12/22/2005

Show review: The Max Levine Ensemble, An American Tourist, Eric Smith.

This show happened at Eric's house, 9. N. Boulevard, on Tuesday night. I'm a bit late in writing about it, but hey, we've covered that whole thing already.

This show was rather sparsely attended, due to the unfortunate fact that Cave-In and the Doomriders, along with The Setup and Forensics, were playing at the Nanci Raygun about two miles away. Apparently there were a ton of people at that show, so I think that hurt the attendance at this one. There was a time when I would have said something about how this sort of thing could be avoided if promoters of the two different shows worked together, staggered starting times and such in order to allow people to go to two different shows. However, at this point in my life, I don't really believe that this sort of thing actually works. It's always been my experience that whenever I plan to go to two shows in one night, I only end up making it to the first one. Even earlier this year when I was planning to go to an early show and a late show at the same venue, it didn't happen. I went to the early show, and had a lot of fun. But when the time came to go outside and queue up to get into the late show, I just headed home instead. It's an idea that always sounds good until one gets in the situation, but then seems like more trouble than it's worth. These days I don't even like sitting through one show that has more than four bands on it, so how could I stand going to two shows with three to four bands apiece? It's not going to happen for me, and it's probably not going to happen for most people who would even want to go to both shows. So therefore, situations like the one this show was put in will happen on occasion. It's regrettable, but inevitable.

An American Tourist played first. They were a two-piece whose songs were based around rhythms from a program on a laptop. The actual guys in the band switched between guitar and keyboards. The songs tended to be quiet and minimal in instrumentation, with a percussion loop from the laptop playing in the background as reverbed guitars and one-finger keyboard riffs generated a repetitive groove. This style, combined with the quiet, breathy vocals, seemed like it had the potential to create the feel of hypnotic trance, but the songs didn't go on long enough most of the time for that to really happen. Generally, just as I started to sink into what they were doing, the singer would stop playing guitar or keyboard and thank us for listening while the percussion loop the laptop was playing was still going on. These guys have the potential to be quite good at what they're doing, but I think they'd do well to work on incorporating their performance of the songs into the feel the songs themselves have. Maybe allowing the percussion loops to fade out, then quickly starting up the ones for the next song, and only stopping and acknowledging the audience at the end of the set would be a better technique. That said, they have something going even as they are now, though a crowd that's expecting rock n' roll would probably not be the most receptive to what they're doing.

The Max Levine Ensemble played next, and in their touring configuration were a power trio featuring Spoonboy, he of Plan-It-X/Bloomington scene fame, singing and playing guitar. They were typical Plan-It-X fare, unlike Spoonboy's other band that I've seen play, Los Gatos Negros, who have more of a chaotic hardcore thing going on. For those who don't know, the typical sound for Plan-It-X Records bands is that of catchy pop-punk, complete with whoa-oh backup vocals. However, unlike what one might expect from that style of music, Plan-It-X bands tend to have overtly political lyrics. It's hard to tell what a band is singing about in a live situation, though, and Spoonboy didn't really discuss his lyrics between songs, so all I could tell about The Max Levine Ensemble while they were playing was that they played the style I expected, catchy pop-punk. They also incorporated ska and reggae tinged parts, which was pretty common 10 years ago but not something most modern pop-punk bands have the guts to do. I tend to scoff at this style of music, as I probably permanently O.D.ed on it back when it was everywhere in the mid-90s, but I enjoyed watching Max Levine Ensemble play. It probably helped that all three of the members were good at their instruments, especially the drummer, who pounded the hell out of his kit and kept things moving along at a constant rapid clip. In fact, I was so won over that I bought a CD from them after they were done, called "How To Build An Intergalactic Time Travel Machine". The CD demonstrated to me that they are quite different in the studio from what they demonstrated to me as a live band, and in fact I was a little let down by it. In particular, there are horn sections on a lot of the songs, which was a good bit too ska for me, as well as a bunch of other auxiliary instruments which mostly just seemed extraneous and unnecessary. The songwriting, which is Max Levine Ensemble's real strength, shone through despite these additions to the music, but it still dampened my enthusiasm for the CD a bit after what I saw live. I'd definitely recommend that people see them live before listening to them on record in order to get the best possible impression of where their talent lies.

Originally, Wow, Owls guitarist Brandon Peck had been scheduled to provide local support for the two touring bands with his solo acoustic act, but he had to bow out of the show due to work scheduling conflicts, and instead Eric Smith of local bands The Catalyst and The Internet (and a resident of 9 N. Boulevard) played an acoustic set. This is something he'd never done before, so I wasn't sure what we were going to get, but he ended up having a pretty decent set prepared. He started things off with a couple of instrumental blues-based jams that he introduced as being songs he liked to play while sitting on his back porch. The rest of the set alternated between covers of such bands as Talking Heads and The Meat Puppets (both of which got most of the small crowd singing along) and acoustic versions of songs by The Catalyst, including the song "Something About A Conspiracy", which appeared on their CD but as far as I know had never been played live before. Eric's set was nothing life-changing but was fun, and I'd be glad to see him do this sort of thing again in the future. After the set, he was heard to say that he'd been planning to do an acoustic version of the Tri-State Killing Spree song "Starz of 88", but had forgotten to. Thank God for small favors.

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