Thursday, March 6, 2008

Evangelicals--Waldon Arts Center, Bloomington, Indiana

The day of the show was typically March-in-Indiana--cold, wet, raw--and the atypical easterly wind created unease in me, as if the wind carried portent of doom from the coast. The night wasn't much different, only the rain had turned to snow. Nonetheless, I hoofed the half-mile or so between my house and Waldron, a tiny (tiny, tiny) space just south of downtown. If I had to guess, I'd put Waldron's capacity at 150-200. Small. And attendance wasn't even close to capacity.

Opener, Bloomington's Prayer Breakfast, played a tried and true version of shambolic, basement-band indie rock a la Superchunk or Archers of Loaf. The singer had a severe, lopsided hipster haircut that reminded me of George Hurley's famous The Unit. It took on a life of its own, and often seemed to be the only thing holding his glasses to his face. That's all I got.

Next were Headlights from Champaign, IL. They were, in a word, ebullient. I knew nothing of them going in, but, following Prayer Breakfast, it was clear as early as sound check that they were a more studied, more studious band, and the reason they're on tour with Evangelicals became obvious: Headlights traffic in melodic, treated, kinda-psych-pop. Male vocalist Tristan Wraight's voice is reminiscent of Aaron Espinoza in its wispy rasp, while female vocalist Erin Fein's voice recalls a rawer Jenny Lewis. Compiling a setlist is impossible, but that song that was like tom-tom, snare; tom-tom, snare: awesome. The song that was just keys and noises where Erin sang: awesome. The song after that: awesome. The 4/4 stomper: awesome. Ultimately, what made Headlights so much fun to watch was their ease with one another. They enjoyed playing together and they enjoyed each other, and it showed in their on-stage interactions and banter. To wit: Wraight commented about trying to tune a g-flat. Fein chided him for "talking and tuning." Wraight's pithy reply: "Everyone has responsibilities." All in all, great band, great set in which everything they played felt like the closer.

In the days leading up to this show I thought a lot about how Evangelicals' thick, effects-laden songs would fare in person. I surmised that it would either be a glorious mess or just a mess. It was the former. This Oklahoma foursome is the real deal; they have power and charisma, most of which is derived from frontman Josh Jones, who is exactly how I expected him to be: a little bit effete, a whole lot confident, a showman. He's also a helluva guitar player, bending big, glammy, Roxy/Fripp tones around and through the background pummel, rhythmic thrust, and ethereal decorations. Jones and company stuck to material from The Evening Descends, out now on Dead Oceans. The set's highlights were "Paperback Suicide", "Midnight Vignette" (excellent), and an astounding rendition of "Bellawood" that brought all the song's drama, stops and starts, and shifts in tempo and volume to full bear: it is a manic beast that sees Jones at his most theatric and drummer Austin Stephens beating the absolute shit out of his kit. Closer "Skeleton Man", likely Evangelicals' best-known song, ended things on a high note: strobes, smoke machine, sound effects, lots and lots of vocal echo, and no fewer than two instruments toppled. The only complaints I have are that the set was too short at seven or eight songs, and that no one utilized the model volcano at stage left. (All night I hoped for spewing baking-soda-and-food-coloring lava, but alas, it was not to be. In my post-show slumber, however, I did dream of magma bubbling up from my basement and flowing in rivulets around the dining room, but that could be because the sump pump has been working overtime for the last couple days.) I would love to see Evangelicals play a full set at a quote-unquote proper venue with a proper sound system. And despite the low turnout, Evangelicals played to the back of the room, and were gracious and funny. At such intimate shows it's not uncommon for a performance to veer off-track, resulting in ambivalence or, at worst, enmity between band and audience. Luckily, this didn't happen. Maybe Messrs. Hippy Slam-Dancer and I Like To Pogo In My Socks helped keep the energy high and the band engaged.

If I may be permitted to gush: What a treat. What a treat it is to live here among such talented and dedicated people as Dan Coleman, who organizes and promotes events all around town, and everyone at Secretly Canadian and Dead Oceans who dedicate their days and nights to getting these bands in front of people--even if it is only 50 of them.

--Brian Herrmann


NQL said...

For you Chicago people, Evangelicals and Headlights are playing at Schubas on Friday. Audrye Sessions, too.

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