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Paragon: Anatomy of A Band Part 1- Rehearsals Take 4 The Breakdown Edition
The night before a gig can be equal parts mellow and what I would like to refer to as the “holyshitohmygod” freak out mode; or else mired somewhere in between. I sit here typing this a mere 24 hours from when Paragon should be on stage, owning it, and melting the faces off those lucky enough to witness it. After the week I have had, a good night of incredible music should do just the trick for my mental health. Despite some deeply painful personal stuff going on in my life, I managed to make it to the laidback version of their rehearsal to listen to them run through the new songs, and hitting upon some minor changes to one of their older songs. As has been the case during the full length jam sessions, they were sounding awesome. The new songs are stunning! I so cannot wait to see them in their proper environment…on the stage.
Tonight I saw something happen that I hadn’t witnessed before followed by something I have seen countless times from these men. Guitarist Marc Crotts is a phenomenal player. He has quickly become one of my favorite players to listen to. The riffs he comes up with are catchy as hell while also being quite intricate. The solo’s fit perfectly into the song and demonstrate his nimble fingered wizardry. During the run through of one of the new tracks part of the solo he came up with just wasn’t working out. He told me before on one of our Crackberry killing marathon phone conversations that something he doesn’t do very well is improvise and “jam.” When I was a player this was something I was fairly decent at, being able to jam and come up with something on the spot. Now whether or not it was worth hearing is debatable. Marc was pressed for time as he had to return to work, and it was getting to him a little. I can imagine with it being the night before a huge show, this sort of occurrence is really not a good thing to run in to. Through this his band mates rallied around him giving him confidence. It was inspiring, and despite them finally scrapping that portion of the solo the final product ended up working out just fine. I thought it sounded fantastic. I’m sure later on if they decide to Marc will come up with an amazing, blistering lead to burn over that part.
Once the practice portion was complete, the band and a couple other guys there began working at putting guitars into cases, wrapping cables, breaking down amps and drums, and loading all this stuff into their vans and vehicles. Clearly everyone there had done this a time or two. I ended up feeling pretty useless in the grand scheme of things just standing there awaiting the chance to grab something and load up. Sadly, my remaining time there was cut short by a horrible phone call and I had to excuse myself. I was already super excited about this show, but now after this news I received I need this outlet more than ever to help appease my mental health as I work through a bad time in my life. I feel certain the power and energy of the music of Paragon as well as the strong brotherhood I feel with them will be just the right medicine for me.
Paragon: Anatomy of A Band Part 2: Take 1- Lunch
The day started off with some tasty food. When AJ and I arrived into town we found Shawn, Sonny, Katherine, and various members of the Paragon crew standing in front of this restaurant called Cabo Fish Taco. It was mentioned that there was at least a 20 minute wait for a table. This was around 1:40 and we had to be at The Chop Shop at 3:00 for load-in. With the number of us already there, plus the fact that there were several more folks showing up, we decided to walk down the street to this place called Jack Beagle’s. I know AJ was slightly disappointed as she was reading the menu to me as we were driving in. It sounded good, but frankly Jack Beagle’s was more up my alley. As a longtime member of the Fat Bastard Society I’m more of a burger type of guy than healthy fish tacos, though admittedly the food looked and smelled great at Cabo.
Since it was a nice day out (and there was plenty of space) we sat outside on their patio area. While we waited to order our food and then wait for our food, I was able to talk to several of the guys, and listen to so many stories about Paragon in their early days from guys that were there. You could tell any time I spoke to a different person, their eyes would light up and big smiles appeared on their faces as they reminisced back on days ago, confirming the things I already saw and felt about them, that they were totally dedicated to their craft and were always the nicest, most caring people on the planet. Hearing that when people who live in town fail to even make it to the show, Artie one of their longtime friends, family, and crew member, drove a 13 hour one way trip with his girlfriend at the time just to “work” the show and be there for his friends. That is a testament to how powerful a bond there is with the Paragon family and the passion for the music they make.
While I ate one of the best burgers I have ever had, if not THE best, more stories were shared, more family members arrived, and more fond memories were created that I will hold with me the rest of my life. Just when I think there is no way for me to admire these guys any more than I already do, something else happens that makes that feeling deeper. Even when discussion turned to preparation for the show there was this feeling of camaraderie and no sense of fear that the night would not proceed any other way than in sheer perfection. Of course, when dealing with such professionals that take such care for what they do, even if the most disastrous occurrence could happen, they would still find a way to make the best out of the situation and still put on an incredible performance. With the 3:00 load-in upon us, it was time to make our way to the club. We had parked in this pay lot, so once we got to our car we noticed everyone else walking down hill and over some railroad tracks. We just assumed they knew of a different parking area. AJ plugged in the address of The Chop Shop into her phone’s GPS and discovered that the guys (and gal) weren’t walking to their cars. They were walking to the club as it was just down the hill. Oh well, at least it was only $3 lost.
Paragon: Anatomy of A Band Part 2: Take 2- Pre Show
This is the time when it’s the busiest time for the band and crew. Everyone is focused at the task at hand: getting the stage and equipment ready for the show. Initially no one is assigned a particular task, we just all jumped in and started carrying all the amps, drums, guitars, and odds and ends needed to make the music. Once the vehicles have been unloaded band members and crew alike step into their known role- sound guy goes to the soundboard, Scotti works on his drum rack, Marc sets up his amp and guitars, Shawn sets up his amp and bass, Sonny is scoping out the stage looking for his “spots” as well as working on getting everything set up perfectly for the sound guy to perfect the sound, the video guy is setting his stuff up, and the lighting guy is somewhere broke down. That’s how rock and roll rolls on.
No one is openly nervous or jittery. I spoke to everyone periodically getting a feel for how they feel about things, about the show, or just shooting the shit and telling jokes. I introduce myself to some of the Paragon family I have not met thus far. Most I have either met prior to tonight, others I met today during our lunch. Its great catching up with everyone, especially after the ordeal the day before- everyone is sending their love and well-wishes, many hugs passed around to AJ and myself. Being “embedded” with Paragon these last couple of months has been this incredible family experience. I’m not a big friend guy. I’m fairly self-isolated and almost non-social, though I do have the abilities to be so. I’m relatively quiet, shy and reserved around new people, and it takes time for me to warm up to folks, but pretty much everyone involved with Paragon are the nicest people ever. There are a couple guys I haven’t spoken with much though, and I look forward to rectifying that.
The Chop Shop is a much bigger establishment than I expected. The stage is huge! I’m so curious to see how the guys handle being on it. I asked Marc if they had ever played on a stage that size and he felt that it was comparable to a club in the Charlotte area years ago called the 1313. It’s been so long since I have been there, I couldn’t recall. The club itself appears to be a stripped out warehouse. I really like it thus far. The energy in here is palpable. Everyone is buzzing with the excitement of getting up there and creating this amazing sound. Marc also mentioned that Shawn pointed out that that the show tonight was listed as one of the Top 10 Things To Do In Charlotte tonight in the paper. How cool is that! I just wanted to get some of this down. Now for the pre-show hang out. Enough of this isolated writer crap for the moment.
Paragon: Anatomy of A Band Part 3: Hanging Backstage
During my brief stint as a musician, I never played at a place that had a backstage area for the band. Typically my band would play a restaurant and backstage consisted of whatever table or booth we decided to hang out in, and our sound check typically happened just before the show started with little fanfare. Yeah baby, the life of a rock star indeed! And despite attending a number of shows in my life, this is the first time I have ever had the chance to hang out with the band in the backstage area. AJ and I both had our laminates around our necks and continued joking with each other, flashing it at various times through the day and night at each other saying, “I’m with the band,” or she would quote Wayne’s World lines. After all the tedious work of setting up their instruments, getting the soundboard set up with all of their presets and whatnot, making sure they had a great sound for the room, and running through a couple songs to check microphones for vocals and instruments, now it was time for each member to partake in their own pre-show rituals.
I found it quite interesting what each member of the band and crew did to fill out the time before they were to hit the stage. A few of the guys decided to take a quick nap, others just chilled out texting, while others just kind of hung out and chatted. I seized the opportunity to learn more about everyone, get to know them even better. I keep waiting to see any sign of change in their nature and behavior, attempting to verify that everything I have seen and heard was indeed the real thing- waiting for some rock star breakdown or unbecoming behaviors, anything that would make me say, “Aha! Gotcha!” But in actual reality, there is nothing to “get.” Even when they’re not obviously being watched, totally in their comfort zone, they are what they are: four guys who have a love and passion for making some of the best music around who also happen to be close friends and great people. And not just great, but exceptional guys. I can’t stress enough just how humble and good the guys in Paragon are. Whether they’re being watched by me or any other “press” what you see is what you get. Instead of supporting jerks who need to be carried up the Great Wall of China by bodyguards or guys who feel the need to beat up their girlfriends on the way to award shows, Paragon are the band people should stand behind because their music is just as awesome as their inner being.
As it approached the time for the opening band Auxilia to take the stage, Marc, Scotti, Shawn, and Sonny started donning their respective costumes and stage gear. You could feel that everyone was keyed up and ready to take the stage. I was ready for them to hit it as well. Knowing that the new songs added new dimensions to their known sound, and that their older material stood up even after a couple decades, that everyone in that crowd would be blown away, new fans would be created, and the name Paragon would be on their minds a long time to come. All that’s left is the waiting.
Paragon: Anatomy of A Band Part 4: Showtime! Take 1- Auxilia
Taking the stage first this evening was local Metalcore band Auxilia. Prior to them playing this show I had never heard of them. Marc told me that one of the guys when he was a kid had been a customer of his while he worked at Reliable Music, and admired his playing. Apparently the two had talked about the chances of doing a show together and obviously it came to fruition. I’m pretty sure I have gone on record to state that I am not a big fan of the Metalcore genre. If I have not then I shall do so now: I am not a fan of Metalcore. For whatever reason it’s just a style that has never appealed to me much. I’d lay a great portion of the blame on the vocal style, but even musically I rarely find anything about it that I enjoy.
Having said that I must admit that Auxilia are excellent at what they do. My dislike of the genre has nothing to do with ability as much as it is just a taste thing. All five guys had excellent energy on stage, keeping the crowd hyped up. Their full-throttled aggression has a certain appeal to it, and their delivery is perfect. You could tell that the members took what they did seriously and have as much passion for their songs as Paragon does theirs. Whether I liked their particular genre or not, I will say that if this is the style of music you are into, Auxilia is a band you should check out.
Paragon: Anatomy of A Band Part 4: Showtime! Take 2- Paragon
So remember earlier when I said that even if they were faced with a disaster Paragon would still prevail, well, all I can say is hello foreshadow, it’s nice to meet you. About ten minutes before the band were to take the stage it was discovered that by accident someone deleted all the pre-set stuff loaded into the digital soundboard during Paragon’s sound check. Even through this debacle the band, though stress levels did increase somewhat, no one allowed it to create any undue grief. They took the crisis head-on, and solved it. Initially they thought the error would be easily remedied as they saved it all on a zip drive; however the stuff wasn’t labeled properly, again to no one’s fault, so sound man Jimmy was able to reprogram the board from memory and did it fairly quick all things considered. The only possible obstacle to overcome would be through the first song getting the levels correct without the opportunity to sound check. Of course, I on the inside was freaking out a little as I knew how much time they all had worked on making this night as perfect as possible and here they had to deal with this. Once I got the word that they were about to hit the stage, AJ and I ran out and got up front.
David Bowie’s “Fame” ended, the lights went dim, the bands intro started, and the guys took the stage. I have to admit, my insides were churning fearing the worst possible scenario happening, but as soon as they kicked into show opener and brand new song “A Love of Life” I knew that Paragon would persevere and in a major way. The energy they put out there was so intense that if there were any audio issues, they went unnoticed by me. A couple of songs in I decided to check out various sections of the club just to see how well the mix was, and personally the mix sounded great. Any fear the band might have had about losing people to the long wait or if any initial sound issues occurred would turn folks off I can assure them the buzz in the crowd was super positive. People were cheering, dancing, and seemed to be having an absolute blast.
I’ve been rather elusive about what my bad ordeal has been, and though I want my story to be more about Paragon than myself, I suppose I need to bring into the open what happened. Sadly, I had to have my dog Precious put to sleep the day before the show. I was absolutely gutted by this and where most people would’ve justifiably been excused from being unable to attend the show, the thought never crossed my mind. I had made a commitment to the band to promote the show and be there to support them every step of the way. Not only that, I knew that I would not be able to sit at the house and what better distraction than a badass metal show. Through the day I was able to stay focused on “my job,” but during the show I was able to just let go and allow myself to enjoy the performance. The songs I was able to I sang along to, I shouted every chance I could, threw up horns so many time, and just loved every second of it.
The setlist was spot on perfect. I mean, I knew already what songs they were playing and what order they were playing them in, but hearing it all come together and seeing what Mark was able to pull off with the videos flashing behind the band, and despite the light show not being the same level as the last show, it was still fantastic. From a musical standpoint the band was on fire. I joked with Shawn earlier that day that his bass was so intense I could feel it in my scrotum, but he definitely brought it that night. Marc’s guitar work was scintillating. He wasn’t just a guitarist holding a guitar. He and guitar became one on that stage. Scotti proved he indeed is a drum machine. I picked at him earlier when he was plotting out his drum solo backstage. I’m here to tell you my peep’s if that’s the solo he’s capable of just working it out before the show then his abilities are well beyond what I had preconceived. All three men are masters on their respective instruments.
And then there is Sonny Reynolds. If you are familiar with the band then you already know the amazing pipe’s on this man. His range is astounding and his abilities rank up there with the likes of Tony Harnell and James Labrie. No exaggeration, but Sonny is one of the most incredible singers I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing live. Not only that, but he is a consummate frontman. He didn’t do a wealth of between song banter, but when he did he connected with the crowd every single time and every word out of his mouth was as important as the songs. Without a doubt it is a pure joy watching him work. I love him immensely and have a deep respect for the man and the magic he weaves. One thing I noticed was that he did some things vocally a little different than what I had heard before during rehearsals as well as the previous show I had seen. Every change he made to the song was perfect. Sonny is very much a perfectionist and as I talked earlier in the day with Greg, the man recording the audio of the show, said that any time Sonny would lay down a vocal it would be perfect, but then after playback he would say, “You know what, I can do it better.” And much to Greg’s amazement, it was better every time. And truth be told, I believe it.
Every song resonated with the audience. New songs like “Butterfly,” “ Take the Time Baby,” “At the End,” and “The Sky” were received by the same applause and fervor as their classics like “Head Over Heels,” “Remember the Time,” “Pray Away,” and the one that started it all for me “Sensation.” I want the world to hear these songs so they will realize I’m not just promoting the band, but also a tremendous fan. I have compared their sound to other bands, but when you get right down to it Paragon sounds like Paragon. The unique ability to write original songs that standout from the norm offering an intricate sound that is full of melody and smart pop sensibilities. Adding to the songs was the brilliant video work of Mark Smith, who was able to create stylized imagery that interacted with the songs excellently. I hope this will be a feature the band will be able to continue with as it added another level of professionalism to their repertoire.
After Sonny introduced their final song of the night “One As One” Paragon laid it all out on the stage. Without a doubt everyone that was in attendance can’t deny that Paragon gave their all to them. If anyone walked out disappointed I would be surprised. Much like how I felt watching Auxilia, whether you’re a fan of the style or not, you have to admit that the band is definitely a band that gives their all. I stand firmly to my statement I made back in July after seeing their first reunion show: Paragon is the best local band I have ever seen in my life. This was their second show after a two decade “break” and it will only get better. And I will damn sure be there every step along the way to not only tell the world that they must check them out, but to support them as one of their biggest fans. You can take that to the bank.
Paragon: Anatomy of A Band Part 5: Post Show
As soon as the band left the stage, AJ and I made our way backstage. I wanted to tell them that I thought they did a magnificent job and to thank them for the excellent show. Oddly enough there were a lot of questions of, “Did it really sound good?” Apparently there were plenty of times where members weren’t able to hear what was going on and just had to wing it. Yet again this added another level of respect for them because they went in on a hope and a prayer and still gave a better show than some big level bands I have seen live over the years. I assured them that it sounded perfect from all over the room. I traveled often to get pictures and to scope out how it was sounding and to get a feel for how the crowd responded. If I thought the show was less than I expected I would tell them, not to hurt them, but to inform them of what needed improvement. Frankly, other than some glitches (one big, a couple very minor) they pulled off a phenomenal show.
Once the band took a few minutes to decompress and change out of their sweaty clothes they went out to their adoring fans. It seemed like damn near everyone that was there for the show stayed to get the chance to meet the band. I wish I had been able to watch more interaction between each individual member and the fans, but I saw enough to continue to confirm what I already knew: this is one band you will find no false pretense, ego, or arrogance. What I saw was the guys treating everyone with the same love and respect they have shown me over the last couple of months. I saw hands being shook, hugs doled out, pictures taken, and receiving just as much love and appreciation as they were giving out. My heart swelled with pride to see them in this light. And I can assure you that even if they were the biggest band in the world (as they deserve and will hopefully be) and just played a huge venue to thousands upon thousands of people (as I’m sure they will someday) they would have spent the rest of the night hanging out with their fans. Had it not been for the club closing down I’m sure they would’ve stayed out there the rest of the night talking to anyone and everyone without a care in the world. I also had the pleasure of meeting Mary London who is one of the nicest people on the planet as well.
I hate that my time with Paragon is coming to an end. Well, not an end as much as it is a brief break. I can assure you there will be many more pages to come about my friends and brothers in Paragon. I look forward to being a part of every show and of course the first ever Paragon world tour. I see big things on the horizon for them, and I can think of no group of guys more deserving of it than these four men. I want to take this final moment to personally thank Marc Crotts, Scotti Montagnino, Shawn Love, and Sonny Reynolds for allowing me to follow them exclusively the last couple months for My Global Mind. It was an honor and a privilege to get to watch you men prepare for this outstanding show. I am forever indebted to you gentlemen for this wonderful opportunity. I also want to thank you guys for the love and friendship you have also given to me, especially these couple of days after the loss of my baby Precious. Spending the day with Paragon and crew was the perfect way to take my mind off of such excruciating pain. The hugs, well-wishes, and heart felt sentiments directed towards AJ and myself were greatly appreciated and will never be forgotten. I look forward to getting to spend more time with you guys as not only band and “journalist,” but also as friends. So keep your eyes peeled my peep’s for your next opportunity to catch Paragon live. It is an experience not to be missed!
Written by Chris Martin
Senior Staff Writer