I think after they count the receipts from last week, Slowdown will have had one of its best week’s ever, what with two sold-out Rilo Kiley shows and nearly (if not actually) sold out shows Friday and Saturday by Tokyo Police Club and Devotchka.
It should be pointed out for those of you who haven’t been to Slowdown for awhile that shows there now start at the stroke of 9 or very shortly thereafter. It would be easy to blame the all-ages ordinance — after all, the parents that signed those consent forms expect their kids to be home at a decent hour, and really, why push the show back an hour (or more) when there’s no one buying drinks? Ah, but that’s a cynic’s point of view. This is really just a long-winded way of saying I showed up at Slowdown Friday night at around 10:45 and missed Criteria’s entire set.
But I did manage to catch all of Tokyo Police Club. Alsop’s comments about the band now traveling with a light show seems quaint considering what they had on stage that night (and considering what Devotchka would boast the following evening). The stage behind the band was decorated with vertical light strips made up of rows of small LEDs that would blink and switch colors during songs, while the band was lit from below by colored strobes that reminded me of early Mercy Rule shows. TPC will look back fondly on that lighting in the years to come.
Musically, their set was as expected, about 50 minutes of well-performed songs from their full length and their debut EP, each song rounding out at under three minutes — short, sharp bursts of energy separated by brief pauses, all of which added up to a sort of fatigue after about 20 minutes of the set. I like Tokyo Police Club and I like their new full length, but their live set seems almost unstructured — there was no ebb and flow, only one high-energy indie rocker after another, with very few people on the crowded floor dancing to the music. After all, aren’t they supposed to be a dance-wave band?
TPC came out for a brief preprogrammed 2-song encore, and that was it, something of a surprise considering the show was the last one of this North American tour.
Seems like Omaha is becoming the stopping off point for tours. Basia Bulat announced that Saturday night’s show was the last one on her and Devotchka’s tour as well. We got there plenty early for this one, early enough to catch the opening set by rustic acoustic duo Born in the Flood. Seated main man Nathaniel Rateliff came off as an older, weathered version of Beck circa Sea Change, providing a world-weary view that matched his earthy yet down-and-out songwriting style.
He was quickly followed by Basia Bulat and her band, who actually were the folks we’d come to see. Devotchka is 2006, while Basia Bulat is 2009 or 2010 — yet to be discovered, on the verge of national stardom. It doesn’t hurt that she’s cute as a button, looking like that 13-year-old uber-talented girl next door that you always see carrying an instrument case on her way to school. She opened with an a cappella number that got the crowd’s attention before hoisting an autoharp for the next few songs, eventually opting for an acoustic guitar. Her voice is very reminiscent of Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs) while her music is Dixie Chicks without the twang or cheese. Backed by a ukulele, viola, cello, bass and her brother on drums, she leans more toward the commercial than indie music realm, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Judging by the crowd reaction, she’s on her way.
Then along came Devotchka. By this time in the evening, we had moved from the pit in front of the stage all the way to the back of the room just to get some air and space. Despite supposedly not being sold out, this show seemed more crowded than the Rilo Kiley show from earlier in the week. Devotchka knows how to put on a stage show, combining striking lights and a small string section to create a festival atmosphere that would seem at home at The Orpheum or Holland. In fact, at times I thought I was watching a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Everyone eats up the ethnic coleslaw that is their music, and in fact it is impressive on first glance, but a little goes a long way. We lasted about 20 minutes before calling it an evening.
Disturbing trend note: I think it should be pointed out by someone that hand-clapping is, well, getting out of hand. I don’t mean clapping after a song, I mean bands that make theatrical efforts to include hand-claps into their music. The Spinto Band, TPC and Basia Bulat all featured a number of songs in their set that started with synchronized hand clapping. There was a time when that was cute and effective. That time is long gone. Spinto and TPC were much more annoying about it; Bulat can get away with it because, well, she’s Bulat and everything she does is cute. But unless you’re Sufjan Stevens, five guys shouldn’t be standing around doing synchronized clapping to get their songs started. The only thing worse: I recently saw Carly Simon perform on one of the late-night chat shows — her shtick: not hand-claps, but synchronized finger snapping. It looked and sounded as gaggy as you might imagine.
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Tally Hall is a major-label (Atlantic Records) product of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a five-piece that flaunts its love for Queen-style harmonies sung over Ben Folds-flavored pop songs. At its best it scratches Guster territory, but only barely. They’re playing Tuesday night at The Waiting Room with De Novo and Carolina Liar. $10, 9 p.m.
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