Over the weekend: Alan Alda, Accordion Crimes and I Sank Molly Brown at the hi-dive

Alan Alda, Accordion Crimes and I Sank Molly Brown Friday, January 15th, 2010 hi-dive

Opening the show was I Sank Molly Brown. When I had seen the band on previous occasions, I was never impressed. So it came as something of a surprise when the song that began Molly Brown's set displayed a nuance I hadn't seen before from these guys.

The performance was as lively and energetic as ever, but it was clear to me that either I had missed something before or I Sank Molly Brown had worked a lot harder on letting its songs breathe without losing any of the nervy intensity.

This time around, the goofy humor also seemed effective and when someone yelled out for the band to play "Freebird" after the drummer said, in jest, "This is a Christmas song," he followed up his comment with, "It's called 'Freebird.' 'Freebird' for Christmas."

Accordion Crimes began its set with a rousing version of "Planes Over Milwaukee." The third song in was a fairly spot-on cover of "Girl U Want" by Devo. The trio has always been good but there was a great deal more confidence in what its doing for this show. But even that didn't prepare me for the song "Academy."

The gritty bass and drum rhythms had an edgy rawness that sounded like something you might have heard come out of Shellac or Drive Like Jehu. When Bryon Parker came in with the vocals and kicked the emotional tenor of the song up a few notches, I have to admit I haven't seen anything with such a sense of menace and ferocity since the last time I saw Tarmints perform "I Do."

The next song, "Forcast," was even more brutally effective with Parker's vocals slashing through the song. At the end it struck me as the kind of performance that makes you as a musician either want to quit or be inspired to do something that tries to measure up to something that powerful.

Somehow Alan Alda got on stage and was able to follow up Accordion Crimes without standing in the shadow of that performance. Starting out the set with "Swimming," Alan Alda showed us how to properly mix prog elements with heavy music -- heavy not because it's loud and aggressive, so much as vigorously dynamic and densely atmospheric.

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Whereas some bands mining similar territory get too busy and heavy-handed, Alan Alda's musicians perform expressively and with an uncanny grace using such weighty sonic elements. The music was angular yet flowing and the guys seemed to be controlled, even possessed, by their instruments as though guided by an unseen set of hands. The acrobatic playing style employed by this trio seemed absolutely impromptu and of the moment and the set ended with the excellent "Characters Numbers."

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Never liked I Sank Molly Brown at all before this show. Random Detail: Ran into the guys from Breezy Porticos outside before going in. By the Way: It is entirely possible to have an all-local show with bands that don't get a lot of press and have a lot of people show up like they did this night.

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