After failed attempts to see both fun. and Say Anything, I saw a sign for Ezra Furman and ducked into his set. I was immediately surprised to see that Ezra Furman was wearing nothing but boxer briefs, socks and an acoustic guitar. After the initial shock, Furman's pre-electric Bob Dylan-esque folk charmed my ears. Joe Pug is also a natural comparison; both weave complicated wordplay and imagery through their lyrics, moving their vocal delivery between an almost atonal roar to plaintive singing. I enjoyed the set after the awkwardness wore off; his poetry is pretty solid, and his guitar playing is better than your average folkie's.
I ran back to Sixth Street to Trinity Hall, my last destination of the evening. Pomegranates and The Black and White Years were scheduled to play back to back, and both bands were high on my to-see list. But before they went on, Gliss took the stage.
Gliss is a trio of a woman and two men; the woman sings, strums the guitar and plays keys. The two men hold down drums/electronic beats and guitar. Together they create a dreamy, shimmering sound that sways more than sprints. The songs glided along smoothly, easing to a halt instead of abrupt stops. It was easy to get lost in the sound and let it envelop you; it's similar to School of Seven Bells in that way, but with less huge walls of distortion.
Piano-based singer/songwriter is a pretty crowded genre, but Brianna Gaither stands head and shoulders above the competition. Her dynamic mezzosoprano can hit dusky lows and electrifying highs, while her melodic songwriting is hard to forget. Her set at the Buffalo Lounge featured her on piano accompanied only by a cajon, and it was still a riveting performance.
She played through several tunes from her debut album Love is Patient, then treated the audience to a new tune. Most of the songs on Love is Patient are pensive, moody pieces, but the new tune was upbeat, more in the vein of Ingrid Michaelson or Regina Spektor. I enjoyed it immensely, and am looking forward to its recorded version (which can't come soon enough)!
Even though the first few songs of the set were quieter, darker pieces, Gaither and percussionist Kelcy White were consistently smiling. It's fun to be at a set where the band is having fun, and there's no question that Gaither and White were loving the experience. They probably smiled a bunch during the last song too, but I was bouncing about and smiling and having a great time myself; I wasn't paying as much attention to the band. It was an incredibly fun set, and that's rare in singer/songwriter sets, which are often all about the self-expression and self-discovery and stuff. And if Gaither's songs are about that, she's inviting people in for the party, not for the cryfest. Fans of Spektor, Michaelson, and other bouncy pop songs should be intrigued.
I'd never heard Modern Rock Diaries before their set at Buffalo Lounge, so I didn't know what to expect. They were listed as indie/ambient on the press materials, but that name. But, happily, the name is a complete misnomer: this band has about as much to do with Nickelback as Modest Mouse does.
The band, instead, truly does skew to the ambient, atmospheric side of indie rock. At their most upbeat and indignant, the vocalist can import an Isaac Brock-ian edge to the tunes via his delivery. At their most atmospheric, however, Other Lives is a better touchstone; the keys/violin/bass/drums configuration allowed for towering crescendoes.
In between, however, was "September," which saw one member pull double duty on violin and keytar. (Yes, they totally went there.) It's a unique mix of latent aggression (anti-corporatist, anti-political lyrics about being stuck in a cubicle), dancy rhythms, pulsing speed, and haunting atmosphere. It was easily the high point of the set, a song that I'll remember after this evening (and hopefully after the festival). Their widely varied set was still coherent and consistently entertaining; their new EP is definitely on my must-hear list.
Post-punk/rock/other that you can still sing along with
Scales of Motion
Credits: Stephen Carradini
A little-used definition of the word "elegant" is "pleasingly ingenious and simple." It's that definition I think of when I characterize Scales of Motion's post-punk/rock/other mix as elegant. The three-piece takes very complicated, technical instrumental work and synthesizes it in a way that feels pleasing, clever and interesting. Even when the drummer is playing seemingly erratic hits, the guitarist is banging a distorted chord, and the bassist is tracking all over the fretboard, you can be assured that a resolution will arrive. And it most often does in an incredibly satisfying way.
The three members all contribute vocals to the mix, with bassist taking the sung vocals, the guitarist taking the spoken and yelled vocals, and the drummer providing back-up harmonies. This democratic distribution of vocals only serves to enhance the song-first motive that Scales puts out: all the band members are incredibly talented at their instruments, but each is subsumed into putting out good songs. And with all the technical, rhythmic and melodic complexity, the songs are unique and memorable. You can sing along to some songs; other songs skew too hard or too wild for anthemic melodies. But Scales of Motion makes room for all of it in their amalgam, and that's what makes them a consistently interesting band.
The day-long party was celebrated with Cloud Nothings, Bob Mould and The Roots.
After three days of hiking all over a dirty, crowded Sixth Street crawling with exhausted hipsters, I decided to hit up the famed Austin venue Mohawk (with its highly convenient indoor-and-outdoor stage setup) for a nice balance of old and new, rock and fusion, folk and punk to cap my excursion to South by Southwest. It didn’t disappoint.
Blitzen Trapper I’ve seen Portland’s Blitzen Trapper twice before — once at Opolis in Norman, again at London’s Camden Barfly, which is a whole ’nother story entirely — and the band has been a longtime favorite of mine for its earlier, more pastoral albums like Wild Mountain Nation and Furr, which are more creative, indie takes on the classic rock radio I grew up on. It’s a seminal band for me, the first whose work first I actively started following online, which is sort of what I do for a living now.
I was hoping Blitzen Trapper would dip back into that catalogue (and it did, playing the vivid murder ballad it will probably be best remembered for, “Black River Killer”), but hung on to its newer, country-riding American Goldwing material for the most part, which I haven’t much cared for. So I split a little early for the Mohawk’s indoor stage to see …
Cloud Nothings After hearing Brooklyn rock monsters The Men with Stephen Carradini on Friday, he and I were wandering around when the unmistakable intro riff to “Wasted Days” suddenly beckoned us around a corner. By the time Dylan Baldi was howling about how he knew his life wasn’t gonna change, we were watching Cloud Nothings play the last song on its set, an eight-minute hardcore epic from its excellent new album, Attack on Memory. We got super-depressed when the band started packing up, so the opportunity to hear one of the loudest acts at the festival inside a closet of a venue got my excitement perked up again.
After a few failed attempts of shooting the band on the decently lit indoor stage, I just said, “Screw it,” and turned on my flash, as there was no possible way of getting unblurred shots of these dudes without it. They were playing songs like “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” much too fast, with too much power to do that.
But the most remarkable part of it all was how Baldi’s voice held up after a week of unrestrained hollering. It sounded just as strained, but sturdy as it does on the album. Unfortunately, Cloud Nothings didn’t inspire the same rambunctious crowd activity as Titus Andronicus did the previous day, but its members are just much too skilled as players for the audience to do anything but focus on them and admire their combination of speed and dexterity, particularly that of drummer Jayson Gerycz.
Bob Mould Playing with the prolific Jon Wurster on the drums, Bob Mould wound through a career’s worth of heavily distorted and purely pleasurable post-Hüsker Dü songwriting, including Sugar’s classic, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” It felt like a reunion that ended all too soon, with an older crowd singing along with the choruses, and Mould shrugging and pointing at his wrist in between the last two songs. There wasn’t any doubt in the guy’s showmanship, however — his pale face turned Fender-guitar red and gushed sweat by the set’s end.
Also worthy of note: I was hanging out in the back of the crowd when I noticed Dylan Baldi wander in from outside the venue, and subsequently watched him take in the show for a few minutes. It was a beyond-cool experience to watch one of hardcore’s latest innovators watch one of its greatest innovators.
The Roots And that all gave way to the top-billing Philly soul-fusion-hip-hop act The Roots, which appropriately played for a rowdy St. Patrick’s Day crowd. I was a little disappointed in the lack of material from their latest, the terrific, socially conscious undun, but not surprised, as this wasn’t the time or place for that stuff. Instead, they played a few of their best-loved easy-listening hits like “The Seed” and covers of “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Apache,” “Immigrant Song” and “Jungle Boogie.”
Also worth noting: Damon Bryson literally taking his tuba for a walk on a solo, as he hiked up and down the Mohawk’s staircase to mix it up with the crowd.
The Rockettops play a brand of pop-rock that fans of The Fray would
enjoy, as the sound is built on piano-based songwriting, deft bass lines
and soaring guitar lines. Vocalist/pianist/acoustic guitarist Jordan
Smith's impassioned voice also soars, and it's his vocal melodies that
get precedence in these songs. But the rest of the band doesn't slack in
its support role; the instrumental interplay is strong, especially for a
band in the pop/rock vein.
The band clearly was having a blast, as the members were smiling and
laughing throughout. The upbeat atmosphere filled the room, especially
when the band ratcheted up the distorted guitars in big crescendos. The
Rockettops know how to build and release tension, and that serves their
pop-rock songs very well. The tension never feels forced or smarmy,
either; the sound feels organic and loose. They can also break it down
for emotive moments; they aren't a one-trick pony. Fans of Lifehouse,
Goo Goo Dolls, and Matchbox Twenty will perk their ears up at The
OKG7 things to do Gazette staff
Fresh from South by Southwest, indie folk’s Brown Bird flutters in to El
Reno’s Centre Theater, 110 S. Bickford, for a Monday concert to benefit
El Reno Rotary Club’s community projects and Mission El Reno summer
mission camp. Joining the Rhode Island duo on the 5:30 p.m. bill are The
Dizzy Pickers and O Fidelis. Visit elrenorotary.eventbrite.com.