On Stage Extra: The Friendship Commanders ready to rock Mid-Atlantic

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Friendship Commanders

Commander may have been sent into exile in Delaware, but the Commanders are currently out in full force in the Mid- Atlantic region – the Friendship Commanders, that is.

The Friendship Commanders, a heavy rock duo from Nashville featuring guitarist/singer/songwriter Buick Audra and drummer Jerry Roe, are touring in support of their new album, “MASS,” with shows this week in Philadelphia on October 11, Pittsburgh on October 12 and Baltimore on October 13. The show in Philly tonight will be at Century (1350 South 29th Street, Philadelphia).

At the end of September, Friendship Commanders  released their highly anticipated third album, “MASS,” on Trimming The Shield, along with an essay collection by Audra. The album arrived following the release of recent acclaimed singles “Blue,” “Fail,” “High Sun, and “Vampire.”

“MASS” is a concept record about memory, language, and the state of Massachusetts. The project was written after the suicide of songwriter Marc Orleans, Audra’s longtime friend. The 10-track body of work presents a series of true stories, snapshots of experiences that Audra lived through and has come back to address.

“I’m from a splintered family,” said Audra, during a phone interview last week from her home in Nashville. “We moved around a lot, and we moved to Massachusetts a lot. The last time was when I was 16.

“I had some really wild experiences – like being bullied by my ‘best friend’ and having the music scene see it. She put herself in a position where she had an abusive foothold. She enacted a bully scene.

“I got out of it in my early 20s. I wrote about it on one of the songs from the new album, ‘Vampire.’ I am an abuse survivor from childhood. I didn’t know what it was back then.

“I was living in Belmont, which is next to Cambridge. A lot takes place there. I got into the music scene. I grew up in angular rock – loud, noisy, dirty rock scene. Massachusetts is a really strange state in a lot of ways.”

“Mass” is a word that means “a coherent, typically large body of matter with no definite shape,” “a large number of people or objects crowded together,” and, for Catholics, “the celebration of the Eucharist.”

All those meaning and more can be found in “MASS.”

“This album is really a personal story,” said Audra. “I wanted to make it more about my experience there. I told this story for myself. It informed a lot. It was worth saying out loud. Human nature is bizarre.”

According to Audra, “I was in a position to look back on my time in Massachusetts, a place I’m not from, but was moved to several times throughout my adolescence, and where I lived for some of my early adulthood. What I found, was new awareness and vocabulary around events that had once confused and injured me — and some that have shaped me to this day.

“I never expected to make this work, but after Marc died, this was where my mind went, and I just let it run. I had blocked some of it out, but once I started to write music about it, it all showed up. My bandmate Jerry Roe and I co-produced the album with Kurt Ballou, and it was recorded and mixed by Kurt at his God City Studio in Salem, Massachusetts. It was intense to return to Massachusetts to make the record there, but we think it was the perfect choice — sonically and personally.”

Orleans’ death hit hard for Audra, who spent much of her younger life in Miami, Florida.

“When Marc died, I was grieving his death,” said Audra. “I looked back at the time. ‘MASS’ applied to the state, to an assembly of people moving the same way, to people getting into sets of behavior, to Catholic Mass. Massachusetts was the most Catholic place in America. Coming from Miami, it was a very strange cultural whiplash.

“The story of the album is a Massachusetts story. It took place there. It’s there the whole time. The whole album is really a map of learning where you don’t belong. When I was younger, I didn’t understand what a healthy relationship meant.”

While the project is autobiographical, it invites the listener to ask themselves about what they understand of their past, and how that knowledge colors their present.

The album’s sequence is designed to carry the narratives. The opening track, “Blue,” sets the table for the whole project by rejecting the idea that staying—whether in a relationship or a place—is the superior move. It also promises that if someone is living in a chapter they don’t know how to leave, they will.

The next track is “Fail,” an anthem about inadvertently failing who we love wherein Audra openly grieves the death of Orleans. “High Sun” takes the listener back to some of the events that turned Massachusetts into a dark place for her, including two episodes where she was mistreated by peers while onlookers did nothing. “Vampire” kicks against the grip of a dominant personality. “Still Life” echoes what Buick was told when she spoke up about imbalances she witnessed.

“We Were Here” names the fear Audra long carried as a result of her Boston years: that she was unlovable. “Distortion” lists the things she felt she had to say about herself and her story to blend in with everyone else, always feeling that being different was a problem. “A Retraction” stands up to apathetic former friends while stating that if she ever told them she loved them, she didn’t.

“Move” reminds the listener that they are always allowed to leave. And at the end of the album, the music falls away for “Dissonance,” a spoken piece about the many things she hoped the listener was able to hear and see during the course of the record.
The artwork for “MASS” and its related singles was done by Audra using the cyanotype printing method, a choice chosen to illustrate how her memories have been colored by trauma, all blue. A limited edition of hand-numbered and signed cyanotype prints will be made available with the album, as well as an essay collection by Audra. “MASS: Essays on Memory, Language, & the State of Massachusetts” is prose that further explores the narratives and themes of the music.

Roe said, “I met Buick after nearly all of the events, times, and places that inspired this album took place, but I’ve come to know the stories intimately and it felt very special to bring these songs about them to life. Musically, I’ve never felt more at home. This new body of work combines all of the things I love most. It’s heavy, very melodic, intensely emotional, and somehow simultaneously fun and heartbreaking. Very proud of what we all made together from Buick’s work.”

Both Audra and Roe are from musical families.

“I definitely am,” said Roe, who grew up in Nashville. “Everyone in my family played. It seems like I was born playing music.”

Audra said, “We’re both from highly musical families. I grew up playing in the school band and singing in choirs. I’m a self-taught guitar player. I never had a guitar lesson. I went to art school instead of music school and didn’t start playing guitar until I was 20.”

Together, they now make great music – brutally honest music.”
Video link for Friendship Commanders — https://youtu.be/VWNpxgLZekU.

The show at Century on October 11, which has Clamfight and El Dingo as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $10.

Another attractive concert on October 11 will take place at the Brooklyn Bowl (1009 Canal Street, Philadelphia, www.brooklynbowl.com/philadelphia)

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

Grammy Award-winning guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Christone “Kingfish” Ingram will celebrate his third Alligator Records release, “Live In London,” with a live performance at Brooklyn Bowl in Philadelphia on October 11.

The album was recorded on June 6, 2023, in front of a sweaty, sold-out, standing-room-only crowd at the famous UK club, The Garage. “Live In London” is the guitar-driven live album Kingfish’s diehard fans around the world have been clamoring for since they first watched him perform as a teenager on YouTube.

According to Ingram, “This album is a short lifetime in the making. I’ve long had an interest in recording a live album and I finally felt the timing was right. Not only do I have a deeper catalog of music to choose from, but I also have been extensively touring with my band, both of which truly made recording a live album seamless. Sprinkle in the opportunity to perform in a city I love, it’s all a no-brainer and something that makes me deeply proud.”

Throughout the concert, Ingram’s command over his instrument is more than impressive. He remains in the moment, at times raining down incendiary solos, other times picking poignant, blues-drenched licks, but always playing deeply from his heart. Along with his versatile, tight-knit band – bassist Paul Rogers, drummer Christopher Black and keyboardist Deshawn Alexander – he brings intensity and honesty to each song, moving the audience from hushed disbelief to spontaneous, extended ovations.

“Live In London” features the internationally recognized guitar prodigy and vocalist performing 17 songs, with tracks including material from both of his previous studio albums, 2019’s GRAMMY-nominated debut, “Kingfish,” and 2021’s GRAMMY-winning “662.” Live In London also includes two potent, new original songs, “Midnight Heat” and “Mississippi Night,” as well as a blistering version of Michael “Iron Man” Burks’ “Empty Promises.”

When Ingram last played in the area — Upper Merion Concerts Under the Stars series – in June, he was still touring in support of “662.”  The tour — “Christone “Kingfish” Ingram Presents 662: Juke Joint Live” – took the 24-year-old guitarist, vocalist and songwriter across the U.S. and Europe.

Many blues guitarists have been playing for decades. Ingram’s guitar playing gives listeners the impression that he too has been at it for decades. In reality, he is barely two decades old. He was born in Mississippi in January 1999 and has been exposed to the blues since he was a toddler.

In addition to the Grammy nomination (his second in two years), “662” was named the #1 Best Blues Album of 2021 by UK tastemaker magazine, MOJO. Rolling Stone declared, “Kingfish is one of the most exciting young guitarists in years, with a sound that encompasses B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.”
Upon its July 2021 release, “662” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart, and it’s remained on the chart ever since. “662” was recorded in Nashville and co-written and produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge. It features 13 songs (and one previously released bonus track) displaying many sides of Ingram’s personality, as well as his one-of-a-kind guitar and vocal skills. Ingram’s debut, “Kingfish,” was named the #1 Best Blues Album of 2019.

“I’ve been out here on the road for a while,” said Ingram, during a phone interview “Everything is going great. I’ve been selling out shows everywhere.”

Ingram describes “662” (the number is northern Mississippi’s telephone area code) as “a presentation of my life in and away from the Delta.” The album overflows with hard-hitting original songs, jaw-dropping guitar work and deep, soul-possessed vocals. Ingram recently won the 2021 Living Blues Award for Most Outstanding Musician (Guitar).

He also won two 2021 Blues Music Awards (for Guitarist of The Year and Contemporary Blues Male Artist of The Year) in addition to the five he won last year. In February 2021, Ingram guest hosted Spotify’s popular “In The Name Of The Blues” playlist, which featured him talking about and sharing some of his favorite songs.

“662” was co-written and produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge. It features 13 songs displaying many sides of Ingram’s dynamic personality, as well as his one-of-a-kind guitar and vocal skills.

“I actually recorded ‘662’ during the pandemic,” said Ingram. “We spent a full week at Ocean Way Studio in Nashville, which was the same studio I used for my first album. We had writing sessions on Zoom from May through September and then went in the studio two weeks later.

“It went pretty smooth. I learned a lot from making my first record. It helped having Tom produce both of my albums. He knows how to pull things out of me. The new album shows my growth. It was two years since my first record, and I had a lot of things happen in my life. My mom passed away. Then there was COVID.

“I wanted to make a personal record. I wanted to show a different side. People know me for edgy and hardness, but I also have a soul and R&B vibe. We had 20 songs going into the studio and recorded them all. We used 13 and we’ll use the other songs later.”

Ingram grew up with the blues.

“I come from Clarksdale, Mississippi – the Mecca of blues,” said Ingram. “I remember seeing the PBS documentary on Muddy Waters when I was pretty young. And I lived next door to a blues band. I was exposed to the blues a lot as a young child. I actually started as a bass player. My first paid gig playing bass was with the All Night Long Blues Band. I was 11 at the time.”

It didn’t take long for Ingram to switch from bass to lead guitar.

“I was playing bass, but I always wanted to play guitar,” said Ingram. “But, when I was young, my fingers were too big for guitar. I started with a cheap Sears & Roebuck guitar. An Epiphone 335 was my first real guitar. I got it for Christmas when I was in middle school.

“When I was 14-15, I played guitar for a local band. I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to put my own thing together. I wanted to play guitar. Playing guitar was original.”

Ingram explained the origin of his nickname.

“My mentor from the Delta Museum gave kids nicknames,” said Ingram. “He called me Kingfish. He said Kingfish who was a character on the ‘Amos ‘n’Andy Show.’

“My biggest influences were Albert King, Little Milton, B.B. King, Son House, Freddie King and Skip James. I was also influenced by Ernie Isley, Jimi Hendrix, Prince and George Benson.

“Even though I was influenced by Jimi and Prince, I never had an actual intent to merge rock and blues. I just want to experiment and see what I come up with. I just like to create stuff.

“Making the guitar sing – that’s when playing with substance comes into play. I love playing originals.”

“Live In London” is now available at all streaming and download services and can be experienced in Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos at Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal and Qobuz. The album will be released as a 2-CD set and a 2-LP set on October 13. Both the CD and LP will include encore performances as bonus tracks.

Video link for Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – https://youtu.be/1JKTwgujXlA.

The show at Brooklyn Bowl on October 11 will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices range from $27.50-$55.

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