Monday, March 15, 2010

Live: Miniboone, Quiet Loudly, the Vandelles

When: 2/26/10
Where: Cake Shop

I wasn't planning to write a review of this show, but it turned out to be worth a few words...

Quiet Loudly was already playing when I arrived. It's been ages since I've heard them and man have they changed! Before, their music was made of angular, teethy guitar and bass lines that would lock together in some sort of bizarre skeleton. Now there are melodies, structures and grooves - the band has hammered their jagged soundscape into a dense, restrained blues rock. Still, from time to time, a sharp guitar will slice through and the band suddenly transforms into their dissonant, broken former selves. But the groove always returns and what before were empty spaces are now filled with a wall of misty guitar and keyboard sound.

Hints of blues always existed somewhere at the very base of Quiet Loudly's sound but only now can they manage the unhurried, sighing phrases that make the genre what it is. Not that they are a blues band - their psychedelic leanings and the shadows of pop that cross their songs are pure indie rock. They've managed to strike the perfect balance of the two genres without resorting to a cliched drunken swagger or country drawl.

Unfortunately, in other aspects their music is not yet balanced. While they still make room for their sonic romps, without their jerky guitar lines, the band risks fading into a background. Moreover, the spaces they do make seem to go on a little too long and accomplish a little too little for their span. The band's long periods of jamming were more enjoyable than many, mostly because a song-oriented sensibility still governs the grounding but nimble bass and kicked-up drums. Still, self-indulgence is always a risk and seldom one worth taking in the world of music. Let's none of us turn into a jam band, okay?

Overall, though, Quiet Loudly are making vast strides, incorporating some (if not quite enough) of their innovation along into far more focused, well thought-out pieces. They're creative and they're on the right track. That's more than you can say for most bands. [myspace]

The Vandelles played next and they fucking ruled, like they always do. There was a bit too much downtime, but when they were playing, all four members owned the stage, sending a wave of feedback hurdling through the room. They seemed a little cramped up there - this is a big-stage sort of band - but they still threw themselves mentally and physically, 100%, into the songs. Their 50's and 60's throwback melodies buried under layer after layer of searing distortion, their drummer pounding primal beats like the devil's personal handpuppet, their deep bass and low guitars rumbling without pause, the Vandelles are a force to be reckoned with, that much is sure. [myspace]

And lastly, Miniboone, a band I've followed a least vaguely since their very first show. Like Quietly Loudly, these guys have transformed. Once they played a freaked-out, intellectual punk a la the Minutemen, with screams and spasms. Next I saw them, they were playing pop, and not just any pop but big pop, the kind with larger-than-life melodies and harmonies, following the finest pop traditions of the 1960's - girl groups, orchestrated am pop and all the rest.

But now, they've finally found themselves as a band. Their manic, brainy Minutemen-like bursts have found a way to fit naturally into their bigger pop instincts. It's awkward, in a way, but in a way that suits them, in a way that's fun and exciting. With jerky stop-and-start pieces coming together into guitar-swinging pop and with vocal melodies that are equal parts sixties radio fodder and eighties punk, Miniboone have found their niche, and they're definitely the only band in it.

But what made this show so extraordinary isn't that the members are gifted songwriters or that their music is unique. What made this show extraordinary was that everything broke. The mics stopped working, the amps were crapping out, nothing was going right, and all this only two songs in. The band was on the verge of giving up, but with some encouragement from their friends in the crowd, they hatched a plan. If the microphones weren't going to work, they would just need to find another way to amplify the vocals.

So they started a sing-a-long. Guitarist Doug Schrashun picked up a floor tom headed for the center of the audience while the band launched into some covers. The audience joined in with the singing(/shouting), also taking turns pounding the tom and playing what percussion they could grab. When the covers ran out and microphones were still out of commission, the band rounded out the set with a couple more originals. Luckily the audience knew most of these too and helped kick the singing up to audible levels.

It was a great show because it was unplanned, because it was a disaster. A good band can do some damage control, but only a truly great one can pull off a feat like this - making the crumbiest night imaginable into an unforgettable experience for all. Even a cold bastard like me left with the warm fuzzies. Miniboone are not just a good band, they are a great one and it's concerts like this that keep me coming out to hear new bands. Sometimes it seems like there are so many bands and so few new ideas that it's not possibly worth it to keep searching. But then I find what I'm looking for - something exciting and new and real. Miniboone may not play my favorite style, but they've got something special, something 99% of Brooklyn bands don't even know they're missing. And that's worth a lot. [myspace]

1 comment:

nyctaper said...

I was there too and your review is 100% accurate. It was a brilliant mess and loads of fun.