I was delighted to find a confirmed show this week for The Tenement Halls, the latest rock ‘n’ roll project from singer-songwriter Chris Lopez, one of the strongest songwriters I’ve ever had the privilege to play drums with. Lopez is a reluctant romantic who knows how to find beauty in busted Fender amps, two-tone Chevy Beauvilles on their last legs, slighty-out-of-tune guitars, severely out-of-tune pianos, a burnt Styrofoam cup of gas station coffee, a 20-year-old pair of leather dress shoes, and sloppy swing beats with stagger and sway.

I first saw him perform in Athens in the very early ’90s as the guitarist for the oddball Atlanta-based bands Opal Foxx Quartet, Dirt, and Seersucker, in which he was the main singer and songwriter. By 1994, Lopez had formed “Orbisonic” quartet The Rock*A*Teens — a bass-less band featuring Lopez on lead vocals and guitar, Justin Hughes and Kelly Hogan on guitars, and drummer Chris Verene.

The R*A*Ts played with more swing (mostly in 6/8 time), much more reverb, and a humorous sense of romance and sorrow. They sounded like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds trying their best to provide high-quality entertainment at the high school prom.

I was asked to sit in on drums with the band in 1998 on a super-low-budget national tour in support of their Merge Records debut Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall.

After a seven-year run and a few lineup changes, the R*A*Ts played a final show at Atlanta’s Echo Lounge on New Year’s Eve, 2002.

That’s where the Tenement Halls story begins. The songwriter took his time, crafted a new set of piano-driven songs, and recorded most of the instrument tracks himself at a neighborhood studio. The band gradually came together during the process, with former R*A*Ts keyboardist Jeffrey Wiggins, drummer Will Fritesi (of Atlanta’s Hubcap City), and bassist Fran Capitanelli (of The Tom Collins). The sweeping 11-song debut, Knitting Needles & Bicycle Bells, was released over the summer on Merge.

The band make the long drive down this weekend from Richmond “on the way” back home to Atlanta for their first-ever show in the Charleston area on Sat. Nov. 19. Look for the full group with photographer Matt Hinton filling in on bass for Capitanelli. I’ll be there ready to clap and howl.

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