Thriving Ivory brings popular piano rock to Common Grounds


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

Sometimes there is no way to describe a musical trend or phenomenon other than to state it, and sometimes there is no way to explain how it took over pop music, you just have to accept it. There are no track marks, no trails blazed, no sign of how it came or when it will leave.

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The California band Thriving Ivory brings its piano-rock sound to Common Grounds on Tuesday. The California band Thriving Ivory brings its piano-rock sound to Common Grounds on Tuesday.

Just like auto-tune transformed the rap and hip-hop world in 2007 and 2008, piano rock transformed pop music in the latter half of this decade as bands like Coldplay, The Fray and Keane became giants, fixtures that inundated our movie and TV soundtracks, our commercials and our radios.

But this is not the piano-driven rock of Elton John or Billy Joel, that sentiment was long forgotten when radio-rock of the early 2000s suddenly masculinely strutted to layers of powerful guitar, and nodded at break-neck pace to double-bass drum kicks. Nobody wanted to do what Axl Rose did, and sit in front of a piano on "November Rain" and sissy up rock 'n' roll. Somehow the grand piano made its way back to rock alone and begging for attention, jumpsuit clad movers nowhere in sight.

Thriving Ivory are the new darlings of piano rock, and if you've watched VH1 at all in the past 15 minutes you have probably seen clips of their video for the single "Angels On The Moon." They are a band that sprouted out of Santa Barbara, Calif., playing shows in the college community and have now moved on to national tours, despite failing to get a record deal several times in their infancy. They will bring their television notoriety and Billboard Hot 100 single to Common Grounds on Tuesday, and crowds are sure to be there.

While Thriving Ivory are not typical fare for a town rooted in more alternative music, they have enough general appeal to hold their own, and female listeners tend to love them. Their songs are polished so immaculately they could reflect light, and at times the recordings seem to be the fruit of studio ingenuity rather than musical craftsmanship, but keyboardist and songwriter Scott Jason insists that isn't the case.

"We rely on the song," he said on VH1.com. "We like that larger-than-life sound, musically and emotionally."

Unfortunately for them, the sound of the music rarely reaches that level mostly because of lead singer Clayton Stoope's trademark quivering vocal delivery. The epic quality they strive for is set at a height much too high to vault, namely by bands like U2, who write anthems, battle hymns and timeless classics driven by inspired - and inspiring - vocals. The songs are hooky and demand attention, but the idea of bursting the piano-rock bubble, for now, may be too ambitious. Publicity and a single have carried them a long way from Santa Barbara, let's see if songwriting and inventiveness can carry them a bit further.

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Fans looking for familiar sounds without the modern edge can turn to Backstage Lounge on Monday night to see Kings of Pain, Gainesville's own Police tribute band. Now I know that many fans dispose of tribute bands for the simple fact that they don't want musicians they don't know assuming the persona of their favorite rock stars and butchering their favorite tunes, but when done well tribute bands can be a lot of fun.

Kings of Pain are surprisingly authentic, and the one high hurdle for the band, Sting's vocals, is cleared with reasonable ease. Gainesville is a place where tribute bands can thrive given the right choice of band, and the expansive material of The Police keep people on their toes, singing and having fun.

Sometimes in music we want comfort rather than creativity, and there is nothing wrong with going to a show simply because it helps you remember a time when your jeans were four sizes smaller, or when you practically shredded your vocal chords trying to sing the opening bar of "Roxanne" in the shower. Take it for what it is and enjoy.

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Country fans will enjoy The Ones to Blame, an all-female country outfit straight out of Gainesville, on Saturday at Common Grounds. These girls have the swagger in the music, they have the feeling in the backbeat, and they have solid harmonies you need to pull off country music. Think of an Indigo Girls dynamic, but with smoking and drinking and you can get a clear idea of what these girls bring to music. They say their best shows are when the crowd sings with them, pints raised, and hopefully Gainesville music lovers can make that happen.

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Other notable shows for the week are Corey Smith, the traditional, Nashville-style troubadour at The Venue on Wednesday, and Lauris Vidal, the solo artist who blends folk, reggae and Hawaiian music at The Atlantic on Friday.

Contact Dante Lima at danticus@ufl.edu.

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