by Jordan Green

Travis Comer and his two Last Hour bandmates have just returned to the Clubhouse in west Greensboro near Guilford College after a meal at Chickfil-A; they grab seats around one of the tall tables. Comer, a native of Eden up near the Virginia state line, looks like a regular, all-American guy with a close-cropped ’do, facial hair and the slightest hint of the tortured-artist-male-angst look that was the hallmark of ’90s hard-rock vocalists like Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. Bass player Guy Wainwright, who was born in England and grew up in Spain, is even more of an ordinary type with an easygoing, friendly personality. Long-haired drummer Paul Salas, a New Jersey native raised in Puerto Rico, has a streak of gonzo in him, alongside traits of nice-guy teamplayer commitment and enthusiasm. The members of the Last Hour are pros — modest and straight dealing in person, theatrical and over the top onstage. If there’s a big-time to reach for after the disintegration of the music industry as we know it, these guys want a crack at it. Comer and Salas will take a couple sweating Buds onstage to carry them through the mission, but their discipline in pursuing their goal puts a check on any excessive tendencies hidden in their psyches. They know what they want: a record deal and the opportunity to tour far and wide. Every setback is painfully learned, turned into a gift and incorporated into the grand strategy. Comer, the undisputed leader of the band, discovered that a batch of good songs, well executed studio performances and a tangible product do not automatically lead to success. Someone has to play those songs night after night. Relationships need to be massaged. Each member’s dedication must be calibrated to the dynamic of the group’s shared aims. Logistics have to be worked out. Some spark of mutual recognition must catch fire between musical group and audience. All the songs on the Last Hours’ EP, A Month of Sundays, had been recorded in 2006, and by early 2008, Comer’s band was flagging. “At the first of 2008, the two guys I was playing with hit a dead spot,” Comer says. “I thought we were going to quit.” He gestures toward Salas. “I had lost touch with this guy,” Comer continues. “It just so happened we were in the right place. He said, ‘Do you need a drummer?’ He nailed all the songs. I had been thinking of going in the cover-band vein, but he was just so perfect. Then we started looking for a bass player.” They held a CD release party in November at Market Street Music Hall, a Latin dance club in the bowels of the old warehouses at Guilford Mills that briefly served as a rendezvous point for the hard-rock and metal scene. The next month, they headlined Greene Street, the Greensboro concert hall that is a required stop for any local band with serious aspirations of mass appeal. “We’re just trying to make great songs that are melodic and hard hitting, that move quickly, and at the end you’re like, ‘What was that?’” Comer says. Show up on time to every gig, break down your gear quickly to ensure a smooth transition for the next band and give the same performance for five people that you would for 500 — those are the essentials of longevity, the requirements exacted in exchange for the opportunity to do bigger things. They’re playing three sets at the Clubhouse tonight. It’s a compliment of sorts for a band that writes its own material: Saturday nights are generally reserved for cover bands. The Last Hour duly obliges with a closely vetted set of chestnuts from the golden age of grunge and its hard-rock aftermath — covers of the aforementioned Stone Temple Pilots, the Foo Fighters, Nirvana and some pop detours such as OneRepublic. “There’s rules,” Comer says. “We’ve all got to like it. It has to be something that influenced us. And we’ve got to put our own taste on it.” The front man makes a point of describing the Last Hour as an “original hardrock group” in his onstage rapport with the audience, and mindfully introduces each original song, guarding against the temptation to become a human jukebox or a trick pony that performs silly variations on familiar tunes. And so he should: The handful of songs on A Month of Sundays, and the equal complement of tunes generated by the current lineup since then, explode with calibrated intensity, perfect tension in the counterpoint between guitar and bass and agile, dynamic percussion. Everything is there: tight interplay between the bass and guitar, melodic and soft passages segueing into monster riffs, a progressive metal breakdown that suggests the sound of a heavily amplified deadbolt heaving out of a lock, bass progressions that course like an undertow beneath the melodic line, earsplitting volume, charismatic stage presence, and vocals that coo, growl and wail, limning the evolution from Otis Redding to Paul Rodgers and Billie Joe Armstrong. “We’re going to keep doing this,” Comer says. “We’re going to keep saving our money, what little we get. It’s not about the money. I don’t want to be rich. I just want money to eat, to drink a couple beers and take a shower now and then.”

Travis Comer, Paul Salas and Guy Wainwright (l-r) of the Last Hourdemonstrate the virtues of hard work and songcraft. (photo by QuentinL. Richardson)