As you get older, there are bands that you grow into and there are bands that you grow out of. But if you're lucky, there are those special ones that actually grow with you. For me, Mike Herrera is one of those musical heroes that has consistently put out incredible music that I've been able to connect with for years and years. From my first spin of MxPx's Pokinatcha in 1994 straight through to Mike's most recent release, Live From The Basement, I've found his authentic songwriting and passionate performances to be engaging, thought-provoking and just plain fun to listen to. So when I heard that Mike's solo tour was going to be stopping in Nashville, there was no question that I was going to be there with bells on! (Whatever that phrase actually means.) Not only was I in for an incredible night of music and memories, I actually got to interview Mike before the show as well (which I'll post in the next few days). The premise of the tour and Live From The Basement is Mike taking his catalog of MxPx and Tumbledown songs and refiltering through just an acoustic guitar. This format really allows the emotion and beauty in Mike's songwriting to shine through and creates some nice moments in the sparse spaces. If there were any questions as to whether or not these songs would still be powerful and moving without the MxPx punch or the Tumbledown twang, Mike laid them all to rest with each and every song he played.
Mike first hit the stage during Gasoline Heart's set and played bass for their last song. Seeing that familiar stance and energy, it seemed like the same Mike I had seen in concert many times before. But when he started his portion of the show, it was clear that we were in for a night of something special, something new he hadn't done before this tour. After a quick false start to gently chide someone on the front row for being on their phone, Mike opened with a killer version of "Drowning" from MxPx's Secret Weapon album. "Drowning" is one of the reimagined songs from Live From The Basement that we got to hear live, along with "Never Better Than Now," "Arrested In El Paso Blues," and "Doing Time." He also threw in "The Final Slowdance" as a nice bonus in his opening batch of songs before opening up the floor to requests. He mentioned that "it's always the weird ones" that get requested and he was right! He sifted through the hilarious barrage of chaotic yelling and ended up doing a handful of MxPx songs in a way we'd never heard before. It seemed he was happy to oblige some of them ("Invitation To Understanding" and "Let It Happen") and some we really had to coax out of him ("Move To Bremerton" and "G.S.F."). As proof of Mike's ability to write great songs that fit any genre, each one sounded really amazing done acoustically. Sadly my request for "Bad Hair Day" was swiftly denied with a smiling "I am NOT playing Bad Hair Day... not even if the president or the Pope requested it." We shall see about that Mr. Herrera... one day! After taking requests, Mike brought out Ethan Luck (Relient K) and Geoff Firebaugh (Hillbilly Casino) to join him on guitar and bass for an incredible closing set of originals and covers. Channelling Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, they blazed through a few Tumbledown and MxPx songs and sprinkled in covers by The Ramones, The Beatles and Rancid. It was so cool to hear Mike's songs in this unique way and it created a really special moment for all of us lucky enough to experience it with him. As a fitting closer, they boom-chicka-boomed through "Punk Rawk Show" to an appreciative crowd that sang along at the top of their lungs. In fact, the crowd participation aspect of the evening was one of the coolest elements of the whole night. Every song Mike launched into was met with enthusiastic cheers and word-for-word sing-a-longs. It was absolutely a communal experience and it was easy to feel the specialness of the evening. Mike described the sound of the show as "how punk rock sounds in it's 30's" and he nailed it perfectly. With new MxPx recording sessions having already started and the seeds of new Tumbledown songs being worked on, it's clear that Mike is never content with standing still or looking back for very long. It was awesome to catch him in such a rare moment of retrospection and this one's going to stay with me for a long time.