Every year, for the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages, and, in addition to their emcee obligations, we ask them to pull double duty (or triple-duty in some cases) and also write up the acts that appear on their individual stages. Tom Murphy hosted the Bar Standard stage. Page down to read his thoughts and see some photos.
Land Lines got things started at Bar Standard and provided a perfect counterpoint to the swelter of record temperatures outside. Anna Mascorella, Martina Grbac and Ross Harada built lush compositions out of simple elements to produce a kind of music that was sparse yet created a vibrant flow of introspective moods.
Harada didn't play traditional percussion so much as let his rhythms follow the overall patterning of melody and mood, often using different parts of the kit to create clicks that sometimes drove the song and the interlocking rhythms of Grbac and Mascorella. If the trio's previous band, Matson Jones, was noteworthy, in many ways, Land Lines expands greatly upon what its members have done so well in the past.
The Morning Clouds basked in waves of sound that washed in and out alongside lonely melodies with a structure built on adding and pulling back elements to create a gentle, sometimes intense, dynamic. The Morning Clouds came off like a blend of '80s dream pop and Phil Spector's various '60s projects. At times, it was like Jason Pierce writing his version of Americana if he'd never remotely heard country music in his life and only read about it.
The resulting sound was a lush sparkle, teasing out the fluttering motes of sound at the edge of reverberating chords. Toward the end, one of the band's songs was reminiscent of Swell Maps' "Midget Submarine," only slowed down and blissed-out. These guys are experts at making somber, melancholy, downtempo music sound warm.
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Once again, Achille Lauro kept its record of delivering a solid showing of music that seems so smooth and soothing at times that it looks easy. The intertwining sounds from guitar, keyboards and programming swirled around Matt Close's observational and poetic lyrics that tell stories of making it through the labyrinth of expectations and empty concerns of modern life.
"Supernatural Beings," as it often is, was the high point, even though Close's truly evocative synth line seemed to be missing -- Luke Mossman did an alternate take with his own electronics and covered the technical issue nicely without missing a beat. The African and Latin beats courtesy of Ben Mossman seemed especially effective in giving Achille Lauro a bit of groove when locked in with Jon Evans' rich low end.
This was Luke James-Erickson's debut with Le Divorce, and he fit in perfectly. You may have seen him around playing as the drummer in the Don'ts and Be Carefuls or his solo doom-dub project, Wind Does. Le Divorce looked like it was having fun with its music.
Kitty Vincent, who engaged in her always charmingly self-effacing, sardonic humor between songs including pausing to tune: "We tune because we care. Take three!" Joe Grobelny, meanwhile, lunged and danced about like a rock star of old. Mike King seemed to hurl bass notes down behind Vincent while mouthing the words to the music -- that's a guy that commits to a project beyond "just" being the bass player.
There was a Wretch Like Me sticker on a case Abe Brennan of Joy Subtraction used for his pedals, probably because Brennan's kept the same case since those days. Along with the case, Brennan brings a great deal of the energy he had in his old band. Joy Subtraction had buzzing guitar tone and propulsive rhythms, not unlike if some hardcore kids discovered their own version of post-punk by breaking beyond any strictures of the aesthetic of their older music.
In the middle of the set, the band did a cover of "This Ain't No Picnic" by Minutemen and then did "Dignity Is a Luxury" and said they didn't write it. Perhaps not, it sounded like it could have been written by McClusky. Either way, there was some real force and aggression in the band's performance without the instinct for violence.
When the members of the Knew took the stage, they looked like they had stepped off a movie set playing some legendary band that we all should have heard about. Jacob Hansen recalled Billy Bragg, but with a full band backing him. The Knew, as usual, didn't skimp on the energy. The outfit's amalgam of straight-ahead rock and roll with a tinge of the unusual made you think of Meat Puppets and an even more rock-oriented Uncle Tupelo. It was striking to see a rock band -- no hyphenated hybrid indicator necessary -- that could come off so original and playing like they knew it.
With the addition of Zale Hassler of 200 Million Years on keys, the sound of Hearts in Space was somehow a lot bigger for this show -- and it already had a big sound. Ezra-David Darnell's passionate vocal delivery was matched by Hassler's own -- this while Jordan Hubner streamed in vocals that seemed to channel ethereal energy from another world. Johnny Lundock, meanwhile, kept a steady yet accented beat that held the expansive sounds together as Ryan Sniegowski, seemingly unfazed by the action around him, provided a much needed anchor for music that seemed to flare up with melody and emotion from all corners.
The Swayback has hit an especially compelling groove of late with its songwriting and performances. While not quite as off the rails as in its early days, the band's confidence and ability to emote from a place of absolute security just made the show even better. Eric Halborg seemed more charismatic than ever, probably because he could take more chances with his own rhythms as Carl Sorensen could both keep the time with an admirable precision while also being able to fill in some expert accents.
Bill Murphy, too, seemed confident enough to fully use his controlled feedback in the context of a song with his own precision of execution. These guys were having fun with their songs, and the whole group was operating on a level beyond what it has in years past. Hopefully we get another record as great as Double Four Time sooner than later with the energy these guys displayed today.
A very short but sweet set from Overcasters followed, and the fog, back projections and lighting heightened the dramatic flair of the music. Kurt Ottaway's vocals pierced through the fog with clarity, and he, John Nichols and Todd Spriggs gestured grandly with their instruments in time with the changes. Erin Tidwell, meanwhile, looked like a supporting character from Aeon Flux in the back and pounding out the rhythm and accents with her usual ferocity. Though there were cries for one more song, Ottaway gracefully mentioned that the band had more songs but that the show had to be over.
-- Tom Murphy
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