The CO, Nick Flora, The Kicks

Thursday night at Exit/In, The CO set the stage before they even hit the first note. Lighting incense and setting it on his keyboard, pianist/vocalist Troy Akers put the final unconventional touch to the low-lit, expectant ambiance. And then The CO went to work.

With the calming Indian scent of Nag Champa wafting into the room, the five-piece rock collective eased into their song “Might Be Leaving,” the bass line swelling and lead vocalist Collin Brace pumping energy to the audience with every word and every emotive gesture. Akers, drummer Nate Fleming, guitarist Nathan Spicer and bassist Phil Snowden joined Brace onstage.

Brace used every corner of the stage—bending low to the ground as if overwhelmed by the weight of the music, stepping up onto the drum platform to sing beside Fleming, sharing the keyboard mic with Akers and jumping straight up into the air when the music popped. He interacted with everything and everyone onstage, and the audience couldn’t help but get sucked in.

The CO’s live show was contagious because of the raw feeling that seemed to drive their music. Whatever Brace was selling, the audience was buying it. Though no one was rushing the stage or starting a mosh pit, even the cross-armed Nashville industry crew relaxed enough to get into the groove of these intricate songs, which inevitably started small and reached epic builds before coming back down exhausted.

With the audience on their side, The CO launched into their emotionally charged song “Keep It Together.” Showcasing tight harmonies and an arena-worthy performance from Brace, the band breathed life into their lyrics: “Will the room start to cave in / When my steps start shiftin? / I’ve heard before / Don’t lose what you believe in.”

The rest of the abbreviated set included “Come in Closer,” “Heartbeat” and “Camo,” the band’s most recent single, which they plan to release soon as a digital package on iTunes as a full version, acoustic version and a remix done by Fleming (DJ N8).

Coming down from the height of their last song, The CO humbly thanked the crowd and prepped them for The Kicks, encouraging people to stay for the set and describing the band as their best friends.

Before The Kicks took the stage, another Nashville singer/songwriter, donned in cap and glasses, took the stage. Forgive us, Nick Flora, your set was quite incredible (we encourage everyone to check it out), but the story of the evening was truly when you mentioned your recent Twitter popularity.

Though it seemed at first to be a white lie, Flora regaled the crowd with a true story conveying how he had woken up that morning to find he was a trending topic on Twitter in the U.S., all due to a slick remark he made about Keeping Up with the Kardashians being on air longer than the cult-classic comedy Arrested Development.

Flora ended his tweet with: “THIS IS WHY YOU CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS, AMERICA.” To Flora’s surprise, his tweet was, and still is, being retweeted over and over again, igniting and adding fuel to an explosion in his online followers. Lucky for Flora, he’s got the musical chops to back up his popularity, and they were evident during his in-between set leading up to The Kicks.

With faint wisps of the incense still in the air from the The CO’s set, The Kicks sucked the rest of the air right out of the room with the growl of lead singer Jordan Phillips’ guitar as the band wailed into their first song: “Hawk Eyes.”

Slanky is the first word that comes to mind whenever I see these fellas onstage. A few songs into the night, they brought the crowd “Let Me Love You,” which was one side of a double single the boys released for free last spring.

Like The Rolling Stones but without the cigarette smoke or lines of cocaine on a toilet seat, The Kicks display an element of rock royalty. When it comes to music, these guys have blue blood running through their veins and the sweat of their labors running down their temples.

One thing is for sure: Everyone in the band likes to sing. Dream guitarist Adam Stark and bassist Gabe Anderson rounded out the vocals of Phillips in a way that many bands never even come closer to reaching. Two of the most memorable times in the night came from some of the best handpicked covers I’ve heard in a while. The Wings song “Jet” and the Faces’ tune “Ooh La La” showcased the sweetness of the spectrum that Stark and Anderson bring to the mix.

The Kicks’ producer Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay, Andrew Osenga, Shirock, Farewell Flight) sat stealthily near the back as the boys rollicked into staple tunes the two have created together in Dane’s Nashville studio. “Shake It Loose” and “Songs For The Queen” seemed like a well-worn badge that has only grown to glory with the band’s many dates on the road.

The Kicks recently announced over their blog that they were to begin a stint of tours with Los Lonely Boys. Every note and whip of hair that night seemed to point toward the fact that the opportunity was well deserved.

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For more photos and films from Evan Spencer Brace visit his site.