Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Live: Her Vanished Grace, 28 Degrees Taurus, The Soundscapes, Dead Leaf Echo

When: 12/19
Where: Vanishing Point

Her Vanished Grace - I've seen Her Vanished Grace before and I was a little nervous to see them at Vanishing Point. They are a great band, with excellent poppy songwriting and a nice noisy sound, but when I've heard them in the past, I noticed serious pitch issues when they can't hear one another properly. But this time, despite muddy acoustics, things went well. There were a few pitch issues, but for the most part, both singers (married pair Charlie and Nance Nieland) were right on. The set included some new tunes and a lot of old favorites, and the band delivered them with their usual enthusiasm.

In a world of shoegaze revivalists, it's important to remember that HVG put out their first album in 1991, making them a first-generation band. Since that time, they've had a steady low-profile career churning out a solid shoegazey pop album every year or so and playing great shows to a small but loyal fan base around the city.

And if you catch them live, you'll see why their fans brave blizzards and monsoons to make it to every show. Nance has a way of possessing the stage, the air of a professional frontwoman who knows exactly what she's doing. As a whole, the band strikes a perfect balance between the comfortable attitude of seasoned performers and the lovable excitement of a local indie band playing for a room full of friends. It's a pleasure to watch, and of course, a pleasure to hear.

Dead Leaf Echo - A five-piece shoegaze band that's been a staple in the Brooklyn shoegaze scene for a number of years, Dead Leaf Echo was by far the most disappointing act of the night - and I'm sorry to report these problems are not specific to this show.

As I see it, one can essentially critique music on two basic points. The first is the band's sound, and here, DLE does well enough. Their walls of sound are genuinely complex and interesting, and the parts blend together well. The second (and more important) element, however, is the music's momentum. This is in the songwriting but on a smaller scale, it's also in melodies, chord progressions, dynamic contrast and so on. These are the forces that drive music forward. And here, DLE fails. Their melodies are virtually non-existent, with uninteresting, wandering vocal lines and no guitar riffs to speak of. Their chord progressions don't have any of the really driving elements like suspension, dissonance or cadences that draw in the audience through the anticipation of resolution. Moreover, their songwriting is incoherent. The only thing I can say is that DLE does use dynamic contrast well, but that alone isn't enough to move the music forward or make it engaging.

Dead Leaf Echo (photo from MySpace.com)
Dead Leaf Echo

Interestingly, this weekend lead singer LG was ill and unable to sing most of the show, so bassist Mike DiLalla picked up the slack. DiLalla did such an admirable job delivering the songs on short notice that I thought the vocal switch had been planned and was permanent. And it would have been a good thing - the band might want to consider letting DiLalla sing more often in the future. He seems more melodically-inclined than LG and clearly has talent the band has yet to tap.

The Soundscapes - Who doesn't love the Soundscapes? Brooklyn-based brothers of Brazilian extraction, the Soundscapes could win audiences on their good looks alone, but they don't need to because they are also exceptionally gifted musicians. Their music is basically what it would sound like if Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore joined Yo La Tengo. Their noisy lo-fi pop has consistently excellent melodies, outstanding songwriting and beautiful moments of noise and dissonance. Their tunes are catchy but interesting, their music is loud but accessible and their live show is massively fun. Guitarist and singer Rodrigo Carvalho jumps up and down, swings his guitar around and genuinely loves every second, while brother Raphael Carvalho plays the drums with such speed and precision, you know he could out-drum most of us with one hand.

The Soundscapes (photo from MySpace.com)
The Soundscapes

Most impressively, the Soundscapes have always sounded like much more than a duo. I've heard many four- and five-piece bands who didn't have the fullness and complexity of the Soundscapes. And since the summer, it seems they've turned their amps up even louder and started rocking even harder. They also played some material I haven't heard before and I was interested to hear that it is moving different, more rock'n'roll direction. I thought this band might fall into a rut, but from what I heard, they have it in them not only to keep playing great music, but to keep learning and growing as musicians and songwriters. Keep an eye on these two.

28 Degrees Taurus - I've been throwing the term "no-gaze" around a bit lately and 28 Degrees Taurus is another that fits it well. It's hard to describe their music - it's a shoegazey, guitar-heavy mess with rapid-fire drumming in the spirit of MBV's Colm O'Cosig. But over this, it has engaging, floating melodies and an air of rich mystery that pulls you in deep. The band keeps everything just a little off-kilter in terms of melodies, harmonies and rhythms, but they don't overdo it - the music is listenable but strange and can certainly hold attention.

The band is fun live, all delivering their parts with passion and skill. Though they ended up pausing too long between songs, they managed to keep the audience engaged through half-coherent dialogs and jokes. The members are both true musicians and true performers and I can't recommend them enough.

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