The Orwells Tear The Roof Off Terminal West
Concerts nowadays seem to be dripping with production, from light shows to setlists to pre-planned intros and encores. For some artists, even their “crazy” moments, such as stage dives and scaffold climbs, are carefully choreographed into their sets, but an Orwells show is a truly organic expression of energy. Reminiscent of the types of shows you only hear about in the late-night lore of long-haired hippies, The Orwells, a five-piece rock group from Chicago, had the energy in Terminal West at its peak.
About two weeks ago, I interviewed Nympho Maniax (comprised of The Orwells lead singer Mario Cuomo and Berklee graduate Dubby Mac) on the phone about their new EP, Sextape. At the end of the interview, we decided that we would meet up to do a quick photo shoot before The Orwells’ show in Atlanta since Dubby would be there before accompanying the band on their trip to Bonnaroo. This is where my evening with The Orwells began.
At around 7 PM my photographer and I got dropped off by our Lyft and quickly found Dubby Mac and bassist Grant Brinner, who, after a quick chat, brought us into the green room where the rest of the band were hanging out prior to their headlining set at Terminal West. After introducing ourselves, Sidney and I found a place on the couch and were immediately enveloped in the goings on of the green room, highlighted by the energetic back and forth between Mario and Dubby Mac.
After a quick photoshoot (that will be included in our upcoming Nympho Maniax interview), we cracked open a cold one with the boys while waiting for the night to truly begin. We spent the opener’s set backstage deciding which song The Orwells going to walk out to as well as discussing a number of off the wall topics that were intermittently drowned out by the show being performed on the other side of the wall. As chill as things had been to this point, I knew the band that I knew and loved from watching countless live sets on YouTube were going to rear their raucous heads soon. At about 9 PM I was proven right.
When it was finally time to head to the stage, a small coalition of musicians, lead by Dubby Mac, outnumbered the level-headed warnings of rhythm guitarist Dominic Corso and took a couch from the green room and planted it on stage to the right of the drum kit (left if you were looking from the crowd). As the opening band, The Walters, and Dubby Mac took their places on the couch, The Orwells took their places behind their instruments and began a lightening-infused set with “Black Francis” from their February release Terrible Human Beings. This was followed by an hour and a half set that was highlighted by hits from their newest album as well as old favorites from their first two albums, Disgraceland and Remember When.
An Orwells show is all about the fans, and they were given one hell of a show. Being the final headlining show on The Orwells North American tour, the guys made a few comments pre-show about being really tired and burnt out at the end of several months on the road, but those sentiments immediately vanished once they stepped out of the green room and onto the stage.
Mario, Dom, Henry, Grant, and Matt all transformed into their onstage alter egos and gave the fans at Terminal West a show that prompted Dom’s girlfriend to say how happily surprised she was that this Atlanta crowd was one of the absolute best crowds she’d seen on the current tour. Whether it was modern classics like “Who Needs You,” “The Righteous One” (which turned into a cover of The Raconteurs “Steady as She Goes”), “Let It Burn,” and “In My Bed,” or new favorites “Buddy,” “Vacation,” “They Put A Body in the Bayou,” and closer “Double Feature,” the crowd sung every word and rivaled Mario and company as the most entertaining and energetic force in the building.
The closing song, “Double Feature,” ends with an extended instrumental section for the last half of the song, which is perfectly tailored to the fact that Mario exits the stage and leaves the band to jam at the end of each show. Toward the end of the song, after Mario’s exit and four consecutive stage dives from Dubby Mac and The Walters, lead guitarist Matt O’Keefe walked over to the couch on stage, handed me his guitar, and immediately reached up and pulled himself into the rafters. Matt then traversed the venue like a drunk Spiderman, perched high above the awed citizens of Atlanta.
As the song ended and the band returned to the green room, the prevailing sentiment was “no encore.” “We ended that cool as shit, we can’t follow that up! No encore,” Mario exclaimed as soon as we walked through the green room door. The rest of the band seemed to agree as one member noted, “Matt’s still up in the fucking ceiling anyway.” Just as they were about to begin their post-show rituals, the tour manager burst through the door. “You have to do an encore, they’re begging for it.”
After a bit of convincing, the band agreed. “Fuck it, we’ll do ‘Head’ then.” The guys ascended the small staircase to the stage just as Matt was descending back onto the stage. The couch again filled up, and the encore, much like the rest of the show, was a mass of passionate musical expression and love from their adoring fans. After ending the show for the second, and final, time, The Orwells exited stage left, packed up their gear, and headed off to Bonnaroo before a short break and the beginning of their European tour.
Photos by Sidney Spear for Bullet Music