Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bear With Me.

There's this point in a number of Bear Hands songs where one very simple one-, two- or three-note melodic part is essentially soloed with the drums -- a vocal line or a guitar part, usually -- and then, after a stretch, something else comes in -- bass or rhythm guitar -- and the root lands somewhere other than you might've expected, showing the melodic thing to be based around maybe the third or the fifth rather than the tonic, and then there's a chord change and that one melodic part keeps going, and then there's another change and... It's an exciting way to build tension, to mess around with intervals this way. And it's nothing, say, John Cage hasn't already done, but it's way cool to see a full-on rock band stripping away the surface, laying the machinery of the song bare and building it back up in a way that seems fresh and moving. There's a lot going on beneath the simple facade of a Bear Hands song. This is a band whose members clearly know how to listen to each other and make kick-ass songs in the process.

Bear Hands' show tonight at The Space in Hamden was a bit of a homecoming for the Brooklyn post-punk quartet, all four of whom grew up in Connecticut -- there were friends in the audience cheering them on and ribbing them in the way friends do. Not the liveliest crowd, though (perhaps that's what singer Dylan Rau meant when he said, "Tonight's been kind of a nightmare" -- he then encouraged the crowd to loosen up), in spite of a mass of bodies up near the stage, a handful of singers-along and a few definitely bouncy kids. Not that that affected the band's performance visibly or audibly -- they charged through their set with a great degree of energy and enthusiasm.

It's been over a year since I've seen Kiss Kiss, though they've come up to Connecticut repeatedly since then. And I daresay they've gotten even tighter -- if one's going to be a member of Kiss Kiss, one had better have one's shit down, because this proggy art-pop band's hallmarks include dense melodic interplay, coordinated rhythmic hiccups and off-kilter time signatures, and they've had nothing but suitably sick musicians playing with them for as long as I've been following them, but with the solidification of a steady lineup, a heavy gigging schedule and time in the recording studio, they've become not just tight but kind of scary. They seem to play these complex songs intuitively, to have internalized them enough to allow for all this flailing about and off-mic screaming without even giving the impression they might miss a beat. Great stuff. They also played an arrangement of the Tetris song (cultural blind spot on my part -- I don't know the source of that melody; if you can help me out, please do) that was far more nuanced and dynamic and run-through-the-wringer than that of any other band I've ever seen do that song, and singer/keyboardist/guitarist Josh Benash claimed they'd gotten it together in three hours the day before.

Since becoming buds with Greg and Tom Sommerville this summer, I've seen their band Bruhder a few times, in various configurations, and this was the first time I've seen them play a full set. And, as with previous sets, they played acoustic guitars and used no vocal mics. If their songs were put into a full electric band context, they'd be a smart power-pop band, but using the context of acoustic guitars and electric bass, with all three guys singing at the top of their lungs, gives them a special, communal vibe that would probably lose some of its charm in a traditional rock setting, and maybe some of the clever lyrics, too. Lots of friends and singers-along up near the stage for their set as well, giving their set a real living-room kind of feeling.

See/Saw is an acoustic avant-pop band of sorts that included, tonight at least, Fareed from Bottle Up and Go and another guy. Didn't really get off the ground. Their set was quiet to the point of being muffled, and while there were some pretty melodies in there, the songs didn't quite congeal into anything that suggested where those songs were going. Kind of hard to find the downbeat out in the audience. While Bruhder created a living-room feeling on The Space's already-homey stage, perhaps See/Saw's set would've translated better in a real-life living room.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Simplicity; Pleasurable

The Simple Pleasure are one of the best bands in New Haven right now, and they released what's probably my favorite "local disc" of the year (and one of the best CDs I heard all year, period), Alive with Pleasure, in 2008. They play amped-up electro-pop with a heavy glam rock influence, sexy and seemingly with two shots of espresso, and their songs are excellent. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Chad Raines actually studied music composition while in college -- it's evident in his craft; their songs are incredibly catchy and full of melodies and chord progressions that go exactly where the thinking listener wants. It's music that scratches all kinds of itches for the active popfan.

I've seen awesome sets by The Simple Pleasure and simply okay sets. Tonight, at Cafe Nine in New Haven, was one of the awesome sets -- no equipment failures, all three members of the core band present, loads of energy. They were firing on all cylinders, tight and delivering killer jams left and right. There were newer songs in addition to older faves like "The Tunnels" and "Douchebag" (herein you see Raines' sense of humor -- a coming-of-age tale like the former and a dirty joke like the latter, in which he proclaims, "I ain't your douchebag, baby -- you got no L-O-V-E"); Raines seemed hesitant, gauging audience reception (very strong among a small cadre of fans who were paying attention) after playing a song in which he chanted, "LGBT! LGBT! W for W, M for M!" -- a terribly funny sentiment bolstered by a memorable synth lick (I saw a Simple Pleasure show a few months ago, wherein Raines and synth player Tamara Chiba, who was playing an electronic drumkit at that show, played a version of this song -- it's great to hear it evolve from a simple schoolyard sing-along into a full-sounding, well-orchestrated Killer Jam) -- and while the audience didn't get down as readily as they had on other nights when I've seen The Simple Pleasure, it wasn't for the band's lack of trying (and delivering). Yes, I danced like a deranged maniac. It was kinda silly and a butt ton of fun. I once referred to Raines as a "dance-floor prophet," and he is. As a frontman, he dicates where the party is going.

Thrill Velocity -- the synth-pop project of Nolan Voss -- closed out the night with the most focused set I've ever seen from him. He's always had this doomy, gothy kind of vocal style with Thrill Velocity, but he's written enough songs at this point for it to feel quite natural and pleasurable and not like a simple mood-setting affectation. Thrill Velocity once had a number of tunes that dragged a bit, but by this point Voss seems to have composed a set that keeps up the requisite energy, dark but energetic and fun. The vocodered-out "Colored Lines" remained a standout, but while in past sets Voss has played it as the closer, marking the moment where all the elements of his set came together in one clear moment, he slipped it somewhere in the middle of the set tonight, and the thing is, he's reached a creative point wherein whatever point he might've made by playing that song last was already evident before he got there.

Thank you for being there, if you were.
(Photos by Brian LaRue)