Every year at the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages. In addition to their emcee duties, we ask them to pull double duty by submitting a travelogue of their individual stage. Tom Murphy hosted at Bar Standard this past Saturday. Keep reading for some of the highlights from that stage.
For this Glass Homes set, it seemed as though Nick Salmon recruited the band's original bass player and Luke James-Erickson on drums. As a result, Salmon was able to focus more on his vocals while playing one or two instruments rather than frantically scrambling between duties, which made for some explosive performances in the past, but this show allowed the songs and the players shine brighter.
"This should clear most of you out," said Abe Brennan at the beginning of Joy Subtraction's set. But it didn't. Throughout the show, Brennan and Brian Polk had some choice sarcastic and self-deprecating comments, but mostly the set featured the band's dense and frenetic rhythms with Brennan's fiery, angular, textured guitar work over the top and some humorous social commentary. For "Dignity is a Luxury," Brennan held his guitar before him in both hands like fending off an enemy or as a totem.
Dragondeer plays an amalgam of blues and psychedelia, but that description doesn't do justice to the power that comes from these four guys playing together. Cole Rudy, who mostly played lap steel, broke out the mandolin and played crazy riffs processed through some effects, while John Grigsby played bass with a subtle panache, Carl Sorensen created complex rhythms and accents that complement all elements of the music and Halborg added soulful, expressive vocals that gave emotional heft to the songs.
The breezy melodies of Confluence were consistently interesting -- like the guitarists traded off roles for an effect like Desolation Wilderness but less melodramatic mixed with the excellent fingerboarding and solo textures of Pinback. Vocally, Ian Gassman had that way of conveying a sense of wounded psyche healed without having exorcised the experience, but rather soothed the memory of the pain in a way that honors all the original emotions that made a past love, a past friendship, a bittersweet experience worth being involved in the first place.
Sometime in the past six months, this already good band got a lot better. Warhawk still plays that kind of 70s style rock mixed with early glam, but Alex Eschen doesn't try to emulate the distorted, whiskey-soaked voice of so many other people playing a similar style. This strong showing included a standout performance of "Cold Gin, Hot Sin" and a very believable cover of "Sweetleaf," which the band closed with.
With new, or relatively so, drummer Scott Gervais on board for this show, Thee Dang Dangs showed a bit of an evolution from the nervy, garage-surf-rock-y sound of its earliest incarnation. To call it darker might not be exactly right, but Ray Koren's spare but intricate guitar work synced up well with Broox Pulford's confident bass lines and Rebecca Williams' own spiky guitar playing and almost warbled vocals. When all the players came together, they created an electrifying sound that propelled the songs forward -- songs that weren't even lacking beforehand.
It had been been a bit since Hearts In Space played, but there was an even more vivid quality to the music this time out. Scott Blair joined the line-up on electronics and tambourine and added an interesting presence to the existing mix. Jeromie Dorrance provided the back-projected videos of abstract imagery and colors as the ideal backdrop to the music. For this show the difference between the vocal styles of Ezra Darnell and Jordan Wyatt were very obvious, which made it easier to appreciate how the vibrance and warmth of Darnell's vocals blend with Wyatt's cool, moody, ethereal singing, effectively giving the band a lot of range both sonically and emotionally.
Even though the Photo Atlas has played many of these songs hundreds, in some cases thousands, of times live, you wouldn't know it from this show. At some point these guys either went through burnout on the material and came back to appreciating it all over again, or they are professional enough to just execute the songs with such eruptive energy. Perhaps it's a little of both. Either way, you could tell everyone in the band wasn't holding back and familiar songs like "Handshake Heart Attack" sounded fresh. And the enthusiasm for the new stuff didn't overtake that for the old songs.
Not long into Dirty Few's set, Spencer Stone jumped headfirst into the crowd while playing guitar, and the crowd caught him and got him back on stage, after which he played heedlessly for the whole time. It was that kind of show. This band is not faking being about to go off the rails at any time; Dirty Few makes the threat of chaos both fun and musical. Surely the songs were written to have some loose quality to them with the ability to fly off the handle. With a new bassist and a female back-up singer/hype girl, this show was one of the band's wildest.
Anyone that hasn't seen Snake Rattle Rattle Snake for a good long while should check back in because what happened at this show was what felt like all but a full transition to a different phase of development. Hailey Helmericks past vocal affectations are seemingly gone, and in their place a much stronger, more expressive, more versatile singing style, which gave the sound of the music another dimension. Musically, Doug Spencer is playing some great atmospheric textures instead of just the usual angular riffs he's been so good at writing. This was an impressive showing from a band adept at pushing its own boundaries.