Warm sunny days in winter, new product releases from Apple, and Brave concerts: things that we collectively wish would happen much more often but are nonetheless content when they happen at all. Over the past few months we mid-Atlantic music fans have been treated to three consecutive acoustic shows from Brave, a unique progressive melodic rock/metal band from the greater Washington, DC, area, and their latest show was a half-hour set that warmed up the crowd for Geoff Tate (of Queensryche fame) on his national tour.
Geoff Tate is currently giving his fans an intimate glimpse into his life and music by playing a kind of acoustic storyteller set of hits throughout the decades. Though many of his fans are familiar with national progressive rock acts, many were unacquainted with Brave, who have opened for bands like Opeth, Lacuna Coil, and Savatage. As I meandered through the venue to scout discreet vantage points from which to take pictures, I engaged some of the audience members in brief chats. They first wanted to know if I was working for Geoff Tate directly or for a local media outlet.
“Neither,” I replied. “I’m hired by bands to shoot their concerts or studio pictures, and tonight I’m working for Brave.” The suddenly blank looks staring back at me were an opportunity to continue. “They’re the opening band tonight. They’re a female-fronted melodic prog band that doesn’t fit into any single category. You’re in for a treat!”
Reassured, encouraged, and optimistic, those fans turned to relay my report to their friends or dates, and soon the crowd swelled to Jammin’ Java’s capacity of just over 150 patrons before Brave took the stage…with a twist: because Mr. Tate plays an acoustic set, he requests that his opening acts also play acoustically to complement his show. And so acoustic they would go!
Brave were prepared, having recently played two other local acoustic shows. However, for the first time in their career, they played an acoustic set and, at the request of Mr. Tate, they played without a drummer. Because the headliner’s percussionist only plays a cajón, Brave were asked to not only omit their standard drum kit but—on the morning of the concert—they also were asked to forgo a cajón in order to distinguish the sounds of the two groups. Stripped to (less than) their core elements, Brave gracefully took everything in stride and “allowed” their drummer and co-founder, Trevor Schrotz, to enjoy the unique experience of a Brave concert from the audience.
Brave took their places on stage, and the crowd warmly welcomed them. Guitarist Scott Loose (pronounced LOW-zee) and electric-violinist Suvo Sur lined up stage left, and guitarist Matt Kozar and bassist Ben Kelly filled in stage right, all of whom played bookends to the tall and lovely world-class vocalist, Michelle Loose Schrotz, who left her keyboards packed away for this minimal acoustic set.
When this band puts together a set list, they have two decades’ worth of music (most of which is available on iTunes) from which to select songs. Indeed there were some young folks in the audience who weren’t born when Brave’s first CD was published. (Sorry for the gut punch, folks.) With such a catalog at their disposal, you’d think it would be easy to fill just 30 minutes, but Brave has morphed over the years—both as a band and as individuals. Life’s events have influenced their music and their message, and when we consider that some songs lose their strength when played acoustically, the difficulty of choosing a set list becomes clearer.
After Scott addressed the audience, Brave set off their acoustic set with “No Gravity”, a new instrumental that has not yet been released. Two guitars, a bass, and a violin introduced Queensryche fans to something unique, and they noticed. Heads bobbed and feet tapped as Brave began to win over the crowd.
They transitioned smoothly into their next song, “I Will Wait,” another yet-unreleased song which gave the audience its first taste of Michelle’s powerful and melodious voice. Whether intentional or not, she has earned a signature style in the way that she transitions into and out of falsetto with grace.
After thanking the crowd, Michelle introduced the third song, “Stronger,” from their 2008 CD Monuments. This song begins with dulcet, swaying guitars that play off of one another before being joined by vocals and an echoing violin in what becomes an inspiring, Floyd-esque (if Tori Amos replaced Roger Waters) rock song that, on some days, reminds me of driving after dark on an empty highway.
Going back to their 1998 release, Before an Audience of Stars, which was released by Brave’s original lineup, Arise from Thorns, they played “Bluer Skies,” which showcases Michelle’s range and Ben’s dynamic bass playing. The crowd applauded with more energy after each song, and they showed their growing appreciation for Brave after this quick-tempo tune.
At this point in the show, Michelle noted that they had time for just another song or two, to which the new group of Brave fans before her reacted with disappointment, cheering for more music. Michelle introduced the next song, “Trapped Inside,” from the 2002 release of Searching for the Sun. A beautifully remastered version of this song was released in 2009 on Lost in Retrospect.
When I used to think of a violin in a rock band, I imagined a hickory stump on which the Devil challenged (and lost his golden fiddle to) Johnny down in Georgia. Brave are miles away from that—both musically and geographically—and “Trapped Inside” is a hard-hitting, gritty, pins-and-needles journey into the protagonist’s bewildering psyche. The song doesn’t hit you over the head; it subtly and elegantly reveals the crumbling walls of a world in which many of us who have “lost our dreams to the big machine” may find ourselves “trapped inside without a window to see.”
While Ben holds down the groove on his Ibanez bass, Scott and Matt complement each other with crunching guitars over complex time signatures. Suvo mirrors Michelle’s vocals throughout the song, from the melodies of the verses to the staccato phrases in between. During the bridge, the groaning guitars—punctuated by occasional grunge chords—beautifully meander through alternative (Midlothian) keys and guitar tones, invoking Joe Satriani, while Suvo plucks an enchanting counterbalance on his electric violin. This song, especially the second half, is among my favorite music of all time in any genre. It’s that special.
After a very special acoustic, drum-less version of “Trapped Inside,” Michelle thanked the audience for their support, reminding everyone that Brave would be available to chat and to sign CD’s at their merch table. Ever graceful, she thanked Geoff Tate for the invitation to share the stage together, and then she announced the last song of Brave’s set, “Hold On” from Monuments.
If you’ve listened to Brave for even a short while, you’ve heard “Hold On” and its powerful, rocking reminder to dig deep and hold on—a message to all of us when we’re burdened with self-doubt. This is one of Brave’s finest songs, highlighting the ease with which they change time signatures, keys, and even playing styles. From the driving force of the verses to the classical influence of the bridge section and the operatic choruses, this is what Brave is all about. Call it their signature song, and if you need a Brave starter kit then this is Volume I.
As the crowd cheered their approval and Brave took a bow, I caught up with drummer Trevor in the audience, and I asked him what he thought. “I actually enjoyed it,” said Schrotz through a wry grin. “I hate to say it, but we sound pretty good without a drummer.”
The members of Brave are friendly, hardworking professionals with a collective sense of humor that will keep you in stitches. I was privileged to spend time with them before and after the show, as I have come to enjoy a wonderful working relationship with the band. I look forward to seeing them again as I am all too fortunate to have them in my neck of the woods, and I hope you’ll introduce yourself. I’ll make you famous-ish!
See more of Paul Muirhead Photography’s coverage of Brave and other regional acts on Facebook or www.PaulMuirhead.com.