11/14/2005

Show review: The Catalyst, The Summer We Went West, Hi Ho Six Shooter, French Stewart, Minor Twang.

This show was on Saturday night, at the Warehouse Next Door in Washington, DC. I rode up to the show with the guys in The Catalyst, and volunteered to drive the van home so that all of them could drink. They of course took me up on this offer.

This was my first time going to Warehouse Next Door, and I found it to be a small but cool venue. It's basically an empty room with a stage that might be 18 inches high at one end, and a small four-seat bar at the other. It has a sound system that's really good, especially for the space it's in, and the stage is high enough to make it possible to see the band from anywhere in the room, so it mixes the best aspects of club and house shows. I wish there was a venue like this in Richmond, as a matter of fact.

Minor Twang played first, and as you may have guessed by the band name, was a guy playing country-style Minor Threat covers on acoustic guitar. He only did a few songs ("Straight Edge," "Guilty of Being White," "Minor Threat," and "Out of Step"), but they were well-played and every bit as amusing as I'm sure he wanted them to be, so the set was a success. I was surprised to note how well Minor Threat songs actually adapt to country arrangements. He could probably modify a lot more of them if he felt like it.

Next up was French Stewart. This band was also humorous in intent. There were three members, all of whom sang, and a sequencer playing their backing music through the PA. All three of them dressed in matching tunics of some sort, that they put on while a musical introduction played. The introduction was based around a loop of the bass intro to Fugazi's "Waiting Room," and this use of prominent indie/emo/hardcore samples was a theme throughout their set. As their introduction played, I wondered whether they would be rapping, but as it turned out, they screamed their lyrics. The musical construction was somewhat similar to rap, as it relied more on samples than computer-generated music a la Atom and His Package, but the overall effect was more like a multiple-vocalist hardcore band. The three singers traded off lines Beastie Boys-style, with one doing high-pitched screams while another had a deeper, more growly vocal style and the third did straightforward yelling. All three of them stood on the floor and quickly moved out into the center of the crowd, clearing plenty of space with their manic stage presence. The songs had humorous themes, which I mostly don't remember now, but I feel like had to do with monsters a good percentage of the time. On the whole, I enjoyed them. I don't know that I'd want to listen to a French Stewart CD, but I'd certainly go check them out live anytime.

The show was moving quickly up to this point, but Hi Ho Six Shooter, the first conventional electrical instrument-based band of the evening, brought all that to a halt. This is not to say that I didn't like them, but just that they played for way too long. I didn't keep precise track, but I was looking at the clock more and more frequently as their set went on, and I'm pretty sure they played for between 45 minutes and an hour. This had a lot to do with the music they play, which on first instinct I'd call alt-country. Really, though, my use of the "alt" prefix has more to do with the fact that I encountered this band in the hardcore scene than anything else. If I had ignored the things I knew about Hi Ho Six Shooter before ever hearing their music, I would have found their music to be far less a product of the alt-country movement than it was the product of obvious influences taken from the mainstream country music of the 50s, 60s and 70s. From the singer's accented vocals to the march-time beats and twangy guitar sound, I heard a lot more elements of musicians like Conway Twitty, Porter Wagoner and Webb Pierce than I ever would have expected. The only thing that Hi Ho Six Shooter did that musicians like that would not have done was to integrate horns into their sound. One member, who also played keyboards, most often played a trumpet, and at times the rhythm guitarist would play a second trumpet. It worked well in the context of their music, reminding me of Ennio Morricone's music for spaghetti westerns. However, as I said, they played for way too long. I can remember thinking at one point that the song they were playing should have been their last. Looking at their set list as they were breaking down, I saw that that song had been fourth out of nine. This is one band who, if they're going to play that many songs, should try to make them shorter.

On the other hand, The Summer We Went West played for what I felt was too short a time. After playing one song, which, granted, was probably six minutes long or thereabouts, the singer announced that the next song would be their last. I kept thinking I had missed something, but everyone else I was there with was also under the impression that they only played a two song set. I had mixed feelings about their set, too. It started off promisingly, with their two guitarists playing a series of alternating notes that linked together to form a pretty good melody, as all four members of the band sang different melodic vocal parts. This section of the song went on a bit too long, and after a while I felt like the multiple vocal parts were starting to run over each other and ruin the entire effect. But eventually, after building to a crescendo and holding it for too long, to the point where the energy was starting to fade away, the entire band came in on a pretty good melodic riff. The main vocalist continued singing while the rest of the band concentrated on their instruments, and although I couldn't help but notice that the entire thing was incredibly derivative of mid-90s chaotic hardcore/"emo" bands such as Still Life, Ethel Meserve, and Owltian Mia, I felt like they might end up being pretty enjoyable. However, The Summer We Went West's music is basically ruined by their inability to write cohesive songs. They don't know when to change into and out of parts, they don't know how to do it without a lot of buildup that is unnecessary and kills the song's momentum, and they don't seem, from what I saw, to know how to end a song. I felt like I was seeing the same sort of thing I saw in the second wave of bands that played in this style, in the late 90s. Sure, bands like You And I added things to the original musical formula, such as metal, jazz, and more overtly indie-rock influences, but they were often so blown away by the incredible outpourings of emotion on view in videos of old bands like Inkwell or Current that they felt like they had to imitate this sort of stage presence, regardless of inspiration in the moment. True, it seemed really dramatic to see You And I collapse to the stage in tears at the end of their sets, but when you saw them five times and they did it every time, it started to ring hollow. The Summer We Went West also rang hollow for me, as the end of set amp destruction that occurred after their second song seemed planned in advance. It reminded me of watching Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam try in vain to smash his guitar after playing "Rockin' In The Free World" with Neil Young on MTV. Instead of being overcome with emotion, one could tell that his thought process was "time to be intense and smash my instrument." Same with The Summer We Went West, who I had overheard before their set planning which song to play last around which one had the ending most suitable to "freaking out and destroying equipment". Make no mistake, musically this band has potential, as they wrote a lot of good, driving melodic riffs. But if they really want to realize that potential, they'll have to take the energy they're currently putting into onstage histrionics and channel it into better songwriting techniques.

The Catalyst played last. I've talked a lot in this blog about what they sound like, and what they're like live, so I don't really feel the need to rehash all of that. But I will mention that this show was supposed to be their last show with original bassist Nate Prusinski. However, at the last moment, he found that he couldn't take time off work, so Kyle Pederson of The Olive Tree/The Internet/a whole bunch of bands (who lives with most of the members of The Catalyst) filled in on bass with one day's notice. Surprisingly, this did nothing to detract from the set's power and energy. Kyle learned six songs for the set and played them well, without any noticeable mistakes, and the rest of the band were on point and energetic. It was one of the better shows I've seen them play, though I must admit that lately they've been pretty outstanding every time I've seen them, so I'm not sure how many more times I will find myself saying such a thing before eventually I just go into things expecting them to be outstanding and incredible. Under the circumstances, though, it was above and beyond what anyone could have expected. I guess sometimes overcoming obstacles really does bring out the best in people.

P.S.--Sorry I've been so bad about updating lately, after promising that I'd post something new here every day. It's the easiest thing in the world to lose motivation and stop bothering to do something you have really only committed to yourself to do. It's much harder to find ways to bring that motivation back. Hopefully I've done so now; I have a few other things I want to write about over the next few days, and by the time that's done I should have found more. Additionally, I'm thinking of starting a second blog devoted to comic books. If I do, you'll be the first to hear about it. Again, sorry about the long absence. Take care, everyone.

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