Photo: Tom Murphy
My Feral Kin w/Married in Berdichev! and French Quarter Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Rhinoceropolis Better Than: Missing out on one of the most important tropical-pop bands by going to another show.
The opening act, Greenery, didn’t make it for reasons unknown to anyone at the Rhino so after a short delay, Married in Berdichev! set up with James from Glochids for a special performance of a single composition, some or most of it undoubtedly improv.
The earliest shows I saw from Married in Berdichev! were fantastic exercises in layering vocals with a loop station and playing music alongside it. But in the last two years or so, Brittany Gould has transformed this project into one of the most innovative acts around by using a loop station not merely as a live 4-track, but as a means of creating rich, lush soundscapes. With the aid of a mixer and a delay pedal, Gould has also become adept at feeding loops and sounds back into each other to create another level of texture that can often include distorted vocals shimmering and swimming next to dreamily beautiful tones created by other vocalizations.
For this performance, James fed into the mix a minimalist guitar sound run through two delay pedals set for different functions along with an oscillator and another pedal that may have provided a third tier of delay. Along with chimes, a bell and improvised hand percussion, the duo sounded to these ears like what an indie-pop band would do if they had gone the same route Slowdive did when they wrote the music for their Creation Records resignation note/album, Pygmalion. Their sound was that of late summer evenings as the orange haze of sunset fades with the high, droney sound of cybernetic cicadas sounding on and off until the end of their single song.
Photo: Tom Murphy French Quarter
French Quarter, for the first half to two thirds of the set, was just Stephen Steinbrink and a Danelectro Les Paul. It’s pretty easy to pigeonhole any single person on stage with a guitar as a sing-songwriter. Certainly, that’s what Stephen is, to some extent. But his voice is unique and decidedly melodious even when his songs are about some of life’s low points.
Sonically he didn’t sound like Neil Young at all, but like Young he sang with an unvarnished honesty that exposed various aspects of the psyche that almost anyone can relate to if they’ve lived an authentic life. His lyrics, likewise, were thoughtful reflections of experience. His guitar playing was minimalistic but also evocative and compelling. For one song, he played two guitar parts at the same time, playing both the low and high end simultaneously.
He did a couple of interesting takes on covers including a Foot Ox song. When the full band assembled, including Brittany Gould guesting on vocals, the songs became more lively and energetic but lost none of the unabashedly introspective character that makes this projects music so worthwhile.
Photo: Tom Murphy My Feral Kin
Phoenix’s My Feral Kin is a five-piece band that includes three guitarists, a bass player and a drummer with all four string players on vocals. During their impromptu soundcheck, the band teased with a good deal of “Marquee Moon” by Television but cut it short with a laugh. But that just presaged the incredible guitar and musical prowess ahead.
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There was an impressive use of guitar tones to create dense and dynamic melodies and yet not for a moment did the band come off like a cabal of guitar wizards plotting to perpetrate the black magic of technical prowess upon us all. Rather, they did something far more original and much more rare—they used their impressive guitar skills to sound like they were writing richly sonic folk and jazz music for a tribe of people that does not exist in a strict geographical territory. Perhaps Julio Mendoza sounds like he took some cues from Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donohue but that impression quickly fades in the context of this most wonderfully bizarre pop music.
Their vocal harmonies and musical intersections didn’t sound like they shouldn’t work but the organic character somehow made it possible and rendered each song a marvel of musical invention. Not unlike the flight of the bumblebee—impossible according to principles of physics but which works elegantly against what we already know about nature. They closed with a song that fearlessly and playfully appropriated Arabic and Spanish guitar ideas and reconfigured them for a new context. Like Brooklyn’s The High Places, My Feral Kin is charting new musical territory—a phenomenon much needed in this day and age. -- Tom Murphy
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: Ever since seeing The High Places last year, I’ve been a huge fan of “tropical pop.” Random Detail: A girl in the crowd felt so moved by My Feral Kin’s music she came to the front and danced enthusiastically but not before politely asking if she was in my way. By the Way: Apparently Phoenix has one of the coolest scenes in the country.
This is the seventeenth in a series of thirty consecutive shows that Tom Murphy is planning on attending. His whole idea is to prove that there's cool stuff going on any night of the week in Denver, if you bother to make any effort whatsoever to find it. He suggested naming this series, "This Band Could Be Your Life," a fitting designation to be sure. Since there's already a similarly titled book, however, we opted to file these entries under Last Night's Show -- you know, to avoid being sued an all. (Sorry, Tom.)