At this point, the Dont's and Be Carefuls' "new" keyboardist, Dane Bernhardt, formerly of the Silver Cord, is fully integrated into the band. At least that's how things sounded this past Friday. These guys have always been a tight a band and they play with incredible enthusiasm. Maybe it wasn't as obvious before but Luke James-Erickson in addition to keeping a steady and insistent beat, mixed in various textures with non-traditional percussion on his kit to accent the quiet interludes. "Color TV" was performed with a surprising passion and exuberance even for this band which isn't short on either.
The six-piece Spinto Band came as a pleasant surprise. Not having been overly impressed with what I had heard from the band before, every song of the set was so unique from each other and so well executed, it made me wonder if I was thinking of a different band. One of the singers had a voice and style that sat somewhere between Tom Verlaine and Stan Ridgeway, while another was able to sing in a tone that resembled David Byrne pulling off an ever so slight falsetto without compromising power.
The guys switched instruments pretty frequently throughout their set, but it never slowed them down. The cover of "Brazil" by Ary Barroso was masterful and perhaps even better than the version many of us heard in the movie by the same name. At times the Bossa Nova beats mixed with unconventional pop was reminiscent of Talking Heads in the best way. The set closed with "Oh Mandy" -- not to be confused with the Barry Manilow hit.
When Minature Tigers took the stage, frontman Charlie Brand appeared wearing a kind of red, felt-looking poncho of sorts with a hood, looking like he had stepped off the set of a Terry Gilliam movie. And this was fitting because the music that followed was much more colorful, imaginative and original than a lot of the pop music influenced by '60s forbears.
Opening with "Mansion of Misery," Miniature Tigers sure didn't sound like it was playing a song that had much to do with misery. People in the audience actually seemed to know the words to "Tell It to the Volcano," and Brand invited everyone to come closer, even the people at the bar.
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Most people who were there for the music and not purely for liver damage indulged him. As the staccato synth part opening "Goldskull" started out, Brand said things hadn't gotten crazy enough for him, so he went out into the audience and got a few people to dance with him, but there was no doubt he had everyone on his side already.
Before "Cannibal Queen," Brand asked if the Spinto Band was still around to use some shakers, and one girl in the audience immediately said she would play something and she got on stage, joined by members of the Spinto Band and random others as part of the band if only for that song.
One guy in particular actually knew the words and sang along with the choruses. As the last song rang out, the band thanked us and left the stage, but there was enough enthusiasm displayed by the crowd, that the quartet came back to stage and played an encore beginning with "Dark Tower" and ending with an energetic rendition of "Last Night's Fake Blood." It felt like seeing a great band before it has become famous and not acting like it is yet either.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Pop music with some ambition behind it is always welcome. Random Detail: Cody Witsken plays a right-handed bass upside down. By the Way: If you like indie pop of any stripe, the new Miniature Tigers album, Fortress, is one of the best albums of 2010.