by: Thomas D. Mooney
Last time K. Phillips played full band in Lubbock was Easter weekend. It’s an often dreaded headlining slot due to the mass exodus of college kids heading home to be with their families for Easter Sunday.
You do still hold out for hope that the attendees are just hitting some protesting red lights and they’ll all be here soon. Yet 10 pm rolls around and it’s still a sparse crowd of regulars with a handful of strangers. It’s an unfair handshake due to unfortunate circumstance.
Still, Phillips and the Concho Pearls play on, sprinkling songs of new in with the old. Were they disappointed that they weren’t selling out The Blue Light? Sure. Did that disappointment bleed into their songs? Never.
More than anyone else in the Texas music scene, Phillips isn’t on stage randomly playing songs or rambling on with a story just for the hell of it. It’s calculated. It’s part of “the show.” There’s preludes to songs. Spoken word. Maybe not so much an overall story arc, but there’s something a little more planned than the usual.
So much so, that even when things go into an unforeseen direction, you’re thinking that maybe–just maybe–it was all just part of K.’s grand plan.
Example 1: KPCP once played a show with the Red Shahan project Good Morning Captain at The Blue Light. The crowd was there, but after a few songs from KPCP, they seemed to be antsy.
So the often composed Phillips mid-song just stops playing and says into the microphone, “Man, fuck this. I thought you fuckers were here to party. Let’s party.” He turns and says a song name to the band and they start playing something entirely different. Meanwhile, he goes from the reserved, polite Mr. Phillips to the rambling, Screamin’ K.
They go into a song in which Phillips talks about “fucking your mother in the fucking face.” Crowd goes wild.
Home run. Reengaged. Let’s go. Carry on.
Example 2: At the aforementioned Easter show, Phillips is going into a story about sleeping in his car in the Northwest and a guy tapping his glass asking if he’s alive (You know the one).
This frat cowboy keeps hassling him during the story. A remark after every line. Phillips does his best to ignore him, but enough just becomes enough. The guitar Phillips is strumming goes from soft picking to silence and Phillips says “Hey, will somebody shut that motherfucker up before I go shove this guitar up his ass?”
The guy stops. KPCP goes into an angry “Rambler.” There’s fire in Phillips eyes and voice. There isn’t a doubt the slightly-framed Phillips isn’t a wiry street fighter.
Still. Through those two examples, they feel like part of the game plan for the show. Maybe—just maybe—Phillips is the Petyr Baelish of the Texas Music scene (Game of Thrones reference) and has choreographed the entire situation.
Probably not, but maybe.
Where do you go after your debut album? Do you return to the well or seek for another? You give the audience what they’re expecting? Do you risk alienating the people who became a fan of the first? Do you intentionally veer of course? What drives you where?
They’re questions every musicians, writer, and artist ask themselves at some point (Or should at least).
For Phillips specifically, American Girls was a rambling introduction. It’s debauchery. It’s sexual conquest. It’s slick lines. It’s breaking hearts and pretending yours never has. It’s your roaring twenties.
I mean by all means, this is the guy who spray painted “Came 2 Fuck” on various bathroom walls and t-shirts. It’s a little ballsy to say the least. It’s called American Girls for a reason.
Phillips own description was that it was kind of an dream team project with big horns and was about having fun. I mean, Bobby Keys–that Bobby Keys–played on it.
Obviously these songs have a special place and meaning for Phillips, but you also know he wasn’t interested in another album about chasing women and rock n’roll. It’d have sufficed for the second time around–for everyone except probably Phillips himself.
This time around, he was more interested in finding something else–even if it meant he had to search for it for a while. Last August, when I spoke to him about the sophomore efforts, he was pretty sure he had found his record’s muse. What it’d revolve around.
He spoke about a new song called “Coal Burner” and how the record was really going to be about sharing your life with someone and growing up. They’d recorded eight songs at that time, but was admittedly, still not sure exactly what would and wouldn’t be on the record.
Things change though. Sometimes life gets in the way.
The burned copy that he played me wasn’t exactly a love story; it was a Fall Down House.
Mid-recording, Phillips and his then long-time girlfriend ended their relationship. It certainly changed the shape, sound, and direction of the record. By all means, art often reflects life.
“Coal Burner” is still there on Fall Down House. But so is a lot more heartbreak, sorrow, and reflection. You hear him going through the day-to-day ups and downs of an ended relationship. Where American Girls showed a certain aspect of Screamin’ K. Phillips, Fall Down House shows another–one that’s a counterpart and opposite.
He doesn’t air out dirty laundry on the record, but he certainly shows the signs of a relationship gone south. That’s one thing Phillips did stick with–maturity. A less gifted songwriter would have written a tabloid story or a Taylor Swift “fuck you” anthem. Maybe gone to Twitter to air out his grievances.
There’s a bit of anger in there from time to time. Example : On “Misery” with the line “She wears my ring, but I can’t chain her, my baby loves me like a gas chamber.” On “Not Alone” with the line “They called you siren, those who rose up, I did defy them. Go and sing to me your solemn verse, you are not my muse, you are my curse.”
Other times, it’s simple heartbreak and pain. Example: On “Had Enough” (Which, he played a phenomenal acoustic version this past Sunday at Blue Light if you were paying attention) it’s simple as having the chorus is “I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough to know to let go.” It also has two of my favorite opening verses
And I wore out my welcome.
And they called my bluff.
With nowhere to fall,
and no one to trust.
And I kicked agains the pricks,
just fall upon a rose.
I watched her bloom before me,
and I watched her close.
Don’t get me wrong though. It’s not all down in the dumps or depressing. You can’t take all of the Screamin’ out of Screamin’ K. Phillips. “So Hard” has the undoubtedly great line “Who’s gonna be there to piss on my parade when all the dishes are dirty and the bed ain’t made.”
Then there’s “Cruel as Caligula”–which we’ve discussed with Phillips before here. It’s an old-fashioned throwback to American Girls. How can you not like lines like this: I woulda slept with Juliet on her wedding day. Gave the ring to Romeo with her sweat on my face.”
OK. No more spoilers. There’s a fucking ton of lines and phrases worth diving into. Phillips is one of the best at creating an image in a few words and not being too wordy.
I’ll put it this way, I’m not one to usually blow things out of proportion or sensationalize. But this record, Fall Down House, is the best “alternative country-rock-folk (Americana, if you will)” record I’ve heard outside of Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, John Fullbright’s Songs, and Nickel Creek’s A Dotted Line this year.
It’s that damn good. And as much as I can vouch for them, they do enough to stand as giants on their own.
In more ways than one, it feels like a similar transition that Sons of Fathers had from their self-titled debut to Burning Days. Where Sons of Fathers was very much a twangy country-folk record filled with an airy freewheeling vibe, Burning Days had an almost Brooklyn indie rock band feel. It was almost industrial and had a slick, mature groove and beat.
That’s almost how American Girls and Fall Down House feel sonically. FDH doesn’t have Rolling Stones horns throughout and isn’t as flashy or carefree as AG was. There’s a bit of innocence lost. He’s not downright bitter by any means, but Phillips isn’t just wanting to dance with you either.
It’s unclear on when it’s officially being released, but K. Phillips and The Concho Pearls have made a gem nonetheless on Fall Down House. You can hear KPCP tonight at The Blue Light.