On a recent Friday night the Visulite’s stage is bathed in green reflecting off the jungle-themed, glow-in-the-dark backdrop.
Vocalist Deirdre Kroener playfully charges through a sassy verse of the Who’s version of “Young Man’s Blues” before letting out a characteristic crescendoing howl on the chorus. The song is another unexpected turn for the female-fronted Charlotte hard rock group, Grown Up Avenger Stuff.
Grown Up Avenger Stuff isn’t a cover band. They will, however, throw a curve at a crowd – especially a hometown crowd that’s welcoming the group back after months touring.
That night at the Visulite indicates that the experience on the road allowed the band’s chemistry and comfort on stage to reach a new level. While Grown Up Avenger Stuff has always had the makings of a great band, those pieces now fit snugly together.
The band’s willingness to take risks sonically and theatrically made it an exciting local act to follow. For its first album release show in 2010, Kroener battled ninjas in a superhero costume. They’ve painted themselves with glow-in-the-dark paint and performed beneath black lights. But what remains steady throughout all the production experiments is their unique sound.
Somewhere between Florida and Kroener’s hometown of Seattle, Grown Up Avenger Stuff turned a corner and became not just a promising act, but one that’s reaching its potential. There’s an ease about it now. The group returns to the Visulite Friday.
“It’s so cool to go into a room full of strangers for the first time and they’re like, ‘Where did that come from?’ Especially, maybe looking at us they don’t expect us to be what we are,” says John Thomsen, sitting outside Starbucks in Cotswold with his bandmates.
Keeping it together on the road
What they are is a single mom who moved to Charlotte to start fresh and connected with Thomsen online. Thomsen’s then-teenage sons Tyler and Hunter (now 22 and 20) joined the group despite their mother’s (Thomsen’s ex-wife’s) disapproval. Their mom now comes to their shows.
As a band, they’re also admittedly geeky about everything from music to sci-fi to video games (Tyler) and biking (Hunter), and they don’t party at their shows, which speaks of their professionalism as a band. One reason the group works so well is that it’s a family affair. When the tour van is bopping down the road it’s two families – Thomsen, bassist Hunter, drummer Tyler, the elder Thomsen’s wife, Erica, Kroener and her 17-year-old son, Eli. Both civilians travel with the band. Erica Thomsen attends to social media and whatever else needs tending to, and Eli Kroener plays video games with Tyler between home schooling.
“We don’t have all the production or a lot of freedom. It has to be pure rock ’n’ roll goodness to connect with people,” John Thomsen says. “Out on the road you’ve got to be on point with every show to make a good impression.”
That impression is usually a singular one because the band doesn’t sound like anyone else. Musically the Thomsens draw on everything from the Beatles to Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age, while Kroener’s dynamics-driven delivery can sound like 1990s riot grrrl, Jello Biafra in the Dead Kennedys, or a sultry damsel, depending on her mood. With unpredictable phrasing and a underlying rasp, there’s an edge to it.
‘Knowing exactly who they are’
Thomsen discovered Kroener’s voice on MySpace and came up with the name through an online band name generator, but the band takes an old-school approach in many ways.
There’s also a tempered approach to the band’s growth. It released a full-length album and two more recent EPs (“Sparkleton” is the latest), but it has tweaked its show on stage, playing often, visiting the taste-making South By Southwest conference, trading shows with bands in other cities, and booking its own national tours. In an age when bands often expect instant gratification, Avenger is following a grassroots approach that has allowed time to gel and evolve.
“The band has evolved into knowing exactly who they are,” says Grammy-winning producer Bruce Irvine, who works with Charlotte’s Anthony Hamilton, Matrimony and S.O. Stereo; he’s also produced some of the songs on the Avengers’ EPs. “They have a very concise picture. With a band like that it’s hard to find exactly who you are. They’ve done a good job pairing up what they think they are – musicians who can really play with a girl that can really sing. They’re becoming their own influence. I love bands that begin influencing themselves. They aren’t afraid to get up and be themselves. If you look back at the things that moved us over the years, it’s bands like that.”
The feedback from people on the road has helped.
“There was one woman that came out and said, ‘I thought rock ’n’ roll was dead. You don’t know what you’ve done for me,’” recalls Kroener, who works at Earthfare and teaches voice at School of Rock.
“She said, ‘You reconnected me to music,’” Thomsen adds.
“When you start to hear stuff like that,” Kroener says, “you start to feel like it’s bigger than you.”
Courtney's blog: cltsoundbites.blogspot.com
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