Green River Ordinance is a hardworking band of five, easily likeable guys who play solid, roots-driven pop songs that leap into the hearts of fans yearning to sing along with swelling pop choruses. GRO’s brand of primed-for-radio pop has the capacity to attract audiences with penchants for lovelorn singer-songwriter melodies, convincing Americana, and country-tinged, stadium-sized rock. The veteran Fort Worth, TX five-piece readily delves into all of those genres with unapologetic earnestness on their Kickstarter-funded, sophomore album, Under Fire.
The band visited Indianapolis on Friday night and played to an adoring crowd they’ve amassed through several winning appearances in the city in recent years. Originally scheduled to headline the city’s monthly First Friday Food Truck Festival, the threat of inclement conditions moved the performance inside to the intimate confines of the newly built and increasingly popular Do317 Lounge. The venue, initially established for live, in-studio recordings of sessions for the Do317 and Laundromatineewebsites, was constructed by hand by the Do317 crew with an occupancy size made for approximately 50 to 60 people. With its popularity increasing by the week, the Do317 Lounge is now also being utilized as an all-ages venue for one-of-a-kind, stripped down sets. Since Friday’s performance was moved indoors, Do317 and GRO generously made the concert a free show, and an audience of Indy fans showed up to the tune of more than double the room’s capacity.
GRO filled the stage’s modest floor space, and Josh Jenkins (lead vocals, guitar), Geoff Ice (bass), Joshua Wilkerson (guitar), Jamey Ice (guitar), and Denton Hunker (playing a cajón drum box in lieu of a full drum kit) played to a packed crowd nearly within an arm’s reach for the duration of the show. For a band that has played alongside stadium-fillers like Bon Jovi, Train, Counting Crows, and Switchfoot in recent years, a bare bones set in tiny room with 100-plus adoring fans showed the finest sides of the band. As Jenkins humbly noted early on, GRO finds equal fulfillment playing in front of ten fans as they do playing for a thousand. Such humility goes a long away for winning over a crowd of believers, and the effect is amplified when the band thrives on playing earnest pop songs that are unafraid to embrace sentimentality. GRO is a band of still-young Texans who have been friends for half of their lives and are celebrating their twelfth year as a band. They adhere to a tried-and-true formula of verse-chorus-verse songs with slice of life roots in love, travels, and life experiences with the world around them. These are endearing songs primed for broad audiences with an impressive knack for bringing people together through the means of winning songcraft and relatable lyricism.
In all honesty, I respect Green River Ordinance’s abilities to bridge genres and package their songs as potential Top 40 hits able to appeal to multiple formats. Although I respect Green River Ordinance as a rock-oriented pop band, I don’t often find myself reaching for Under Firein my free time. With that said, I was probably the lone person in the audience Friday night who would say such a thing. Music listening is a personal experience, and its effects will hit everybody differently. I certainly don’t expect everybody to love the music of my favorite bands as deeply as I do, and I will often be left wanting when listening to music that means a tremendous amount to broad audiences. With respect to GRO’s performance at the Do317 Lounge on Friday, I can think of no higher compliment to pay the band than to say I fully believe they are strongest before an audience, especially one as intimate as the Indianapolis venue provided them.
There’s no denying the big hooks that comprise Under Fire. “Dark Night,” “Heart of Me,” “Love Laid Down,” “Heart of the Young,” and “Crawling” all have the potential to be massive radio hits among the fourteen tracks (not counting bonus track and Texas Country standout “Dancing Shoes) on Under Fire. It’s an album of exceptionally pretty pop songs with a heart burst wide open and a solid mix of rock muscle and singer-songwriter earnestness. Though their sound isn’t far from my roots/alt-country/rock and roll wheelhouse, Jenkins’ voice and the band’s choruses consistently strike me as almost too pretty. For the majority of the band’s target audience, these traits are a primary draw. Like I said, music has a unique impact for all individuals, and I’ve often found myself drawn to grittier, gruffer voices in my country-leaning rock and roll (i.e. Steve Earle, Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll). When you compound the grand, anthemic production value of much of Under Fire, in particular the late stretch of “Love Laid Down” through “Crawling,” the booming layers of prettiness can strike me as a bit too sentimental and overworked. This certainly isn’t the case for the majority of GRO’s impressive fan base, but it’s the reason I don’t find myself delving into the album as frequently as I do with other bands of similar roots.
The distinction between the stripped-down, mostly acoustic set GRO performed on Friday night against the grandiosity of many of Under Fire’s compositions is the very reason I think Green River Ordinance excels as a live band. Maybe I wouldn’t be so taken with them playing in a stadium setting while opening for Bon Jovi, but the Fort Worth five-piece won me over as an easily lovable band humbly living their dreams playing music in front of fans. After every song, Jenkins engaged the crowd by entertaining questions (ranging from “Where are you from?” to “Did you cry during the series finale of Friday Night Lights?”) with winning charm, and he offered up origins of the songs with VH1 Storytellers honesty. When I listen to Under Fire, I hear the sound of a big-hearted, competent band with the ability to appeal to the millions-strong cross-section of America that loves Mumford and Sons, The Voice, and Coldplay’s output since A Rush of Blood to the Head. What I loved most about GRO’s Indy set, with a set list including “New Day,” “Resting Hour,” “Heart of Me,” “Goodbye L.A.,” “Endlessly,” and the crowd favorite “Dancing Shoes,” was the band’s strength as an engaging, often-superior band embracing the no-frills roots of the songs and their soaring harmonies, as opposed to the frequently belabored orchestrations of the studio recordings that often err on the side of a few too many bells and whistles.
Green River Ordinance makes widely relatable pop songs about love and yearning for compassionate audiences, and can often have a near-religious effect for fans ready to wrap their arms around the huge choruses and earnest lyrics. GRO’s intimate performance on Friday forced the band to play a set more akin to a gospel brunch or a barn dance, rather than one of the heartland’s infinite mega-church congregation rejoicings. Maybe I’m one of the few who found the band’s change of venue to be refreshing, thanks to an inspired, straightforward set of heartfelt pop-rock songs instead of something grander; however, GRO won a new fan in the process. Now that I’ve seen Green River Ordinance live in such a setting, I’d be willing to do so again in a heartbeat.
Under Fireis now available in stores and on iTunes, courtesy of 101 Distribution.
Download: Green River Ordinance - "Love Laid Down"
Download: Green River Ordinance - "Dancing Shoes"
Green River Ordinance Tour Dates:
Nov 07 World Cafe Live Philadelphia, PA
Nov 08 The Studio at Webster Hall New York, NY
Nov 09 Brighton Music Hall Boston, MA
Nov 11 Rock and Roll Hotel Washington, DC
Nov 16 WorkPlay Theatre Birmingham, AL
*This post first appeared on The Silver Tongue on 11/4/12.
Justin works as a content producer for ChaCha in Indianapolis during the day. He got his start writing music pieces with Laundromatinee in Indianapolis, where he still makes featured contributions. Justin resides in Noblesville, IN, and his personal blog, Division St. Harmony, can be found at www.divisionstharmony.tumblr.com.
His first loves in music have long been The Clash, Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. His personal tastes are fairly broad and include garage, indie rock, classic rock, Americana, roots, outlaw and classic country, punk, blues, rhythm and blues and soul.
Justin takes pride in an affinity for writing and music that is both rich in head and heart. Justin welcomes you to follow him on Twitter at @clashrebel and on Facebook.
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