The Conservatory's capacity isn't maxed-out, but the audience is overflowing with anxious energy. The crowd is four-deep in front of the stage. The band takes the stage without fuss " no guitar noodling, cymbal pinging or technical conveyances to the soundman at the back of the room.
If Friday's gig at VZD's goes down like the last Red City Radio show there, the crowd will join together in relocating chairs and tables as far from the stage as possible. Smashed shoulder to shoulder, fists at the ready, loyal locals will lean forward as the band takes the stage and shout in echo of Garrett Dale's rowdy, amplified greeting.
"We're Red City Radio, who the fuck are you?"
There's no subtlety with Red City Radio. Collectively, its four members are a toggle switch, and now they're on.
Fists in the air, sweat and beer everywhere.
Throughout the set at The Conservatory, the audience seethes and pushes into the elevated stage, fluids " both bodily and beverage-based " are flung, young girls lock arms to shoulder off the compression, which becomes a critical mass, yielding pockets of moshing.
For a few seconds, everything stops.
Overdriven guitars are muted, buzzing bass strings are palmed, and the drums devolve from a fury to keep simple time. All four members " Dale, Paul Pendley, Jonathan Knight and Dallas Tidwell " find a mike to join an a cappella the audience already started.
"Set sail for the new horizon, by dawn we will be in a new world."
The switch is thrown again. Red City Radio was never off the air; its members just took a surprising break from regularly scheduled punk programming.
A voice for radio
While its members are now split between three Central Oklahoma cities, Red City Radio is an Oklahoma City band. It was formed and fomented here, and OKC seeps in through lyrical references to Broadway Extension and N.W. 23rd Street.
In 2005, Pendley founded the band with neighbor Ryan Healy, and drummer Tidwell was soon recruited from an Internet message board. The lineup changed a few times, Healy left, and Dale was recruited to play guitar and, later, Knight joined to take over on bass.
The band released an EP last summer, the five-song "To the Sons & Daughters of Woody Guthrie." The blistering sampler was punk and poppy, but to label it pop-punk would undermine its sincerity. Tracked at Tulsa's Armstrong Recording with punk stalwart Stephen Egerton, a producer and musician best known as the guitarist for the Descendents and its offshoot, All, the EP is tight, concise and full-on from start to finish. The tracks are energetic and earnest, and arrive with surprising flourish. The musicians draw on diverse experiences, perspectives and backgrounds, but the characteristic they collectively share has quickly become the group's signature.
"We are lucky enough to have four guys in the band that all have previously sang as front men in previous bands," Knight said. "We can make it really dynamically interesting in parts where it needs to be, and we can have just one singer in parts where it needs to be, or two- and three-part harmonies where it's needed."
In the spring of 2009, Tidwell and Dale attended the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, to work, ostensibly, in a non-band capacity. Dale was doing street-level promotion and marketing, and Tidwell was there representing Stillwater Designs' Kicker speaker brand, which was sponsoring a party hosted by music magazine Alternative Press.
In the beer line, Tidwell made acquaintances with Eyeball Records (Thursday, My Chemical Romance and Murder by Death among its notable alumni) owner Alex Saavedra. Tidwell and Saavedra kept in touch after SXSW, and the band sent its EP " which was then a demo " to the label owner, who signed the act, agreeing to re-release the EP through Eyeball and put out a new Red City Radio full-length in 2010.
In the fall of 2009, the band trekked cross-country on a tour that hooked through Gainesville, Fla., for a stint at The Fest, and ascended the coast to New York and New Jersey, where the rest of the band met their new label owner.
By the time Red City Radio returned to Oklahoma, it was label-less.
There are no hard feelings, and neither side blames the other. The band and Saavedra both agree that a late-night, alcohol-fueled conversation got a little out of hand. The band decided to pack up and depart Saavedra's upstate New York home, where the members had been invited to crash. Saavedra called to make sure they made it to their next stop in Cleveland, and the group and label decided to part ways amicably.
"We certainly owe those guys," Knight said. "After all is said and done, we certainly owe them a lot of credit for allowing people to get some sort of visibility of who we are as a band and sort of take us seriously and give us a chance."
Vinnie Fiorello was already well aware of Red City Radio when Egerton called just prior to The Fest in 2009. Fiorello, a drummer and founding member of seminal Florida ska act Less Than Jake, had a long stage history with Egerton's All and Descendents acts. Fiorello co-founded the venerable Fueled by Ramen record label and now runs Paper + Plastick, a combination art house and record label. Egerton called to talk about an Oklahoma band and suggested Fiorello meet up with the musicians and check out their show.
"I said, 'I'm familiar with the band. I like some of their songs on the EP,'" Fiorello said, recalling stumbling across the group's music online.
Red City Radio was then committed to working with Eyeball. Later, when Paper + Plastick was making arrangements to work with Virginia rockers The Riot Before, that band's manager, Andy Loper of Oklahoma City, updated Fiorello on Red City's newly single status.
"I'm totally into the band; let's talk," Fiorello remembered telling Loper.
Red City Radio is due back in the studio in late July or early August, and will again record in Tulsa with Egerton. The act is currently on tour, but Knight said they're in "writing mode," and already have the framework for seven or eight songs. The band will finish recording by late summer, and Fiorello is planning to release a fresh full-length around October.
While the entire band has equal say in all aspects, songs generally begin with Dale and Pendley, and form out of the friendly tension between their contrasting styles and personalities.
"Paul writes lyrics down on paper; I never do. I just remember them," Dale said. "The way I think about it, man, is if it's not worth remembering, then it's probably not that great anyway."
Pendley said the typical writing routine starts with just the two of them before or after rehearsal. Dale is often on guitar, Pendley sitting with a pen and pad.
"I write things down because that's just the way my mind operates," Pendley said. "I like to put ideas on paper and revise that way. He likes to grab a guitar and just ad lib until he hears something he likes."
The pair later presents the song seed to Knight and Tidwell, who flesh out the arrangement and specific rhythmic structures, and scrutinize details.
"In literally the lamest analogy I could possibly make, is that Paul and I make the cupcake, and Jonathan and Dally put on the amazing frosting and sprinkles," Dale said. "Cupcakes aren't shit without frosting and sprinkles."
Dale said the new album will be "a lot more personal" and dynamic: "No ballads. We're not shooting out slow tunes," he promises. This sentiment is echoed by the rest of Red City Radio, but the general idea isn't to do something entirely new, rather to build atop what the band has already established.
"Hopefully, we can do what worked on the EP and just take that to the next level," Tidwell said. "Take all of our vocal work and do that better ... really utilize the fact that we have four vocalists and try to maximize that, because that's really what we hang our hat on."
Fiorello is hanging his hat on those vocals as well.
"When I listened to the EP, I was like, 'Yeah, man, this is right on.' Immediately, I was like, 'I like this band,' not 'Let me grow to like this band,'" he said, adding that his hopes for the new album are a lot more of the same: big choruses, catchy guitar hooks and multilayered vocal harmonies. "All those things that made me originally dig the band.
"Too many people like to break the mold of something that's already working in the name of change," Fiorello said. "I like to throw a spotlight on it. It's great right now, and let everyone else have a look to see how great it is."
Red City Radio already has written a half-dozen songs for the new album and are workshopping potential tracks on its current tour, which ends Friday at VZD's Restaurant & Club. Pendley said the group hones songs at live shows and is using out-of-state gigs to test tracks on audiences who are less familiar with the group.
"You get to gauge the reaction of people who have never heard the song before. If their jaw is dropping and they're blown away by something they've never heard, you have a pretty good idea it's a good song," he said, noting that the tour has been the band's best yet. "We've just been flying through the country, killing it, and making a little money along the way." "Joe Wertz
Red City Radio has made a big impression on Cory Walkingstick, a 28 year old from Oklahoma City who recently graduated with a degree in occupational therapy.
Walkingstick is a regular presence at Red City shows. "I hit about every single one," he said, including occasional out-of-state gigs. He didn't know any of the members prior to catching the band live at VZD's Restaurant & Club a few years ago, but he's since become a friend.
"We were down in Tulsa one time for a Rancid concert, and me and the guitarist, Garrett (Dale), started hanging out, and ever since then, I've been running around with those guys nonstop," he said.
Red City Radio reminds Walkingstick of the punk rock he listened to growing up in the '80s and early '90s, like Hot Water Music and Bouncing Souls.
"There's really not that many bands here, around Oklahoma City, that (are) actually doing their own thing. Everybody seems to want to jump on the indie thing," he said. "They kind of kept that old sound of punk rock."
Walkingstick considers himself a fan. If you don't believe it, ask him to turn around and unbuckle his belt. A barhop last year eventually led him to dares and bet-making with Dale. Walkingstick lost, and now he has "Red City Radio" permanently emblazoned on his ass.
"We just Sharpied it on there," he said, unable to recall who handwrote the large lettering. A tattoo artist friend later traced over the ink with an indelible reminder of what he called "just one of those Saturday afternoons in Oklahoma City."
"When people ask, I show. I don't care " it doesn't bother me," he said. "It's usually good for some laughs." "Joe Wertz
photo top/Mark Hancock
photo middle/Joe Wertz
photo bottom/Mark Hancock