It took an impromptu onstage battle between the members of Parachute featuring some intense guitar riffs to finally get some laughs and whoops from the lukewarm student crowd at the national act's show Wednesday in the Schine Underground.
The night had gotten off to a slow start as opener White Picket Fence, a Syracuse indie rock band already earning recognition in the local music scene, belted out their lyrics to an echoing Underground. Only about 50 music fans were there to see the energetic five-member act led by vocalist Elise Miklich.
As expected for the main attraction, the audience for Parachute doubled in size, but still didn't fill the Underground for the semester's final Bandersnatch series show. Described as a mixture of R&B, pop, and soul music, Parachute's music pulls inspiration and influence from a variety of artists, ranging from Stevie Wonder to Coldplay to Kanye West.
The Charlottesville, Va. act that settled into its current lineup while at the University of Virginia was vaulted into the national spotlight thanks in part to a Nivea sponsorship that had it performing at New York City's Times Square this past New Year's Eve. More recently, the band toured the United Kingdom while opening for Kelly Clarkson. Wednesday's Syracuse University show was the band's first in a month, according to lead singer Will Anderson.
Anderson and bandmates took the stage around 9 p.m., playing to the mood of the smaller crowd by breaking up the songs with light banter and a few catchy covers, including Tom Petty’s “Refugee” and Genesis' “Hold On My Heart.”
Parachute says it aims for popular appeal, and at this show, they hit their target. Every song had an easy melody, smooth rhythm, and sing-along lyrics, making the Underground’s cold crowd thaw out a little by the end of the show. Guitarist Nate McFarland and Anderson's musical improv was a hit with the crowd while Kit French’s saxophone playing also drew some screams from the floor.
Syracuse Locals, White Picket Fence, opens for Parachute at Wednesday's concert. (PHOTO: Nick Pray)
By the time Parachute broke out its hit single “She Is Love,” some listeners had started swaying to the music. After about an hour, the band ended with the rocking crowd-pleaser “Out of Control." Although there were some screams, the band didn’t make an appearance for an encore. Parachute definitely had energy, but enthusiasm was slightly lacking from the audience.
Even though Syracuse may have not been the most exciting tour stop, Parachute is going places. More specifically, the group is headed to Tampa, Fla., next week to play with 3 Doors Down and Lifehouse at the VH1 Best Cruise Ever event. After that, the band is returning to the U.K. for a tour in May.
It may have had an intimate crowd at the Schine, but Parachute is riding high and won't land anytime soon.
Before Wednesday's show at the Schine Underground, Parachute members Will Anderson (guitar/vocals), Johnny Stubblefield (drums), Nate McFarland (guitar), Kit French (saxophone/keyboard) and Alex Hargrave (bass) participated in an interview about the band's career, tours and even some requests of SU students. The tight-knit group often talked collectively so responses below as "Parachute" are a combination of their comments.
Q: So you all met in Charlottesville, Va., and began playing there. When was the first time and place you performed together for the first time?
Parachute: June 7, 2007, at the venue the Alley Catz, in Charlottesville. That’s where we picked up Nate. He was in another band that night.
Nate: Yeah, I wore a headband and I was a promoter that night, actually.
Will: We knew Nate from college and sniped him out from under the other band’s wing. Nate had been filling in for us, but we figured he was smart and handsome enough to join our band.
Q: How does that first performance compare to performing today? How has it changed and evolved?
Parachute: We’ve been playing a ton of shows over the past 8 years. There’s a noticeable increase in confidence on stage. We’re just ready to take it to the next level. We’re slightly better at our instruments, too.
Q: So you just came back from a UK tour with Kelly Clarkson. How was that? Are you more popular in the UK or the US? I’ve seen several things online that say your album was released in the UK as well.
Parachute: She was great. Europe was great - much better reaction than we could have expected. It was fun to start fresh. Cool to start again at the bottom and see it build from the ground up. Virtually no one knows us there. We’re going back in May. And Kelly Clarkson, she’s got one of the best voices we’ve ever heard.
Q: Why did you decide to come to Syracuse? It’s obviously a much smaller venue than you’re recently used to, I’m assuming.
Parachute: Syracuse was kind enough to invite us. We’ve been off since Europe and were itching to play again. It’s totally cool. You’re kind of disconnected on big stages, so it’s nice to get back to 500-seater venues where the audience is right up in your face. You feed off their energy. We’re playing to our fans, which is a new and fun experience. They’re here to see you, singing along and much more energetic. I mean, whenever there’s a full house, whether it’s 200 or 2000 people, it’s always fun. The energy always seems to escalate when it’s full.
Q: Have you been back to perform in Charlottesville?
Parachute: We have not for a while, but we’re going back on April 30. It’ll be a lot of fun to show people what we’ve done. And Kit’s mom will be there.
Q: I’ve read that your music is “unabashedly pop.” How do you respond to that? And how did you develop your sound?
Parachute: We don’t apologize for wanting people to hear our music. You can do it in a way that’s organic and a way that’s natural. It’s cool to see 5 guys live, and [it] sounds good. We take a lot of pride in that. It’s a good balance that’s unique and staying true to ourselves.
Q: What bands do you like?
Parachute: Ryan Adams, U2, Dave Matthews, Radiohead, Maroon 5, The Fray, Wilco. We have an eclectic music taste.
Q: Are you content with your band’s current style, or will it evolve and change as the band continues to produce and perform music?
Parachute: I think as we perform more, it’s already kind of evolved, and I think as we perform more we’ll get a much better sense of what kind of sound we’re looking for on the next record. We’re just now shifting into our spot. I mean, we get kind of bored pretty easily; I can’t imagine we’d stay in one style forever. But our sound is definitely more of a focused sense of what we want it to sound like, so it’ll be cool to see where the next record goes.
Q: What has been your favorite performance to date? Your least favorite?
Parachute: Favorites are definitely the Amsterdam, Heineken Music Hall and Wimberley Arena in London. Hmmm…our least favorite? There was a club in St. Louis, straight up Saget, IL. We love the people in St. Louis and we played an amazing show thereafter, but that one show, the show before that, the venue was absolutely terrible. We’ve played a lot of grimy clubs, but that club was situated in an industrial park.
Johnny: “Oh, what these eyes have seen…”
Q: How did you come up with the name "Parachute"? Why did you change it from "Sparky’s Flaw"? I heard your friend Sparky was disappointed you changed the name.
Parachute: We just liked it, and it was the first thing we all agreed upon. I mean, "Rubber Knickers" had already been taken. Also, "Parachute" didn’t have too much connotation, either negative or positive.
Q: What advice would you give to young aspiring musicians? It wasn’t so long ago that you were in our shoes.
Parachute: We played everywhere. Any fraternity, charity, or any venue that asked us, we played out. We spent a lot of time writing songs, too, and building up a following. If you have good songs and play well, people will come out.
Q: Any thoughts for SU students?
Parachute: Facebook us. Facebook us personally. We’re all on there. And Johnny needs more friends.