A quick trip through Midwest in mid-June may have cost me the chance to see the Northside Festival, but the silver lining was the chance to finally drop in on one of my favorite shoegaze bands, Milwaukee natives the Brief Candles.
The band's live show is one of the most literally "shoegazing" I've seen, but surprisingly, not in a bad way. Sharing the front were Kevin Dixon and Jen Boniger, both on guitar and lead vocal duties, and they did spend a lot of the set focused on their expansive pedal boards. But their downward focus was intense and unreserved - these may not be your typical audience-engaging singers, but their passion and energy were unmistakable.
The set was obstructed by numerous technical problems, most notably in the volume of Boniger's microphone. The first few songs were plagued with feedback, and for most of the rest of the set, she was barely audible. At times, the levels seemed to fluctuate every few seconds, with one line loud and clear, the next completely lost.
Given this and a slew of other minor technical difficulties, the band carried on with remarkable determination, neither resigning themselves to the imperfections nor obsessing over them so much as to kill the momentum of the set - between songs, adjustments and repairs were attempted while the band continued to address the audience with banter or noise.
Bassist Drew Calvetti rounded out the band's heavy sound remarkably, while drummer Jake Bohannen stopped the music from getting bogged down in its own weight. Both are fun to watch, and stylistically, both betray a striking similarity to early (i.e. best) work of their Midwestern neighbors the Smashing Pumpkins - that delicious sound of shoegaze meets Joy Division meets grunge.
A few errors did emerge, including the presence of a fifth band member lurking near the back, whose purpose remained unclear to me throughout the show. Many songs also wore on a little too long, with composition lost amid aimless drifting. This problem, however, is less troubling live than on the band's recordings, because the band's compelling stage presence provides interest where the music falls short.
The Candles were welcoming and their performance heartfelt. They even attempted to accommodate audience requests (though sadly, they declined to perform their 2006 masterpiece "So Long"). Despite the technical glitches and imperfections, I couldn't wish for a more satisfying sheogazey night.