Show review: The Catalyst (again), Mass Movement of the Moth, Josh Small.
Josh Small played first, and since the show started on time and everyone always shows up to shows late, he played to a rather small crowd of only 25 or so. His music was pretty awesome--on most of the songs he played a (knock-off) National steel guitar, and on the rest he played banjo. Whether the steel guitar was a fake National or not, it had a really loud sound to it, as well as that buzzing, ringing sound that I associate a lot with prewar blues. However, rather than playing in that style, Josh played songs that reminded me of the more rocked-out alt-country stuff that i really dig, such as Lucero and Uncle Tupelo, at their most maudlin. This could have been bad, but I thought it was awesome. He has a really good singing voice, and writes really interesting and heartfelt lyrics, certainly not cliched. On the banjo songs, he played the style that I think is called "clawhammer", which gave the songs an old-timey feel, but he still used a lot of the minor-chord dynamics that he used on the steel guitar songs. This continued to remind me of the whole alt-country thing I'd gotten from the steel guitar songs, and kept an emotional vibe to the music no matter how far it went into folk or old-time country territory. On a personal note, one of the songs had a chorus that went "New York City's all you need... you don't need me," which reminded me so strongly of my last breakup (which I'm still far from over) that I nearly started crying right there. This guy's definitely an emotionally affecting performer, and I hope he plays the basement again soon.
Next up were Mass Movement of the Moth, a DC hardcore band who incorporate keyboards into their sound. This is the kind of thing that can get very self-consciously quirky very quickly, but luckily Moth don't take it in that direction. In fact, they incorporate a lot of unorthodox styles of music (ska and salsa come to mind) into their songwriting as well, and yet it all fits together well into a unified sound that never seems jarring and always rocks. I'd heard their records a few times before, but the guys in The Catalyst, who have been playing shows with Moth for years now, were always telling me that their live shows far surpassed the records. They had a whole bunch of equipment problems: the PA amp wasn't loud enough for vocals to be heard over the music, Ashley's guitar amp started losing volume (evidently due to a failing tube that needed to be replaced) towards the end of the set, and during the second song in the set, a power strip that was connecting the bass amp and keyboard amp blew out, so that half of the music disappeared while they were playing. In fact, the power strip ended up blowing its built-in circuit twice during the same song before they finally just got a different power strip. Despite all of the trouble, though, they played really well and had the whole place dancing. People wanted to hear more at the end of the set, but with Ashley's amp acting up, they decided not to play any longer.
Moth had played to a good bit more people than Josh Small did, but they finished their set at about 9 pm, and a good many more people showed up to the house right as they did. So when The Catalyst came on, the basement was packed, with at least 70 and maybe as many as 100 kids down there for their set. The Catalyst played well last time I saw them, but this time was even better. For some reason, they were just on fire with their musical performance, and blew everyone away. Eric had noticed just how poorly the PA had done with Moth's vocals, so he wasn't using it almost at all during the set (apparently it had been shocking him too, which I didn't find out til later in the night). I was standing right next to him watching the set, and after their first song, I told him that if he was just going to ignore the microphone, I was going to steal it and sing their song "Just Like the Last Scene In 'The Karate Kid'," which I've threatened to do at past shows but never did. He just shrugged and started the next song, but as soon as that song was over, he yelled for the band to play "Karate Kid". I took it as a challenge, that he was calling my bluff, and decided to take him up on it (despite some nervousness). I stole the mic halfway through the first verse and sang the rest of the song, even though I realized 10 seconds into doing it that I only know about 60% of the words to the song. I can't comment on how well my vocals sounded, but it sure was fun to do, especially since the basement was so packed that the band could barely move. There was really no room for me to jump out and be a frontman, but I did it anyway, slamming into kids in the front row and into Jamie and Nate while they played their guitars. Then a huge circle pit started, despite the fact that there was no room for one. It was great.
The cops came 5 songs into The Catalyst's set, and Nate had to put his bass down and go talk to them, since pretty much everyone who lived at the house was either playing in the band or trapped in the tightly packed crowd (ever thought about how much house shows must violate fire code restrictions? Man...). When he came back he announced that he'd told the cops they were on tour from Canada, and the cop had said they could play one more song. So they played their song "Chronic the Hedgehog", which is about 5 minutes long on record and has been known to run twice to three times that length live. Halfway through the song, Jamie did his customary switch from guitar to drums, and a bunch of people grabbed extra drumsticks and started playing on Kevin and Jamie's drumsets along with them. Ashley from Mass Movement of the Moth even grabbed a floor tom from their equipment and started playing along as well. The drum-based jam section of the song went on for over 10 minutes, and got pretty free-form by the end. It was a pretty incredible rendition of the song, and a great set on the whole. Probably the best I've seen them play, and I could tell that a lot of kids at the show who hadn't seen them before were blown away.
In closing, I love basement shows. They are the best.