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.”
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.
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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.