Christmas shows are a dime a dozen this time of year. Some tinsel is strewn about, red and green bulbs pump wattage through them, and the artificial merriment kicks into high gear. Orange County’s The Devious Means wanted to put a stop to that with their Friday House of Blues show in Anaheim, choosing a more organic approach to the time-honored tradition. A crate with the word “FRAGILE” on the stage planted the tongue firmly within the eggnog-filled cheek as the “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” Christmas show began. They opened their set with a fun version of “Baby, its Cold Outside,” had a local Meanie Carol Choir entertain between bands, and finished with a multi-band rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” They even led the audience through a rendition of a few classic Christmas carols before the night was over.
But before the Meanies could kick into high gear, a few supporting acts demonstrated their talents, including Midnight Hour. Brad Lodge heads up this Orange County collective and does so with all of his might, as the veins in his neck ripple with every syllable he sings. His words seem to erupt from his diaphragm like a volcano, unlike the semi-sophomoric crooners that make up the current local musical landscape. Their hooks are solid and the songs have been tightened as tight as they can get, proven when the microphone became outstretched into the crowd and folks knew how to finish any line. The band composes tunes that are not quite ballads, but certainly love songs under the surface. The guitar and drums are edgy enough to keep the guys’ attention, while the lyrics are more sentimental, all in all striking a proper balance that reaches the majority of the audience.
When Midnight Hour was finished, attention turned to the middle of the dance floor, as the carolers had some time to provide between-set entertainment. In a room full of pocket technology and alcohol, attentions are tough to wrangle but trying is more admirable than not. Any time a band attempts to make your ticket worth the price, they should be applauded, and The Devious Means did just that.
The Meanies started around 10 and after their warm-up “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” rendition, it was time for some new material. Tentatively titled “Blood in the Body,” we were treated to a distinctively more mature tone. Beyond the driving drum beat, provided by the ever-standing Jason Mize, the lyrical melody was catchier than the flu in LAX. I never thought I’d be headbanging at one of their shows, but I found it nearly impossible to do so. They showed off another new track halfway through their set, this one following in the same tradition of big sound, big riffs, and frantic guitar work. Frontman Christopher Faris looked like a mad man about to bust through his entire string collection in one song. Rachel Anderson keeps the group grounded with her synth work and devastatingly effective vocals. Her chemistry with both the stage and her band helps The Devious Means stand out.
While their new material is more driving than their back catalogue, the songs that got them to where they are were performed with love and care. The treatment given to the older work keeps it sounding fresh while the new songs scream “we’re ready,” but the band’s growth is going to lead them into an interesting split between how they used to sound and how they actually sound. Speaking of sound, the fidelity was primo, giving off a level of power and strength unlike most shows I’ve seen at this venue. The chemistry between their new stringsmen (Joe Petty on bass and Andy McCraw on guitar) was evident and much appreciated, especially given the chance to debut new music that was created with them in mind. They play each show like an agent is sitting in the back of the room, or picking up the show in his limo al a Mr. Big, ready to sign the best band that performs each night. It’s this work ethic and commitment to entertainment that made for one excellent night of Christmas rock and showcased two of the best bands in Orange County.