Nothing you've heard about ManCub can probably prepare you for ManCub. It would be easy to compare the duo to Daft Punk, because both make groove-heavy electronic music and have an arresting visual element to their shows, but ManCub seems more tied-in with a raw energy of punk. These guys jump when the rhythm hits a particularly intense moment, and the group's sampled drums sound like an acoustic kit. Mixing the dark and lurid with the upbeat and the driving, Mancub didn't let up last night at the hi-dive.
And that's not often something you can say about artists that make electronic music -- aside from, perhaps, acts like Pragha Kahn or Vaughan Harris or Trent Reznor. The men of ManCub were in motion the whole time in a real way, and that inspired much of the audience to dance along with them. Nothing sounded the same, and the variety of the songs was impressive on its own. Between the visceral feel of the performance, the sonic assault and the chaotic visual component of the show, ManCub seemed like A Place To Bury Strangers' guitar rock -- larger than life and incredibly forceful.
There was a bit of a delay before Flashlights began its set. When Ethan Converse and Sam Martin finally got things started, they opened with a new song in which Ethan's evolving and ever-increasing skill as an R&B vocalist was allowed to shine, and his dance moves matched the music's fluidity and sway.
The second song was reminiscent of mid-era High Places with its use of an electronic marimba sound and thick bass tones. This band has always seemed to have a knack for making happy, dreamy yet moody music, like they're tapping into vivid, specific memories that we've left neglected but that we welcome when they come unexpectedly. The set ended with a new song called "Drugs," which started out with a simple and minimal structure and then shifted into languid atmospheres, punctuated by arpeggiated synth tones in the background, which gave it a feeling of acceleration.
Mercuria and The Gem Stars, sounding like a new kind of dream pop grounded in the more ethereal end of country, psych-tinged '70s lounge, transported listeners with its expert use of a broad evocative palette. Maria Kohler's delicate yet expansively drifty, sometimes wiry, guitar work fit in perfectly with the jazz-like percussion, the warmly present bass and the soothing and uplifting synth tones.
Comparisons to other bands wouldn't do justice to any parties involved but the downtempo tone of the music was always balanced with Kohler's strong, expressive voice, and moments in which the band seemed to throw itself into the moment and then shift back to a gorgeously introspective passage of music.
If anything, Mercuria and The Gem Stars made music that felt like what mid and late summer nights often feel like -- when it's not drizzling as it has been of late. That is to say, a sense of calm and wonder at life's possibilities as embodied by a welcoming climate. The band seemed to be having fun and it translated well to everyone who got to see the performance.
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Personal Bias: I was hoping ManCub would be good. Expectations exceeded. Random Detail: The new ManCub download card came with a fake mustache. By the Way: Flashlights is releasing a vinyl EP on August 5 at the Marquis Theater.