Live Review: Burning Hotels, Mynabirds, Thunder Power; MDC Sunday…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:53 pm May 28, 2010
The Burning Hotels at The Waiting Room, May 27, 2010.

The Burning Hotels at The Waiting Room, May 27, 2010.

Here’s my report from last night’s Thunder Power album release show at The Waiting Room:

Of the three bands, the opener, Ft. Worth’s The Burning Hotels, was the most professional, the tightest, the hardest rocking and, songwise, the least interesting. Their publicity compared them to The Stills, French Kicks, The Strokes, The Killers and Hot Hot Heat, among others. Someone in the crowd compared them to The Walkmen.

That list hits pretty close to the mark, reflecting the shiny-penny quality of the just-past-indie-headed-toward-Chrysler-commercial rock the young four-piece captured on a stage lit only by four naked fluorescent shop lights stood on end, casting enough white-blue glare to make out their silhouettes, but not enough to really see who they were. It was a convenient metaphor for their formulaic music; all of it played at the same quick-step pace and sung with the same lilting champaign vocals by either of the two frontmen/guitarists. Their songs had melodies — you could hear them outlined in the hyper-aggressive powerchords — but you couldn’t quite make out the details, and certainly weren’t going to remember them after the show. It was perfect background music for lifestyle TV commercials selling products to gullible youth that still think life’s “winners” are the ones with the perfect abs who drink low-carb beers.

There were about 50 people there for The Burning Hotels, who played to a lonely, empty floor while patrons sat and drank cocktails and waited for the next band. The crowd doubled for The Mynabirds, whose popularity is finally beginning to catch hold around town, and for good reason as their debut album is as good as Pitchfork — that online indie-rock kingmaker — would lead us to believe (a respectable 8.0 rating).

Laura Burhenn and Co. played their usual solid set of bluey, alt-country ballads that would become classics if they could just catch the ear of a savvy radio and/or television programmer.  It was a flawless performance. Still, there is something just out of reach about The Mynabirds. It’s as if they’re performing under glass, always separated from the audience by an invisible barrier. I’ve only seen them on the best stages in town — all of them elevated high enough to keep Burhenn standing like a china doll in a curio cabinet. I’d like to see them at a dirty, cramped venue like O’Leaver’s or The Barley Street Tavern or even The 49’r (or Bushwacker’s), someplace where there’s no room to build a glass wall, where the audience could walk up and hug Laura after she brings them to tears with the lonely chords of “Right Place,” or hand guitarist Ben Brodin a shot after the ghostly slide on “Good Heart.”

Thunder Power at The Waiting Room, May 27, 2010.

Thunder Power at The Waiting Room, May 27, 2010.

Finally, there was the headliners celebrating that rock ‘n’ roll victory lap we call The Album Release Party. Thunder Power has evolved from an ironically named, quaint under-the-radar act (Who remembers when there were three exclamation points after their name???) to a perfectly functional indie band built in the shadow of Belle and Sebastian and Yo La Tengo. Singer/guitarist and music critic Will Simons has come into his own as the shy, slightly awkward frontman just confident enough to be heard above the band. He has a good voice with a range that goes from a high-end Ben Gibbard croon down to a throaty Conor (listen again, Oberst really does have a (sort of) low voice). The best part about Simon’s vocals is that they’re completely unadorned with frills or gimmicky flourishes — he sings as straightforward as he talks, as uncostumed as his blue jeans and untucked-shirt.

On the other hand there’s bassist/vocalist Kacynna Tompsett, whose vocal style is so affected, it’s distracting. She has a gorgeous, low, throaty voice reminiscent of Chan Marshall or Ricky Lee Jones, but it’s presented in such a chopped, alien dialect that it sounds like she’s singing in a language consisting of half-words and odd vowel sounds. That singing style is captured perfectly on “Your Pantry,” a song off the band’s 2008 EP Love Yourself, with the catchy opening lines: “Ar-ee op-bop whep bep bay / Op bet tee.” Take me to your leader, Kacynna. Her singing is only slightly clearer on the new EP. When Simon and Tompsett shared some back-and-forth on stage, the duet sounded like a conversation between Charlie Brown and E.T. The Extraterrestrial.

Some of the best vocalists in rock history couldn’t enunciate their way out of a Customs queue at Heathrow. People have sat through entire (recent) Bob Dylan concerts without understanding a single word he sang. Unfortunately, Thunder Power’s music is so laid-back and fey that it demands understandable lyrics to make a connection with the audience. Without them, it becomes sophisticated, well-played background music.

* * *

Tonight looks like another night at The Brothers Lounge, as gig-wise nothing is showing up on my radar. Tomorrow night Landing on the Moon plays at The Sydney with Brave Captain (fIREHOSE tribute band) and The Ground Tyrants.  $5, 9 p.m.

Sunday night is the return of Millions of Dead Cops to Nebraska, this time at The Hole. They’ve been coming to town since ’87, as this column attests. Playing with MDC are Reviver, Cordial Spew, Wooden Coat, Eastern Turkish and Youth & Tear Gas. $10, 7 p.m. All ages (No Booze). Wear your Doc Martins.

Also Sunday night Girl Drink Drunk is doing Shithook-style karaoke at O’Leaver’s, which I think will be a completely different animal than what I’ve seen at The Waiting Room, mainly because O’Leaver’s has a higher percentage of drunks who don’t give a shit about what anybody thinks. I don’t see a price tag attached to this one, and the O’Leaver’s Facebook page is giving a time of 6 p.m. Don’t bet on it.

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3 Comments »

  • I saw burning hotels in lincoln and completely agree with this review… In fact it took me a minute to remember the name… they were very solid, but nothing that kept my attention. Of course they had to play right after It’s True! wich didn’t help. I love Thunder power but agree that Kacyna’s vocals are distracting and very difficult to understand. I’m pretty sure she does it on purpose, and i don’t mind a little bit of gimick in a voice… but I wish she would scale it back a bit.

    Comment by Bret Vovk — May 28, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

  • Translation:
    “Ar-ee op-bop whep bep bay / Op bet tee.”

    “Sorry ’bout winning this one… for the team…”

    Comment by holy dang! — June 1, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

  • From myspace:

    Here are the lyrics to the songs on our EP “Love Yourself”:

    Take A Hike

    Why don’t you just leave me alone?
    I was doing fine when I was on my own
    Now I feel like I got no room to breathe

    Baby, why don’t you take a hike?
    First you spend the day and then you spend the night
    Now the morning sighs, asking you to go

    It happens all the time to everyone you know
    We live the same three lives, Cather told us so
    There’s a time to linger
    Maybe that time has passed

    Why don’t you just leave me alone?
    I was doing fine when I was on my own
    Now I feel like I got no room to breathe

    Baby, why don’t you take a hike?
    First you’ll take a left and then I’ll take a right
    And I’m never, ever coming back
    Oh, no

    It happens all the time to everyone you know
    We live the same three lives, Cather told us so
    There’s a time to linger
    Maybe that time has passed

    Well, there’s a time to linger
    There’s a time for sleep
    There’s a time to go away
    So why don’t you go take a hike?

    Casanova

    You’re the talk of the town
    The buzz, it’s been going around
    Getting mighty loud
    Stopping girls in their tracks
    Ever so mysterious, you rambling Gypsy man
    Where’s your horse tied up at?
    It’s time you were getting back
    Return to your clan

    The old ways just aren’t the same
    You wish to take Casanova’s name
    Just something a little more modern day
    Straight up, it’s a womankill

    You’re the talk of the town
    The buzz, it’s been going around
    Getting mighty loud
    Stopping girls in their tracks
    Ever so mysterious, you rambling Gypsy man
    Where’s your horse tied up at?
    It’s time you were getting back
    Return to your clan

    The old ways just aren’t the same
    You wish to take Casanova’s name
    Just something a little more modern day
    Straight up, it’s a womankill

    Your Pantry

    Sorry about winning this one for the team
    Others in the city still living to be terrified the dream
    Taking more than a teaspoon of the Norse view of live
    To live is to suffer and with courage is the only way to die

    Stagnant melodies push through followed by Gregorian chants
    Monophony at its worst, you at your best
    Blood feuds, friends, and enemies pass from father to son
    Funeral ships set ablaze, lost souls on the run

    Sorry about winning this one for the team
    Supported by reason, the difference between beast and humanity
    Off balance the gray matter between faithful and foolhardy
    Caught by the heel of Achilles and the chain of being

    Stagnant melodies push through followed by Gregorian chants
    Monophony at its worst, you at your best
    Blood feuds, friends, and enemies pass from father to son
    Funeral ships set ablaze, lost souls on the run

    Sorry about winning this one for the team
    A battle fought at Troy, some said a battle too many
    The spoils of war add some pride to your pantry
    Nevermind overinflated ego, you’ve already more than plenty

    Stagnant melodies push through followed by Gregorian chants
    Monophony at its worst, you at your best
    Blood feuds, friends, and enemies pass from father to son
    Funeral ships set ablaze, lost souls on the run

    Imaginary Rules

    She always wraps herself in clothes
    Hoping no one will notice imaginary rules
    Held by the kids at school
    Don’t go and change your body
    They’re all jerks, yeah they’re so haughty
    They’re hollow and they’re fake
    So don’t listen to what they say

    She walked in to the forest
    She came out humming Abba choruses
    To all her friends
    “Take a Chance” stuck in their heads
    Don’t always do what you’re told
    You’re still young, yeah, don’t look so old
    Your influence pervades
    Your friends, yeah, they can wait

    No one saw her taking photographs
    And no one saw her buying drugs
    And no one saw her breaking windows
    And no one know she was in love, in love

    She always wraps herself in clothes
    Hoping no one will notice imaginary rules
    Held by the kids at school
    Don’t go and change your body
    They’re all jerks, yeah they’re so haughty
    They’re hollow and they’re fake
    So don’t listen to what they say

    No one saw her taking photographs
    And no one saw her buying drugs
    And no one saw her breaking windows
    And no one know she was in love, in love

    Lucky To Be Alive

    Get along, kids, ’cause we’re in for the long haul
    Separation from the pace and the hip tribe
    You’re lucky to be alive
    You’re lucky to be alive
    Sketches that trace all the smile lines on your sad face
    Leave a map to display all your feelings and distaste
    This is not that bad, well this is not that bad

    All our lives we’re holding onto something
    Just like the way we always knew we would
    There’s no time to explain the situation that remains
    And maybe someday we’ll come running back to you
    My love

    Children of fate, compliments full of distaste
    Hate of resentment and fear of time and space
    Has brought us together now
    Has brought us together now
    Your cheeks are rosy and your eyes will dilate
    There’s gallons of booze and it’s time to defenstrate
    The ideas that you’ve had
    The ideas that you’ve ha–aa–aa–aa–aad

    All our lives we’re holding onto something
    Just like the way we always knew we would
    There’s no time to explain the situation that remains
    And maybe someday we’ll come running back to you
    My love

    All our lives we’re holding onto something
    Just like the way we always knew we would
    There’s no time to explain the situation that remains
    And maybe someday we’ll come running back to you
    My love

    Get along, kids, ’cause we’re in for the long haul
    Separation from the pace and the hip tribe
    You’re lucky to be alive
    You’re lucky to be alive
    Sketches that trace all the smile lines on your sad face
    Leave a map to display all your feelings and distaste
    This is not that bad, well this is not that bad

    All our lives we’re holding onto something
    Just like the way we always knew we would
    There’s no time to explain the situation that remains
    And maybe someday we’ll come running back to you
    My love

    All our lives we’re holding onto something
    Just like the way we always knew we would
    There’s no time to explain the situation that remains
    And maybe someday we’ll come running back to you
    My love

    Comment by My Pal Dragon — June 4, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

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