(2013 Live Music Mini Reviews #2)
It was an interesting change of pace- all of a sudden, after going to mostly ‘just’ jazz, blues, bluegrass, country and folk shows, none of which were genres I listened to until just the last decade or so, I suddenly had a run of rock shows, first the Spokesbuzz CD Release party in December, and then the 5 bands that were at Road 34 on the weekend of the 19th of January. I grew up on rock, though I never had the money to enjoy live shows as a kid. My 30-something self was a bit bewildered by the liquid animosity of In the Whale, and wished the volume was not turned up quite so high, but even as a boring grown-up that early 20’s/late teens version of me is still buried not too terribly deeply. I do think some of the cool effects that the musicians in these rock bands come up with are lost when the volume is cranked too high, a complaint I’ve seen echoed in interviews and elsewhere from many of my favorite rack musicians. Still, standing right up next to the stage, somewhat inside the wedges of the stage speakers, I was in a good spot to appreciate a bit more of the craft that goes into the wall of noise which rest of the audience enjoyed all night. My eardrums were not thanking me much by the end of the night, but they got over it eventually. (I am also starting to chat with some of the drummers I meet as to their favorite ear-protection. At most venues I am just tall enough that the sharper part of the percussion hits at head-level, so standing at the stage and right at the speakers, I figure the ear-protection drummers like would be just about sufficient for me as well.)
Of the three bands on the 19th, the only new one for me was In the Whale. I saw Sour Boy Bitter Girl when they opened for Fierce Bad Rabbit a few months ago, and one of these days I’d love to catch them at a venue with better stage-lights for photography, because these guys look very cool on stage. They’re one of those bands that is constantly stepping back from their mics, a wiggliness that makes most of my shots blurry, but they have a well-polished stage presence and solid music that combine to make their constant wiggling forgivable. I had actually spent much of the day before this show feeling ill, and just barely got myself out of the house in time to catch the last couple songs of this band’s set, so the fact that I got a few good shots was a bonus for me that night. I remember very little of the details of their last two songs, as my latest ibuprofen was only just starting to kick in by then, but it was a good band with which to start the night.
I was glad of my finally working ibuprofen when In the Whale took the stage. The musicians I was hanging out with in the audience told me that this band, while only two guys, had a sound as big as that of many 4- and 5-piece bands, and I was certainly not disappointed. These guys have the sorts of angry loud songs I wish I’d had on hand as a teenager, not so much to listen to as to put on at high volume when I wanted to piss off offendingly Puritanical grandparents. Back then I used Quiet Riot, which served its purpose well enough, but In the Whale would have been more potent.
Besides high volume, calculatedly offensive lyrics and a stage act that included lots of feigned guitar abuse and not-so-feigned drum-kit abuse, these guys have plenty of the complicated rhythms and cool guitar effects that kids salivate over as they contemplate how many lawns they need to mow this year to buy their first drums or guitar, and what will need to be said to the folks to convince them to allow the garage to become band-rehearsal space.
It was probably partly an effect of hearing Queen the night before- the music on the overhead speakers before Echo Chamber the previous night was all Queen, and I loved reading all the reminiscences of their early days on Brian May’s blog and in the various interviews Queen has given. The whole weekend seemed to offer today’s version of the sort of music and aesthetics those guys would have been soaking in when they were in their early 20’s in London. Anyway, standing safely behind the main speakers, I rather enjoyed all the cool sounds that Nate Valdez drew from his guitar in the course of their set. I could imagine the teenage Brian May fixated on Nate’s guitar and the array of pedals and dials at his feet. It’s just too bad that Road 34, as a responsible bar, is 21+ and the modern-day incarnations of young Brian May would not be let in to daydream about the rockstars they too could become.
After In the Whale, Common Anomaly took the stage. I saw these guys, along with Echo Chamber and Post Paradise, at the Spokesbuzz party in December, but this time instead of their short set of 3 songs, we got a full set. These guys brought along a projector which threw up all sorts of interesting background imagery to accompany their music, and set up to project across their drummer, Adam Simmons, the projector also made Adam’s drum strokes into strobe-like flashes of rainbows that made for some fun photos. These guys are a solid 4-piece rock/alt. rock band, centered around creating well-crafted rock songs with interesting lyrics and lots of great bass lines, cool guitar bits, and of course a few luscious drum solos. The projector was a fun extra, but if it had died midway through the show the audience would have been fine without it. The sorts of people who become fans of this sort of band are for the most part people who don’t really care for all the bells and whistles of modern experimental rock and alternative rock and whatever other kinds of rock we have now. Common Anomaly’s flavor of rock is nestled nicely within the realm of standard, perhaps somewhat ‘punk’ flavored, rock music, the stuff you get when you take out what makes everybody else’s stuff experimental, alternative, etc. And, yes, when I got home, for several days afterward I found I was listening to a lot of 60’s and 70’s rock and punk-rock bands.