The Connells | Photo by Ed Brantley
College-rock favorites The Connells released their first new album in two decades in 2021 — Steadman’s Wake — and they’re now following that up with the first-ever live album in the band’s 37-year history, a 12-song collection called Set the Stage due out next month.
The new live set, to be released May 5 by Missing Piece Group (Pre-order: Amazon.com), was recorded at a variety of shows between 2014 and 2022. You can get your first taste of it via the new live recording of the band’s early single “Hats Off,” recorded last year. You can stream the track below.
Of that recording, singer-guitarist/songwriter Mike Connell says:
“‘Hats Off’ was one of the first songs we ever released. This was back in 1985, and it became a staple of our live shows in the early days of the band… The version on ‘Set the Stage’ is from a show we played in Columbia, South Carolina… it was one of the highlights from that show and I think Doug (vocals) should be given his props for leaning into it that night.”
The Connells formed in at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1984, and released their first album, Darker Days, in 1985, and continued making records through the 1980s and ’90s, up through 2001’s Old School Dropouts. Though the band never broke up, the lineup changed and they played more sporadically in the ensuing decades, not releasing new a new album until 2021.
The current lineup features original members David Connell, Mike Connell and Doug MacMillan, plus keyboardist Steve Potak, who joined in 1991, guitarist Mike Ayers, who came on board in 2001, and the most recent addition, drummer Rob Ladd, who joined the band in 2012.
As for why a live album now, Mike Connell says:
“Over the years fans have asked why we haven’t released a live record. The best explanation I can give is that when we walked off the stage on any given night, I was ready to move on from what we had just done. Maybe more to the point, I was scared of listening to what we had just done. I tend to fixate on the mistakes — the flat notes and the clams. Recently though, I was encouraged to finally listen to some performances we had in the vault and I liked a lot of what I heard. With ‘Set the Stage’ I think we finally captured ‘the loose precision’ that is a Connells show and I am grateful that some steadfast friends of the band want to hear it.”
Below, check out the live version of “Hats Off” plus the album’s full tracklist.
The Connells, Set the Stage
1. “OT²” (Live)
2. “Slackjawed” (Live)
3. “Hats Off” (Live)
4. “Set The Stage” (Live)
5. “Too Gone” (Live)
6. “Fun And Games” (Live)
7. “Running Mary” (Live)
8. “Carry My Picture” (Live)
9. “Steadman’s Wake” (Live)
10. “Hey Wow” (Live)
11. “‘74-’75” (Live)
12. “Really Great” (Live)
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I (mostly) lost track of The Connells after the “Ring” album as I was heavily put off by “Weird Food And Devastation.”
Glad to know they are still around. Great 80’s memories of southern jangle!