Review: “The Wake” – four Indianapolis American rock bands turn it up

Dubbed “The Wake,” the four-band bill at The Earth House in downtown Indianapolis on Friday night was a well-paced night of throwback Midwestern heartland rock, updated for the times. Held in an old church (with the gospel influence that brings) is most certainly a good thing in rock and roll.

All four bands were almost entirely Indy-based. The Weakenders, with only a guitar player not from Indy (he was the from-the-gut guitar-playing, long-haired Nashville cat) were the final band of the night, and brought home the two-guitar rock and roll turned-up-to-11 noise.

The Dead Hearts showed the promise and original music that warrants following the Tom Petty/Bryan Adams/Springsteen vibe they throw off when they play. Attakula was a surprisingly diverse and mature roots rock version of Arcade Fire. And Henry French and The Shameless worked as a three-piece; French wrangled rock and roll grit and beauty out of his Telecaster guitar and was helped along by the cranked-up drums.

The show was a model of efficiency, moving from one band into the next in about 15 minutes each; it roared to a start with French, whose sound channeled a rocked-up version of Son Volt. They tore through just over 45 minutes of originals. French, who has said he is taking a break from the band and music for a while, was most effective when taking a song’s energy, and twisting it higher as the song roared. A neo-Bo Diddley beat, and Henry stomping his right foot while facing the drummer during the last song of the set, was goose bump-inducing.

Attakula, six-piece band of nuanced roots rock, revealed themselves as a contender for best local talent working in the Americana genre. They can come with twin guitar attack, or bring on a mandolin to replace the Gibson Les Paul. A full, intricate sound and Petty blues mixed with The Band country-rock moments were highlights.

With “Not What I Wanted to Say” coming early in their set, The Dead Hearts brought the most accessible songs of the evening. They, as all the bands did at some point in their set. worked moments of beauty mixed with barbed wire electricity, By the time they reached “Bad For You” at the end of the 50-minute set, singer Brandon Perry had found sweet spot of chunky rhythm guitar with Brian Gropp’s gospel-tinged Hammond B3-like keyboards. The band is only one year old, and they’re still growing in confidence. If they find a way to let loose a bit more during performances while continuing to write, I like their future,

The most polished, and also pleasingly Shooter Jennings-like rugged, of the groups was the Nashville-based The Weakenders. Three of the four members are from Indy, and have recently moved to Tennessee. Guitarist Eli Chastain led them through “Sink or Swim,” echoing a Neil Young rawness; the two hard-strummed guitars worked together with slamming drums to show off the band’s efforts to take their musical game up a step by moving to Music City. Their effective harmonies and a nicely rehearsed set closed the show, using high-energy rock and roll with country-via-“Exile on Main Street” touches to pull the crowd in.

Were there things to that could have been better? There were moments with each band when lyrics needed to be sold harder, as they stopped being words and blended into melody. I would have loved a cover tune from each band; sometimes I need one, even on a night of originals. And the crowd of a 100 or so felt large enough to make it seem like the night was appreciated, but they did hang back until The Weakenders took the stage.

In reality, these are minor qualms with a show that was meant to refute the notion that American rock and roll is scarce — or dying — in Indianapolis.

As Brian Gropp of the Dead Hearts told me between sets during the show “American rock is out there” — at house parties and in basements; it’s just harder to find.” For one night, it seemed lost no more, and instead found in an old church in downtown Indianapolis.

And it may be in the hands of these four – and the others who mine the same sound — to keep playing, elevating their on-stage energy, and continuing to honor their true voice. We know it is rarely a one night or one week or one month endeavor to get anywhere worthwhile in life, professionally or otherwise.

It’s up to one band to make themselves heard with American rock in Indy. If any one of these bands, or others who were not at this show, takes their musical game to the next level — in popularity and with creativity — then others could follow. This was a good step in the process. What’s next?

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