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The City Lives concentrates three years and a string of bad luck into an EP of aching energy



The City Lives
9 p.m. Friday
VZD's Restaurant & Club
4200 N. Western

The murmur could be heard from blocks away, a low rumble underlining an otherwise calm, tree-lined neighborhood just west of the Gold Dome.

A bench seat from the van lined the entryway, and stacks of road cases and tour-marred plastic tubs filled what was once a breakfast nook.

The band was below ground, but one could barely tell. The walls and windows of the two-story, red-bricked duplex flexed and quivered as the five musicians ran through their set again and again.

It's like this four or five times a week, said front man Chase Kerby.

"Getting this record out has consumed every part of us," he said. "Going out, doing anything else really hasn't been an option. 'Sorry, we've got practice. Maybe after 10 p.m.,' is pretty much what we're telling everyone."
It's been almost three years since the band's last release, 2007's "American Kids," and the guys are a knot of worry, excitement and anxious energy.

The restlessness that propelled them through regional and national tours " and aligned friendships with influential gatekeepers like Mike Kennerty of The All-American Rejects " has been focused. The City Lives is plenty busy, but the members can't help feel like they're standing still.

A bare lightbulb hung from the center of the group's basement rehearsal space, at the dead end of a treacherous flight of stairs. It's dank and dim, with Christmas lights dangling from pipes and conduit. The musicians stood atop a nest of cords and cables, their amps pushed against the wall. Drummer Eric Gameros was stashed behind the door where the ceiling is lowest, and a hot water heater stood at the center of one wall like a sixth member.

The sound roared in the concrete cave, a brain-rattling wave that was deafening even with the full-on firing-range earmuffs offered to the unaccustomed. The members locked eyes and traded glances, but there was little fuss between songs, and no stopping once a tune had started. A brief, post-performance discussion was shared, and the band either repeated the tune in its entirety or moved along to the next one. Everyone knew the count.

"Just 10 more days " that's all we have left," said bassist Shaun Brown.

The City Lives debuts its new album Friday at VZDs. While the short, self-titled EP is less than half the length of the band's previous release, this disc required considerable more effort than "Kids." More than 50 songs were written, demoed or considered, Kerby said.

Only five made the cut.

The album is concentrated and succinct, intentionally arranged to be the very best of the act's very best. The first three tracks " "Walking Away," "Back in Love Again" and "You Told a Lie" " were recorded in August 2009 in Choctaw with producer Matt Dylan Street, while the final cuts " "O.E.T.A." and "You Gotta Let Go" " were recorded roughly a year prior, with Kennerty as producer, who is releasing the CD on his Edmond Records imprint.

The album is marked with aching optimism, a tone likely imbued by a rough year for The City Lives. Longtime drummer Eric Pennell left in November after a string of bad luck and circumstance on tour. The trouble started and ended in Texas " on Pennell's birthday, of all days " first with a flat on their trailer, then a van stuck in the mud, and later a stream of flaky promoters and soundmen. Finally, with the van towed, misfortune proved too much.

"It was a really dark time for the band," said guitarist Sammy Mitchell.

"It was just one thing after another," said Brown, agreeing.

Combined with the ongoing money concerns for musicians methodical enough to worry about paying taxes, an accountant and $300-per-month auto insurance, The City Lives started searching for a new drummer. It didn't look any further than Gameros, a Newcastle native who came recommended by the group's manager. After a few beers, the band decided Gameros was ready for a real test.

"It was a trial by fire," Mitchell said. "'All right, this seems right " let's play some shows.'"

With Gameros onboard, and the musicians in the homestretch of the album cycle, Mitchell said band morale is the best its been since it joined The All-American Rejects on tour in 2008.

Unlike many CD-release shows organized to line up a bunch of bands to help ensure a sold-out crowd, The City Lives is performing alone on Friday " sort of.

"It's kind of a weird idea, but we're actually opening up for ourselves," Kerby said.

The group will play roughly 17 songs split into two sets, with a few repeats between the two, likely "Back in Love" and "You Gotta Let Go," which will be delivered in different, reworked versions.

"It's just a way to put a twist on the songs and make them completely opposite of what they were," Kerby said.

A Gillian Welch cover is a possibility, and local singer/songwriter Daniel Walcher has been tapped for extra vocal harmonies and additional percussion elements. Guitarist Josh McClesky said having two sets will give them a chance to show off a side to which audiences aren't always accustomed.

"We'll make it very intimate, then take a break, and we'll come back and play it all in their true rock 'n' roll fashion," he said.

The City Lives has started booking dates for a fall/winter tour and is eyeing potential tour mates, as well as any chance to jump on as a support act for other big-name acts like The Rejects.

"We're waiting for the right opportunity," McClesky said, "but we're also playing shows and doing as much as we can to get this music that we've been working on for so long into people's hands." "Joe Wertz | photo/Caitlin Lindsey

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