December 12, 1996
Columbia, SC

(This is just off the top of my head...)

There aren't many bands I'll travel four hours round trip to see. But emmet swimming, bless their Fairfax souls, is one of the few. Due to a combination of major-label pressures and some plain ol' bad bookings (as Todd will cheerfully admit), they really stopped playing the Deep South for nearly a year; WAKE came out in late '95, they did one round of shows, and boom! Nothing until the release of ARLINGTON. Even now, I only get to see them when they touch down in Atlanta (another two hours away--I really have to move closer to a metropolis), or--in this case--Columbia, SC.

Rockafella's is a strange room: narrow corridor in the back, a medium-sized floor up front, and a stage that's about four feet off the ground and makes the already-formidable height of Mister Watts grow to Andre The Giant-proportions. Heavy rain probably hurt the crowd, which was somewhere around 100-150 people. But most were diehards, and from the repeated yells of "Fairfax!," a good chunk were Virginia natives as well. They knew enough to cheer for "Boones Farm Wine" and NOT the horribly corporate-titled "I'll Be Fine," and many were applauding the lounge-jazz encore of "Anarchy In The U.K." just from Tamer's opening ride-cymbal shuffle. All in all, this was a better show than the one I had seen in Atlanta back in October. For one thing, it was longer--nearly 2 hours, with encores--and the sound was improved, as well; I've never heard Todd's vocals (or Eric's, for that matter) as clearly. Luke's bass, as usual, was tight n' fat; a fellow bass player myself, I LOVED Rob's style, but, I must admit, Luke's been filling his shoes in impressive fashion. Maybe Tamer's drums could've been turned up a notch... that's about my only complaint, sound-wise.

The usual suspects made their appearance, of course: "8:45," "Living Room," "Fake Wood Trim," "17 Hours," and an especially soul-purging "Bullet In Your Hand." Plenty of stuff from WAKE--"Boones," "Expect Me," "Jump In The Water," "Ed's Song," a powerful "Never Going Back" with Todd breaking TWO strings--and a few from DARK: "Hey Jesse," of course, but also "Clean Water" and "Bristol, ME." (Apparently, they were in a double-time mood: "Bristol," "Expect Me," and the super-appropriate "Birdman Of Columbia," featuring Eric overcoming his shyness and ACTUALLY SINGING the low harmonies.) My friend, an "emmet virgin," walked away highly impressed, especially after hearing "Boston." "I like the vocal counterpoint," he said... Did I mention this felt like Eric's big night? After discovering that I had never heard his rendition of "So Lonely," he decided to make a little dedication near the end of the evening. Damn... chalk that one up with the best of emmet's many fine covers. The night ended proper with "Arlington," then a short encore that included a nice surprise: "You're So Pretty," performed by Todd and Eric after Luke fled the stage in the direction of the men's room. ("He's been wanting to pee since the second song," commented an amused Todd.) And maybe it was just the stage, or the sound system, or those red spotlights that practically screamed "arena rock," but, for the first time, I could really envision emmet swimming playing to a crowd of 20,000. Right now, though, it's always a treat to see them in a small club... for at least a little while longer.

-- Rich Challen

Thanks to Motz for letting me take this from his old site.