Friday night, for the first time in years, I did some actual bar-hopping. That’s right, I went to two different bars to see two different shows. It was like being in college again (except back then, we bar-hopped for reasons that had nothing to do with the bands…). I popped into The Waiting Room to see how well Sarah Benck’s show was drawing, knowing that it would probably “sell out” — that is, if they had actually sold tickets. Who knows why they decided to do the show for free when they could have pulled in the same crowd charging $5 to $8. Maybe because Benck and her band do so many free outdoor festivals and “events” that she wanted to keep with the theme. Or maybe she just wanted to pack people in to get them to buy the new CD. So — no surprise — the place was “at capacity.” To give you some perspective, it looked like more people were there than at TWR’s Cursive and Faint shows.
The size of the crowd brings up a point I’ve been trying to make about TWR — even when they’re at capacity, you can still freely move around that club — I’ve never felt uncomfortable at a TWR show. Prior to the club’s opening, I thought parking could be a problem — it is Benson, after all, and TWR doesn’t have a designated parking lot. But I’ve never had a problem finding a spot for my Mini within a few blocks of the place. Jim and Marc have something special with this club — good capacity, great sound, great booking, plenty of parking and good service. What more do you want?
Anyway… so I slipped in around 10 just as Benck and her band began to tear into their set. Benck was wearing the same get-up she wore in The Reader photo — leather skirt, high-heel boots, etc. You notice in a live setting just how talented her band is — all of them are poised, seasoned musicians with the confidence to lean into a solo whenever they want, just like any good road-hardened touring band. The crowd whooped it up between songs, and I gotta believe Benck sold plenty of merch that evening.
I listened to three or four songs, then high-tailed it to O’Leaver’s for Life After Laserdisque’s CD release show. Landing on the Moon had just began their set, where they revealed a handful of new songs that are dramatically different than their old material. It’s not a completely different sound, but rather a better one, thanks to arrangements that take advantage of their melodies and guitars. A few of the new ones ended with lengthy repeated (heavy) grooves that never went too long or became boring. The band says they’re getting ready to enter the studio to lay down the new stuff.
Next up was Life After Laserdisque. It’s been about a year since I’ve seen these guys, before Shawn Cox took over the vocals. Since then, LAL has evolved into some sort of super-pop-rock band, complete with call-and-response choruses (Where did she go? I don’t know…) and tight guitar solos. Cox may be one of the most underappreciated guitarists in the scene (though he seems to play in everyone else’s band). Before the set, he told the sound guy (Little Brazil guitarist Greg Epps) to put plenty of delay in the vocals. The effect transformed Cox into an indie Elvis, minus the swagger. It was a hot set, played to a happy, drunken crowd. No matter how nice all these new venues are — TWR, Slowdown — they can’t beat the old-home, where-everybody-knows-your-name reality that is O’Leaver’s. It’s like drinking at a private club where everyone becomes a member (or a regular) by merely walking through the door.
I don’t know what was in the air Saturday, but something definitely was, and I spent a good part of the afternoon convulsed in rapid-fire sneezing. By the time the evening rolled around, my head had closed shut, except for my nose, which drip-drip-dripped all night long. Luckily, TWR has plenty of dark spots where no one could see me wiping snot from my upper lip with the back of my hand (In fact, I probably could have done the ol’ stick-a-Kleenix-up-the-nose trick, but that would have been too unsettling for passersby). I got to the club just in time to see the last half of All Smiles, a rootsy indie band with a frontman whose voice resembled Neil Young’s (but without the twang). That said, there was a rural feel to their guitar-powered rock and I wish I had seen more.
Though not nearly as crowded as the prior evening, there was a large draw to see Menomena (pronounced Men-Naw-Men-Naw — like phenomena — not as I stupidly pronounced it, Men-Oh-Meen-uh). The trio featured a drummer/vocalist, keyboard/guitarist/vocalist, and frontman/vocalist/guitarist/saxophone player. Huge sound for a trio. Everything seemed keyed off the drums, which were big and brawny, the kit set up at the front of the stage so all three members could watch each other throughout the set. Trying to think of what they sounded like, the guy next to me said, “Man, it’s like early Peter Gabriel.” Bingo. Especially when the drummer sang the leads, the keyboards were in loop and the frontman added harmonies or played an odd line on baritone sax, it was 1980 Melt-era Gabriel all the way. Other times, when the keyboardist held the vocal spot, Menomena resembled early Death Cab or a more conventional indie band. They were at their best when being unconventional, however, which was most of the evening
Tonight at O’Leaver’s it’s Fromanhole with Knoxville, Tennessee bands Mouth Movements and Gamenight. $5, 9:30 p.m.
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