“They’ll go on tour for 40 days and end up playing 42 shows”
Remember when Atlanta, Georgia based rock band Gringo Star was on everyone’s lips and selling out shows throughout the USA back in 2011? Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Listening to their albums—Count Yer Lucky Stars and All Yall—right now on Spotify as I write, I’ll admit this quartet has the potential to make a mark in the music industry. At times reminiscent of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club‘s lo-fi sound while at others finding an infusion of 60s pop before some live performances calling upon vocal stylings similar to Thom Yorke, the once dubbed “hardest working band” has everything but an audience. Documentarian Justin Malone hoped to change that with Hurry Up and Wait.
This film is tough to catalog because while a great look behind the scenes of an up-and-coming rock and roll band, you have to wonder exactly who it is for. There is little to no drama: no glimpses at superstardom or insanely expensive parties of mass destruction or clashing egos leading to screaming matches. Gringo Star has it together. Instead the story is simply a documentation of four guys taking a chance across the Atlantic and seeing what new opportunities would arise. We meet their practically pro bono British road manager Ian, NYC-based friend/publicist Jo, and frequent “Rock and Roll” lodger Justin Thomas. These kids are obviously genuine lovers of the music and people flock to their energy in order to do what they can to help.
It’s a great tale of beating the odds, striving for one’s dreams, and doing whatever it takes to love each and every day. Unfortunately for the band and Malone, however, this stuff is a dime and dozen and oftentimes involves subjects with much larger name recognition. That’s not to say Gringo Star doesn’t deserve cinematic love or the chance to reach wider audiences. Heck, I’m a convert and I would have never heard of the band if not for this movie. If a return from their 2009 European tour brought with it an astronomical rise in fame I could see Hurry Up and Wait making a splash outside of the festival circuit as a way to meet Peter Furgiuele, Nicholas Furgiuele, Peter Delorenzo, and Matthew McCalvin. Right now it’s merely a high quality piece of self-promotion.
And that’s okay. Yes, at times I found myself waiting for the bottom to drop, anticipating a cataclysmic event that didn’t come showing why we never heard of the band. In this respect, Gringo Star is in a class of its own—consummate professionals who understand the life. They push everything aside to spend six weeks driving through Europe, reveling in the fact they aren’t stuck washing dishes back home in some Atlanta restaurant. They have no money to pay for help and yet Jo works tirelessly to get them international bookings, Ian rents a truck in England and picks the boys up at the airport out of his own pocket, and bands like …And You’ll Know Us By the Trail of Dead take them along for a once in a lifetime tour. Life is pretty great.
Opening with a performance of “All Yall” on a late night talk show in Belgium that aired to 1.5 million viewers helps get you situated with the band’s sound and dynamic on stage through a montage of different performances. As guys like Ian and Justin are quick to explain, though, the music itself isn’t everything. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill group with a singer/songwriter, lead guitarist, bass guitarist, and drummer. Everyone literally does everything as they move around the stage between songs to situate themselves at whatever instrument they need to play at the moment. Peter plays the keyboard, Matt adds a little accordion, and each one sings the songs they’ve written. It is truly a unique system they all seem to enjoy with no one member becoming more important than the rest.
It’s details like this that get you to drop your jaw and understand how special they are. Nick takes on the hat of band manager because they can’t afford an outsider; the band has toured England five times before Trail of Dead brought them to mainland Europe; and they were given the auspicious opportunity to perform on legendary German program Rockpalast. Gringo Star has done more in their eight-year existence at this point than most bands ever dream of doing and they keep it going with hard work, tireless self-promotion, and amazing word-of-mouth. Sometimes they play to audiences who get them and other times not—seriously, why is Mika Miko on a bill with them and The Black Lips? Either way, they make the most of every situation.
Credit is due to Malone for capturing the spirit and energy of the band through a tour that gave very little room to breathe. Playing almost every night—three weeks with Trail of Dead, ten days with Black Lips, and two weeks solo; sleeping in cars; accepting the floors of gracious fans; and trying to pay for food when dinners weren’t provided by the venues must have provided ample time for blow-ups and controversy. Perhaps Malone left those moments out as witnessed by a band member leaving post-tour or maybe the guys seriously are that affable as evidenced by some fun cut scenes during the credits. Whether he took liberties in what to show because of his relationship with the band or not, however, he’s definitely shown why Gringo Star has earned your attention.