Sullivan offers libations on road to star status
As early as 7 p.m. on Friday the high school rock fans line up outside of Greene Street – a pack of androgynous teenagers with shaggy hair, braces, acne and black eyeliner. A late-model town car stops in front of the club and four of them pile out. The driver, evidently a father, looks with concern as a boy bounds up to the car and enfolds one of the girls in a bear hug as she exits.
Some couples nuzzle and peck kisses despite nearly constant interruptions from friends jostling and poking them. Some of them loudly declaim. Maybe their declarations are intended as irony because the kids’ obvious giddiness belies their conviction.
“New Sullivan sucks…. Hey, I’m A Ghost sucks…. The pre-girl jeans Sullivan was better….”
They shell out their dollars at the box office and receive black X’s on the backs of their hands to indicate their under-age status.
Inside, an impossibly skinny Brooks Paschal sits behind the band’s merchandise table and greets a steady stream of well-wishers. Despite his ear-to-ear grin, his face betrays traces of exhaustion and distraction. A half-eaten slice of pizza lies neglected on the table.
Hours later, after sets by five supporting acts that generally combine melodramatic vocals, guitar-hero exploits, explosive rhythm and the atmospheric effect of keyboards, the boys of Sullivan take the stage.
Paschal, who hails from Randleman, prances up to the microphone with a bottle of water stuffed in his back pocket.
If there is one local band from the Triad that qualifies for rock star status, it would be Sullivan. After six years of playing, they have a deal with a record label in Seattle, a manager based in Los Angeles, a Nashville booking agent and a full-length CD under their belt. They’ve returned from Florida where they just spent more than a month recording their new album and picked up an additional guitar player. The jammed club floor and periodic eruptions of anticipatory applause as the band sets up their equipment proves that Sullivan’s homecoming is nothing short of triumphant.
The lights go down and the first song quietly unfolds as a hush rolls over the audience. Paschal sings tenderly in a voice that reaches for the high registers. A wisp of vulnerability, his arm spirals heavenward as his vocals reach a point of emphasis with the lyric, “She’s so amazing.”
He sticks a finger into the open water bottle, slowly slides it out and licks it. A fan in the front sprays the singer with water just before he grasps the bottom of his bottle and swings it in a wide arc that drenches the front rows. The audience shrieks and the band erupts in a tightly executed, propulsive modern rock catharsis. His shaggy hair soaked, Paschal dominates the microphone, conveying anguish that reaches the point of ecstacy.
They play three new songs – a privilege bass player Zach Howard says is reserved for the fans in North Carolina. Howard introduces Jeremy Stanton who is replacing Paschal on guitar. Stanton is from St. Petersburg, Fla. and has just moved into a house in Greensboro with the rest of the band. This is his first show with Sullivan. Judging by its response, the audience appears to have embraced the new material and new guitar player without reservation.
“It’s been a great run on a great record,” Paschal tells the audience, after mentioning Hey, I’m A Ghost. “We hope you’ll come along to the crazy land of a new record. Do not go without getting something from the band. It’s a tough life.”
The new album is set for release on June 5.
One of the new songs, “The Process,” radiates a spiraling sonic pop sound reminiscent of the Pixies that combines shards of guitar and a pounding bass line.
Paschal shows no reluctance to urge the audience to support the band monetarily by purchasing CDs and clothing from the merchandise table. The prolific touring and the meals of peanut-butter sandwiches are just part of the sacrifice required to keep the band on the road to success. Howard says later: “It’s like medical school, except you don’t make six figures when you’re done.”
For all that, the band also shows devotion to its fans and exhibits a utopian sensibility towards the community formed around it.
“Don’t kill yourself,” “Paschal says from the stage. “Don’t drink too much alcohol. Drink lots of water. That’s the one thing that sustains life. Keep on that junk, sister.”
At another interval, he declares: “I don’t understand how anyone leaves here single tonight because you all are such beautiful children. Not like make-out-on-the-furniture kind of beautiful but like putting together a three thousand-piece puzzle and we all live happily ever after.”
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