Sons of redemption
The Ancient Sons’ Dark Gospel and live set spellbind
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had this song stuck on my cranial radio. “Hang On to Jesus” is the opening volley of the Ancient Sons’ debut album, The Dark Gospel, and the band opened its album-release party at Old Ironsides last Friday night (see photo) with the tune, a simple ditty that stops you dead in your tracks.
“Hang on, Jesus,” singer Chris Teichman deadpanned in a choirboy tenor. “Hold on, now.” Then the band shifted gears, and Teichman warbled: “If you ever see him here, I hope you have something to say / I hope you got a feeling here, my heart’s beating out of my chest,” to a soaring melody that could have come from the pen of the Kinks’ masterful songwriter Ray Davies. It was a moment where you could see an entire crowd falling under a band’s spell.
Later, after the band finished playing, a set that culminated in an extended guitar freakout called “Gospel Song No. 7,” someone outside the club confirmed my recent experience. “Man, that last band’s songs just stay with you,” he said. Or something like that.
A few of us had gathered there on the sidewalk to consider the performance. I’d mentioned the Velvet Underground, and my friend Jeff got more specific: “The third Velvet Underground album,” he said—the self-titled, post-Andy Warhol record from 1969, the one with “Pale Blue Eyes.” There were other references, too—the Kinks, the second Violent Femmes album, some of David Byrne’s epiphany-drenched and less jerky numbers with Talking Heads.
Since the Ancient Sons emerged just over a year ago, they’ve been a band to watch, a band that gets fans talking. First as a trio, with Teichman on guitar, his brother Brad on bass and unearthly sibling harmonies and Matt K. Shrugg on drums. Since then, adding David K. Aslanian and Matt Maxwell on guitars and Justin Pine on tambourine. On Friday, they were joined by a fourth guitarist, a spectral-looking Mike Farrell, who also plays on The Dark Gospel. But the effect onstage was not cacophony; after the show, our little sidewalk critique talked about how every instrument seemed perfectly placed in the band’s shimmering wall of sound.
Two evenings before that show, Chris, Shrugg, Maxwell, Pine and I sat down for coffee on couches inside Temple Fine Coffee and Tea on 10th Street. Aslanian, on break from a job nearby, joined later, and Brad was home sick. Ordinarily, that might be inviting disaster, but like Friday night’s performance, any expected cacophony never materialized.
The story goes that Teichman followed brother and erstwhile bandmate Brad to California from Columbus, Ohio, in 2001. The brothers had grown up in Jackson, a small town about a hundred miles east of Cincinnati. “We wanted to get the band back together, which we did as soon as I got here,” he explained. Some bands followed—Toystore Tykes, the Naked Robbers, then Army of Trees. “Me and Brad did our own thing, went by a few weird names at parties.”
Teichman had fallen gravely ill with a kidney infection in late 2006, and once he got home from the hospital, he convalesced by writing songs on a keyboard, which differed from previous efforts in process and in style. “I started passing recordings out to all my friends,” he said. “And Matt was the first person to say, ‘If you need a drummer, I’m in.’” Brad joined shortly thereafter.
“We’d played before as a trio,” the soft-spoken Shrugg reminded him. “A few parties.”
Shrugg, né Kanelos, is also a graphic artist; he began producing wonderfully retro posters for each show, and designed the Peter Max-like cover of The Dark Gospel.
In this case, the art fits the dozen songs on the album, which, according to Teichman, fall into the classic “concept album” camp. “It’s about a boy’s search for redemption and hope,” the songwriter explained. “He has a lot of weird dreams and vivid pictures.”
As for the religious references? “I thought I was going to die,” Teichman said. “These songs gave me a new lease on life.”