/Staring into the depths of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Photo by Scott Johnson

Staring into the depths of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Mobile’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea have been a constant in the Montevallo music scene. After releasing their debut album “Patchwork of Light” earlier this year, the band seemed to reach a new career highpoint.

But, sadly, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea decided that their final show would be on Oct. 24 at Eclipse.

An hour or so before the show started, the band milled about a mostly empty Eclipse. They lounged on the couch, occasionally standing up to greet a fan attending the show.

A young group by the name of Jimmy Flies & the Counselors opened. They played a bland blend of indie/post punk. A guitar phrase here or sudden discordant turn of music there would prick a few ears.

20,000 Leagues’ drummer Jacob Hethcox stood in front while the Counselors played, moving slowly to himself. The rest of the crowd seemed to be into their sound, as uninspired as it was sometimes.
After the Counselors quietly deconstructed their gear and 20,000 Leagues began to set up, it became obvious that something was off.

There was no real revelry as the band’s gear was set. In a customary “last of ritual” (one of many that night), the band attempted to each take a swig of whiskey before playing.

As frontman David Maclay set up, the other members took a swig. When Maclay asked his bandmates if it was time to each take a shot, his former girlfriend and bass player of the band snapped at him.

Unlike any 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea show this writer has ever seen, there was tension—uncomfortable, unhealthy tension. When Maclay was poised to sing, he let out a throaty, impassioned yowl into the microphone, and the band was off into a sloppy, ragtag performance of album cut “Hit the Road.”

On album, the song is a wistful, cute tune of abandoning one’s troubles in town with nothing but a $20 bill in pocket.

On Thursday night, the song’s lyrics were smeared away by discordant guitar screams, rapid fire drums and hellish organ.

This discordant style ran throughout their closing show. Hethcox, who had not been with the band long, was a gifted, powerful drummer. His fills took a greater precedent to the overall sound than I’d previously heard from a 20,000 Leagues drummer.

At times, this could be a bit overbearing. Elements of the band’s sound were more emphasized. Whether this change was due to their impending end or a sudden creative shift, it worked well enough.

Where Anderson’s organ once supplied the riffs and melodic slabs a guitar normally would supply in a regular band, it took a strange backseat at this performance.

Maclay’s guitar, however, filled this sonic space with noisy rush solos and squalling feedback. As great as noisy guitar was in the middle of these songs, something about its prominence felt strange.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a wholly unique rock band in the fact that it relied mostly upon Anderson’s distinctive shots of organ and Maclay’s charismatic vocal delivery. While Thursday’s sonic switchup showcased off an alternate musicality of the members, it ultimately signified that the 20,000 Leagues of old was no more.

To their credit, the band’s last show was fantastic. Maclay and Co. really gave it their all in every song they performed. The woozy psych of “Endless Reverberation” and sinister rave up of “Dance, Dance Clair” were played with the utmost perfection.

While all the band members played great, Maclay was the much-deserved star of the show. With high energy and bold ideas about where to take each song, Maclay really sold the idea that this was one of the most important performances of his life.

However, despite the great playing, despite the succeeded last hurrah, there was a prevailing air of sadness. As each song wound down, an air became prevalent that smelled of a curtain call.

Photo by Scott Johnson
Photo by Scott Johnson

“Chord-O-Roy Man” was the last song played by the band. A bleary, caustic tune from their self-titled album independently released prior to “Patchwork,” it seemed sentimental to the band in terms of choice.

Before beginning, Maclay spat alcohol onto his guitar and lit it on fire while picking it up. At the very end of the song, he fell hard on to the floor, arms and legs outstretched and a smile on his face.

The gesture was dramatic, as was much of the set, but the emotion behind the small act felt very real. While each member afterward gave their feelings on the end of their band, none seemed to come to quite the same conclusions.

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