Rubedo, a fairly new band, opened this show, and while the three members of the band seemed to be coming from different musical directions, somehow they managed to bring it all together. It was obvious the guys were having fun and laughing at unspoken inside jokes.
The band still has some things to iron in terms of fully integrating its eclectic ideas into a unified whole, but overall, the band does seem have a clear grasp of using interlocking, jazzy rhythms and laying dynamic atmospheres over the top of it.
The outfit's singer shifted deftly between Donald Fagen-esque soulfulness and Wayne Coyne-like dementia. The group, which recalled Lake Trout with less densely layered songs, is still little rough around the edges but shows some promise.
The Life There Is was up next with a revised lineup and a slightly modified approach to its sound, mostly ditching the synth pop element for a more rock sound. And the act otherwise did a better job of integrating the electronic component of the songwriting than in times past.
Despite the changes to the lineup, one of the most distinctive features of the band is still the lead singer's voice. He's versatile and able to switch from intensely emotive to sonorously beautiful with little effort. The outfit also displayed a great sense of how to separate sound, so that even in the headiest passages they avoided stepping on one another's toes.
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When Retribution Gospel Choir was about to start its set, some guy in the audience asked Alan Sparhawk if his band was from "the mitten" (meaning Michigan), to which Sparkhawk responded with, "I don't know what you're talking about, bro" (Spearhawk's from Minnesota) before lifting his guitar and laying straight into an explosive guitar riff.
Sparkhawk has always had a beautifully expressive guitar style, and in this band, that quality translated into haunting quiet sections and soaring, crashing pyres of atmospheric guitar fury. The duality of Sparkhawk's guitar work, in fact, at times, made it sound like there were two guitars playing at the same time.
Fortunately Retribution's fantastic rhythm section kept Sparkhawk's guitar antics from flying out of control, guiding that power in interesting directions. Not everything was brilliant about the set, but it's always better to see a band capable of reaching the highest of heights, even when it has moments of adequacy rather than artists who are merely better than average.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Kind of a Low fan from way back. Random Detail: All the guitarists in The Life There Is had instruments with natural wood finishes. By the Way: Rubedo has a cool EP worth checking out if you're into Modest Mouse and Calexico.