Walking around Johnson City, you’ve no doubt read the name Demon Waffle on countless flyers, posters, and stickers all across town. Thursday night, the musical group visited ETSU to perform at the Cave Plaza.
The band’s music hearkens back to the mid-90’s ska punk movement, mixing up-tempo skate punk with a three-piece horn section.
As their name would suggest, the band injects a healthy dose of humor into their stage show, joking around among themselves and the audience. At one point, vocalist/trombonist Tyler Parkhill noticed that someone was playing Sonic 2 just inside the Cave, and hilarity ensued as he challenged his bandmates to play music from the video game (which they could not).
The talent the group displayed was not a joke, however. Particularly impressive was Parkhill, who alternated between trombone and vocals. (While not playing the trombone, he had a tendency to play air guitar with the instrument.) With all the air used for both vocals and brass, Parkhill surely must have lungs the size of Hefty bags.
The rest of Demon Waffle performed excellently, as well. The rhythm section, consisting of drummer Matt Dougherty and bassist Evan Rice, shifted seamlessly throughout the various tempo changes and provided well-played fills and basslines for every song on the setlist. The other two brass players, members of the ETSU Marching Bucs, gave every song that signature horn sound and played every part with energy and power.
Speaking of setlists, the majority of material was taken from the band’s independent debut album, “Eat Your Breakfast.” A major highlight of the night was the band’s rip-roaring cover of “Whipping Post,” originally by the Allman Brothers Band. It usually takes a great deal of musical innovation to make a genre-crossing cover work, and Demon Waffle’s approach made the seemingly long transition from southern rock to ska a smooth one.
Other high points of the set were the frantic, up-tempo “Underdog” and the undeniably earwormy “Joke’s On You.” “Far Behind,” a jazz-influenced pseudo-ballad was another strong cut from the set. All across the small concrete patio, people were dancing and generally enjoying the show. (Fun fact: Once you start ‘skanking’ — the unofficial dance of ska music — it’s very hard to stop.) The end of every song was met with the applause and roars of approval the hard-working group deserved.
The show was not without its drawbacks, however. The venue’s acoustics don’t quite fit a full band; a more open location would have served the group far better. The overall mix did not help matters, with the vocals much too low at many times and getting overpowered by the instruments, particularly the drums. Again, this could also be due to the venue’s acoustics.
The drawbacks, however, were far outnumbered by the strengths of the show. Demon Waffle showed why they’ve come so far up in the regional scene — great musicianship and song-crafting paired with a great sense of humor. Although the 7 p.m. start time may have been a tad late for breakfast, the crowd certainly enjoyed their Waffle on the patio.