddard Inn suddenly became a call center. Signal went into their second song and the heads began to bob while the beer continued to pour. The place was starting to fill up a bit more and a couple of folks started to get up and dance. That's about the time we found out about the rodeo in town ... no wonder the crowd was getting off to a slow start.
Bret offered up some band merchandise to get more people on the floor ... particularly thongs with their logo printed on them. A guy in the audience, who'd been there since the band started setting up, tried to pull his out of his Levis ... a mental image I didn't need and Bret's shudder told me we were both on the same page!
Signal broke into "Life," one of my personal favorites. Brian Handcock, who's a new addition to the band, laid down some fat riffs on his 6-string bass ... adding a huge new dynamic to the song. Brian used to play with another local band called Funnelhead and I was impressed with his talent when I saw them at "Growl At The Rally," so it didn't surprise me that he was able to play so tightly with a band he'd only been with for a couple of weeks ... if that!
Between songs Bret would often engage in conversational banter with guitarist Eric McWhorter. They'd talk about the audience like we weren't there. Occasionally, he'd holler out to the bar staff.
"Mikey! Get these guys some beers!" and my glass was full again.
Next up was a tune called "What Were You Thinking?" I hadn't heard this one before, but it brought out a Bret Harmon I wasn't too familiar with and I remember thinking, "This is why people come to a Signal show." He was transformed into an emotional mess and he sang the song with power and conviction. For the first time during the show I don't think he even knew the rest of us were in the room. He held the mic stand as if it was the love of his life, and anytime I expected one of the women in the crowd to scream "Frankie!" and either faint or wind up atop a very large pile of eggs!
Again with the chitchat between songs as Eric commented that he could hear crickets in the audience; however, their docile nature didn't slow Signal down. They broke into "Glass Half Full," where Chris Iarussi got to strut his stuff with a brisk and lively drum solo. Chris is a stylistic player and we could feel his rhythms through the floor. One of the things I first noticed about him was his drum set's weird arrangement. His toms, which would normally block the drummer from view, were set low ... like his snare. Being a musician myself, I commented to Chris earlier that there's no way in hell I could play them like that ... it didn't seem to affect him at all.
A couple more songs into their set, Signal invited the whole bar to ass up to the "stage."
"Including you, ‘F**k Stick,'" Bret motioned for me to join the crowd, "and you all know what to do!"
The opening riff to "Nowhere Bound Train" blew out of the amplifiers and a mini mosh pit ensued. The guy wearing the Signal thong came flying out of nowhere and started flailing, jumping and throwing spin kicks as the audience made a hole to avoid a head check from his hiking boots. As the chorus came upon us, the whole band crouched and began to jump to the rhythm ... and the audience followed in unison. Now things were coming together in this place!
"Gotta love that floor action," said Bret before they broke into the next song, "Sorry."
And never did a rock band spout a truer statement. One of the reasons Signal draws the crowds they do is their stage presence. This is a charismatic group of guys with a lot of energy and they involve the audience in everything they do. They proved that later in the show when Bret went wandering into the table area and pulled a chair up to a table where a cute blonde sat ... much to her embarrassment. He put his arm around her and sang. Then he stood up and gave her a bedroom serenade. What's next guys ... a KY wrestling match in the pit?
We got to hear "Dragon," "Eyes Sewn Shut," and "Diary," a song they had apparently never played out live before. A thunderous applause rose from the bar, which was beginning to look pretty full by now. Brian was cruising around the Stoddard with his bass ... weaving in and out of the table area. The set closed with "Trigger" and all the women in the bar were dirty dancing with each other and the band. Bret was all over the "stage" like a hyperactive child, and Eric was breaking guitar strings like they were made of ice ... then it was time for a break.
The tables in Stoddard Inn began to fill up as what I assumed to be traffic from the rodeo trickled in. I kicked back and shot the breeze with the band while they took a breather and signed CDs, drumsticks and whatever else floated past their sharpies. I also learned that Mikey, the bartender, was sort of a roadie for the band ... so that's why the beer was flowing like the spring runoff!
Once the guys were rested and the guitar strings were fixed, Signal took the "stage" again. This time they went through some cover songs from Nickelback, Staind, and Puddle Of Mudd. The floor was off the chain this time. Everyone was dancing, singing, and performing countless acts of debauchery. Somewhere between songs, the guys commented jokingly about having to play other peoples' songs to get the crowd jumping ... but we still got hear some Creed before Signal started taking requests.
It was getting to be near last call, so they broke into "Life," "Nowhere Bound Train," and a couple others they'd played earlier ... and damned if Eric didn't bust his guitar strings again! Some asshole even shouted "Freebird!" at some point ... but the guys never played it. The crowd was getting out of control and there were women grinding and climbing all over Bret and Brian throughout the last few songs ... another trademark trait of a Signal show and all in fun.
As the band broke their equipment down and lumped it out, I reflected on the night and the show. Even though the crowd got a slow start, Signal treated this just like any large venue ... professionally and positively, but most of all we all had fun. Musicianship, showmanship, and charm are qualities these guys have in abundance, and it's a formula that works well for them. If there are any local bands I see breaking the Salt Lake City local scene to get to the mainstream anytime soon, my money's on Signal.
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