Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Live: Crystal Stilts, Blank Dogs, Women

When: 3/14
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

First of all, what a line-up! Three of the hottest bands to break out in the last year, all one bill, for one ticket - perfect for someone cheap and lazy like myself.

Naked On The Vague - When I arrived at the venue, the second of two relatively obscure openning acts was on stage. Simply put, it was one of the worst bands I've ever heard. It sounded like they were trying to imitate Sonic Youth's most avant-garde material - particularly due to the female vocalist's clear channelling of Kim Gordon's monotone rasp. But Sonic Youth and other good bands that have delved into noise-rock have control over their sound. I'm a big fan of dissonance when it's used innovatively. There is nothing innovative about hammering on diminished fifths and seconds for half an hour - hundreds of thousands of angsty teenagers have already done the same thing, and if it was ever "art," it's definitely not anymore.

I actually had to go downstairs after a few songs, where the music was still piped in, but at least was much quieter. :: MySpace

Women - This seemed an odd pairing with the final two bands of the night - Crystal Stilts and Blank Dogs both have a lo-fi sensibility, while Women seek a much more polished sound. Their music seems a close cousin to early 90's math rock, with ever-changing time signatures and complex, spiky melodic lines from each instrument. But Women infuse this sharp, clean style back into the indie rock from whence it came, corralling it with coherent song structures and topping it off with some vocal melodies you could even sing along with.

Women (photo by Lindsey Baker)

Both elements are displayed even better live than on the group's recordings - you can see the care and prowess that goes into their sonic experiments and feel the tension building. I would bet money that at least some members of Women have had significant training in music. That's not a value-judgment one way or the other, but it certainly affects their sound and enables them to make their music unfailingly interesting. :: MySpace

Blank Dogs - Because Blank Dogs run with the ultra-lo-fi crowd, I was expecting something raw and chaotic. But Blank Dogs aren't that - despite their squealing feedback and distorted vocals, they present themselves like a Real Rock Band. There's nothing wrong with that, but I had been looking forward to more youthful spontenaity and indie-punk spirit, and I admit I was a bit disappointed. Their sound is tight to the point of feeling cramped - these are not kids fresh from rehearsing in their parents' garage, that much is for sure.

The sound was a bit off balance for the Blank Dogs set, with the synth too loud. This wouldn't have been so troubling if it hadn't served to draw attention to the band's poor arrangements. The synth constantly stepped on the toes of guitar and vocal parts.

The performance was good but not outstanding. The five members played well and were clearly enjoying themselves and their songs. In an ideal world, the band would step it up visually and pare it down musically, but they've got a lot they're doing right - sweet melodies, roaring distortion and technical prowess. I see why everyone's so excited. :: MySpace

Crystal Stilts - Allow me, first, to give you a timeline of my relationship with the Crystal Stilts.

  • Some time in 2008 - RFR hears "Converging in the Quiet" and freaks the fuck out because it's the best new music in years and years and years.

  • Shortly thereafter - RFR listens to the entire 7-song Woodsist release and continues to freak out.

  • October 2008 - RFR gets Alight of Night and slowly is forced to admit that it's not that interesting.

  • December 2008 - RFR sees Crystal Stilts open for Love Is All and is underwhelmed by the band's lazy-ass performance (including one member being seated the entire time).

  • Later in December 2008 - RFR listens to Alight of Night some more and realizes all the songs sound the same.

  • February 2009 - RFR hears from Top Secret Sources in Europe that Crystal Stilts were pulling stunts like playing twenty minute sets to sold out venues, then retiring because they were "tired."

I know this sounds stupid, but I actually felt betrayed as I watched the Stilts plummet from being the most exciting band of their time into apparent apathy. So it was with much cynicism that I attended Saturday night's show.

Crystal Stilts
Crystal Stilts (photo by Lauren Bilanko)

I wish I could say the band either fully redeemed themselves or fully validated my disappointment. But in the end, the show was just middling. They played a nice long set and played it well. They were more energetic than when I saw them last, although keyboardist Kyle Forrester is the only one with any real sense of stage presence.

All in all, the Stilts weren't bad, but they weren't special either. It was just an indie rock show. I'll keep listening to "Converging in the Quiet" but beyond that, I can't put too much energy into this band. It's just impossible to passionate about music, no matter how good, when your passion isn't even matched the people who made it. Bummer that. :: MySpace

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