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Live Review: Here We Go Magic with Big Thief at Valley Bar, Phoenix, AZ – 15th November 2015

 
By on Thursday, 19th November 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

After the tragic events in Paris last weekend, which struck close to home with an attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Le Bataclan on Friday night, even the hardiest of gig-goers might find themselves hesitating to venture out for a show. Such was my situation on Sunday night, when I headed to downtown Phoenix’s Valley Bar to see Brooklyn indie pop band Here We Go Magic. It was unusually cold and rainy in Phoenix that night (a recurring theme with my recent trips to Valley Bar, as you’ll know if you read my review of David Ramirez’s show last week), and I had half a mind to stay safely and snugly tucked away on my sofa at home rather than making the 2-hour drive. However, I felt pulled to make a show of resistance against the fear inspired by the Paris attacks, if only in a small way. Since I already had the ticket in hand, off to Phoenix I went.

I arrived a little after the announced time for doors at the Valley Bar, but it turned out that the bands, Here We Go Magic and support act Big Thief, were running a bit late as well. When Big Thief took the stage about half an hour behind schedule, there were only a handful of people in the venue, mostly hanging back near the bar area. Undeterred, lead singer Adrianne Lenker and company drew the small crowd in with their alt-rock style songs. The hesitant punters slowly crept nearer to the stage during their set, and by the end, the band were receiving enthusiastic applause and genuine shouts of approval.

Big Thief 1

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Big Thief weren’t just another one on the rapidly growing list of female-led garage bands. So often, those bands come off sounding a bit feckless or somehow apologetic for making a loud noise. Not Big Thief. Lenker’s songwriting does have that self-conscious introspection in its lyrics, and the breathy tone quality of her singing voice falls somewhere between Patsy Cline and Chrissy Hynde, but the band’s folk rock style musical arrangements lean more toward the rock end of the spectrum and are anything but frail and delicate.

Their brash sound was displayed to full advantage in the instrumental interludes, when Lenker stepped away from the mic and led her male bandmates through a series of screeching guitar solos. That being said, one of the most memorable moments in Big Thief’s set came when guitarist Buck Meek performed a contrasting a capella version of his solo song ‘Sam Bridges’, which immediately called to mind the folk roots of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan.

Big Thief 2

Meek and Lenker are both a solo artists aside from their work with Big Thief, and when I stepped out to the merch table after the show, Lenker was selling copies of her own solo CD ‘Hours Were the Birds’ as well as Big Thief’s latest offering (recorded as Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, and titled ‘A-sides’). She mentioned that most of the songs on their current set list were new and will appear on their upcoming album, to be released sometime next year. In fact, Big Thief’s recent single ‘Masterpiece’ was just released at the end of October, as a prelude to their tour with Here We Go Magic.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/YgKJe3uiJ9g[/youtube]

Luke Temple and his Here We Go Magic colleagues opened their headline set without preliminary chatter, starting with a pair of new songs from their recent LP ‘Be Small’. As it turned out, ‘Ordinary Feeling’ and ‘Stella’ served as a nice warm up for the more energetic ‘Make Up Your Mind’ and an extended version of ‘Hibernation’. I was immediately surprised by how much more vibrant Here We Go Magic sounded in live performance, as I’d always heard their studio recordings as being very muted and mellow, more atmosphere than tangible presence. But on this night, they played through the new tracks and the older ones alike with the smooth, spellbinding grace of a jazz combo, each band member watching and responding naturally to the others, the main focus always at stage right on frontman Temple.

Here We Go Magic 1

The centerpiece of Here We Go Magic’s set was clearly the infectiously quirky lead single from ‘Be Small’, ‘Tokyo London U.S. Korea’, whose catchy title line inspired a bit of singing along among the tiny Valley Bar crowd. That’s not to imply that the audience wasn’t engaged with the performance; on the contrary, the vibe in the room was one of captivated attention and appreciation for the musicianship on display. It’s just that most of Here We Go Magic’s songs aren’t particularly of the singalong variety. Despite that reputation, I’m willing to bet that very few could walk away from ‘Tokyo London U.S. Korea’ without catching the earworm. Find out for yourself below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/HK5qqlLAcm4[/youtube]

While Here We Go Magic’s setlist was predictably slanted toward the new album, the band did touch on each of their older recordings. Songs from their self-titled debut album and their excellent 2012 record ‘A Different Ship’ made notable appearances in the first half of the set, and a pair of tracks from 2010’s ‘Pigeon’, the mildly hypnotic ‘Land of Feelings’ and the psychedelic coda of ‘Collector’, came nearer to the end. The band wrapped up the set proper with brand new single ‘Falling’, and finally, the small audience’s reward for braving both the weather and weekend’s earlier events came in the form of a brief encore, featuring my own favourite Here We Go Magic tune, ‘How Do I Know’.

Here We Go Magic’s latest album ‘Be Small’ is available now via Secretly Canadian. They will play a single UK show at XOYO in London on the 22nd of February as part of a 2016 European tour, which is also currently scheduled to include several dates in France.

Here We Go Magic setlist

 

Live Review: David Ramirez with Liza Anne at Valley Bar, Phoenix, AZ – 4th November 2015

 
By on Wednesday, 11th November 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Last Wednesday night, I trekked once again to downtown Phoenix for a gig at the intimate and all-but-hidden Valley Bar, which is quite literally nestled in a back alley between a couple of sandwich shops. The rainy weather didn’t stop a steady crowd from trickling into the venue, and before the gig started, I heard several punters chatting about the headliner, Texas alt-country songwriter David Ramirez, having obviously heard him or seen him live before. I, myself, was less familiar, having been turned on to Ramirez’s music after seeing a Tweeted recommendation of his latest single from none other than Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody. I spent the two-hour drive to Phoenix from Tucson listening to Ramirez’s latest album ‘Fables’ via Apple Music, and it was just the thing to whet my appetite for the evening’s headliner at the Valley Bar.

Liza Anne

Lest I get too far ahead of myself, let’s start not with Ramirez, but with his guest on the night, Atlanta native singer/songwriter Liza Anne. Her tunes are the kind of starkly melancholic neo-folk I might have predicted, but with the added twist of prominent vocal harmonies provided by backing vocalists Sam Pinkerton and Molly Parden. Liza Anne’s opening set, which included haunting echoes of melody from her recent LP ‘Two’, had a cool, aloof edge despite its emotional lyrics that would prove to be in sharp contrast to Ramirez’s viscerally organic Americana style.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/LExYeHF-ypk[/youtube]

Because I was fairly unfamiliar with Ramirez, I decided to stick to the standard policy of shooting photos only during the first three songs of the set, leaving myself free to enjoy the latter part of the show uninterrupted. And though I missed a few classic photo opportunities later on when Ramirez’s band was in full swing, I’m convinced that I made the right decision. Ramirez’s intensity on stage was hypnotic, and his band played with the kind of paradoxically effortless energy that can only happen when you’re playing with your “best friend(s) in the world”, as Ramirez would preface his introduction of each band member.

David Ramirez 3

To my surprise (and mild dismay), Ramirez started his lengthy headline set with two of the songs I knew best from ‘Fables’, namely ‘New Way of Living’ and ‘Harder to Lie’, the latter of which has been firmly planted in my head ever since the night of the show. He scattered songs from ‘Fables’ throughout the set, interspersing them with several older tracks that caught my attention, especially ‘The Bad Days’ from 2013 EP ‘The Rooster’. Not knowing the songs well enough to sing along, I was nonetheless delighted to be in the front row, alternately tapping my toes and swaying my hips to the band’s infectious rhythmic momentum. Ramirez’s alt-country style has perhaps a bit more country twang than I usually like, but the rough honesty of his singing voice and the integrity of his stylistic devotion to foundational country rock were quite simply captivating.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/TDvQgEpfiZA[/youtube]

The crowd were quiet at the beginning of the set, but slowly warmed up as Ramirez and his band went to work under the hot stage lights. Interaction was stilted at first, but the punters gradually got brave enough to respond to Ramirez’s banter. At one point, a cheeky request was made for a song called ‘Wandering Man’, and while Ramirez didn’t commit to it in the moment, he did play the song at the very end of his set, and it was clearly a longtime live favourite, featuring not only a rousing verse-chorus-verse, but also an extended bridge section where each of the instrumentalists on stage had a chance to show off his chops. Ramirez himself actually took this opportunity to exit the stage and head to the bar for a shot, with which he toasted the crowd before tossing it back and finishing the song with a blinding flourish.

Breathless from the frenzy of the final tune, I headed out to the lobby where the merch table was located. There I picked up a proper physical copy of ‘Fables’ and had the opportunity for quick hellos and handshakes with the band members before I headed out in the rain to drive back east to Tucson, while they headed west for the next stops on their current U.S. tour. Before I drove away, I took a moment to Tweet my own ringing recommendation to a friend in California, who would see Ramirez play a solo show on the following Sunday night.

The previous Gary Lightbody endorsement had been graciously received and reciprocated by Ramirez on Twitter, where he surely found a small legion of Snow Patrol fans (including myself!) among his new listeners, though Ramirez’s musical style is clearly more on the Americana-leaning Tired Pony end of the Lightbody spectrum. Ramirez might gain even more traction from Lightbody’s recommendation after the start of the new year, when he is scheduled to play a single live date on the 28th of January at Hoxton Square in London. A full listing of Ramirez’s upcoming live dates, including more U.S. shows with Liza Anne, can be found on his official Web site.

David Ramirez set list

 

Live Review: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls with Beans on Toast and Skinny Lister at the Press Room, Phoenix, AZ – 25th October 2015

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd November 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Hard-working troubadour Frank Turner and his dedicated band the Sleeping Souls have just wrapped up a full American tour, following the summer release of Turner’s new album ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’. The American tour ended on a bit of an anticlimactic note in New Orleans last week as Turner and two of his bandmates suffered food poisoning and were forced to cancel their final show, but their gig in Phoenix on the previous Sunday night was more successful, with a lively and receptive crowd turning up early at downtown venue the Press Room to catch support acts Beans on Toast and Skinny Lister ahead of Turner’s headline set.

Beans 1

Essex singer/songwriter Beans on Toast (known offstage as Jay McAllister) came on stage without delay and warmed up the still-arriving crowd with an engaging acoustic set of narrative tunes that were by turns personal and political, comical and caustic. From his vantage point at the front of the stage, McAllister drew in the eager audience with a brief commentary on American culture in the form of a song called ‘The Great American Novel’, from his upcoming new album ‘Rolling Up the Hill’. A handful of older Beans on Toast songs were also well-received, particularly the interactive sing along ‘Fuck You Nashville’; though only a few hardy Frank Turner fans were familiar with the tune from previous shows, the rest of us learned the critical chorus line quickly enough to join in.

SL 1

After a brief lull in the action, folk-punk collective Skinny Lister enthusiastically took the stage, bringing their customary whisky jug along to share with the “21 and over” portion of the audience. Opening with songs from their recent album ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’, Skinny Lister quite frankly stole the show, their high energy exceeding what was to come later from Turner and the Souls.

Beginning with ‘Raise a Wreck’ and the incorrigible ‘Trouble on Oxford Street’ before breaking into ‘George’s Glass’ and ‘Cathy’, the band interspersed their established crowd-pleasers with a couple of yet-to-be recorded songs, including an especially charming one called ‘Colours’. Lest the presence of an accordion trick anyone into thinking that these were a sedate group of folk musicians, Skinny Lister ultimately proved their rock-‘n’ roll prowess with a rousing performance of ‘This Is War’, ending their set with frontwoman Lorna Thomas triumphantly climbing atop Michael Camino’s personalised double bass. In red heels.

Turner and the Sleeping Souls were able to capitalize on Skinny Lister’s unbounded enthusiasm in the opening section of their three-part set, bursting onto the stage with uptempo belters ‘Get Better’ and ‘The Next Storm’. Promising a mix of songs from throughout his career, Turner plowed through ‘Losing Days’ and ‘Josephine’ before the Souls left him alone onstage for the second, solo section of the show.

FT 1

This middle section is where the true, diehard Frank Turner fans no doubt found their greatest joy, as Turner plucked his way through a few forgotten gems. ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ was warmly received, as was newer favourite ‘The Way I Tend To Be’, but for my money, this section was a bit overly drawn out, and I was surprised by the rather flat solo version of ‘Glorious You’, which was gloriously anthemic in its recording on ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’.

The Sleeping Souls rejoined Turner for the final section of the show, which rallied the punters’ energy with hit tunes ‘Photosynthesis’, ‘Recovery’ and ‘I Still Believe’, but never quite regained the momentum lost in the previous half hour. I was mildly disappointed that neither ‘Love Forty Down’ nor ‘Silent Key’ appeared in the set on this night, but Turner did touch one last time on ‘Positive Songs’ when he reached the encore, captivating the restless crowd with a stunning performance of ‘Song for Josh’. Once he had our rapt attention, Turner quickly amped up the energy with ‘Try This at Home’ and closed the show on a more characteristic high note with the ‘Four Simple Words’ we were all desperately waiting to dance to.

FT final

Beans on Toast will release his new album ‘Rolling Up the Hill’ in December 2015 via Xtra Mile Recordings. A list of dates for his upcoming November tour of the UK can be found on his official Web site. Frank Turner and Skinny Lister will begin their tour of the UK this week, accompanied by fellow Xtra Mile artist Will Varley; you can find listings of those live dates here and here. TGTF’s full archive of coverage on Frank Turner can be found by clicking here, and our previous coverage of Skinny Lister is right back here.

Frank Turner setlist (setlist photo by Carlos Gonzalez)

 

Live Review: Foy Vance with Ryan McMullan at Valley Bar, Phoenix, AZ, 24th June 2015

 
By on Wednesday, 1st July 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Last Wednesday night found me once again westbound on Interstate 10 to Phoenix, this time to see Northern Irish singer/songwriter Foy Vance at the downtown Valley Bar. I was headed to a new venue, but the road was familiar and so was the headline artist, whom I’d seen twice before, once in the cozy Washington DC area venue Jammin’ Java and once in a rather uncomfortable stadium-sized atmosphere in Atlanta, where he opened for Ed Sheeran.  Vance spent May and early June this year again gracing American stages with the ginger-haired pop phenom, parting company with his friend and colleague to headline a handful of dates across the southern half of the U.S. before heading back across the pond. Phoenix was fortunate enough to host one of these more intimate shows, with Vance accompanied by fellow Northern Irish singer Ryan McMullan.

Ryan2

McMullan’s Ulster accent was immediately apparent as he introduced himself to the small Valley Bar crowd, but over the course of his set, we were regaled with songs of a decidedly American inclination. He engaged us immediately with opening track ‘Listen’ from his soulful blues rock-flavoured EP of the same title. McMullan interspersed the four tracks from that EP with his appealing debut single ‘Mary’, a peppy cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ and a rather quaint traditional American Creole song called ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’, most famously recorded by Northern Irish traditional folk musician Paul Brady.  In the fashion of a more seasoned performer, McMullan saved his most impressive moment for last, giving a scorching performance of ‘Holding Me Down’, which in live performance smashed through the relative restraint of the studio version below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/maFtdtIPrqA[/youtube]

And then, after a brief interlude, the Valley Bar congregation were ready to receive the gospel according to Foy Vance. Taking his position behind the pulpit, er, piano, Vance quickly made himself comfortable and began not to sing but instead to speak. Before diving headlong into a set of new songs, Vance asked us to keep our phones and cameras put away, both so that we could enjoy being in the present moment with him and to avoid having “shit versions” of the new songs going up on YouTube before they could be properly recorded and released. I cringed internally, because this request always strikes me as overly precious, no matter how many times I hear it.

However, on this particular night, in this particular setting, Vance genuinely practised what he preached, quite literally losing himself in a seamless sequence of five opening tracks, including four new songs and the already popular anthem ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’. Among the new songs were a gorgeous ode to the city of London and a blistering blues guitar number played later in the show, both of which have enormous potential for a possible future studio recording.

Foy bow

Speaking of the guitar, Vance switched instruments and gears for the second half of the show, picking up the pace with a few familiar tunes from his 2013 album ‘Joy of Nothing’, as well as recent hit ‘Make It Rain’ and a track from his 2007 LP ‘Hope’ called ‘Doesn’t Take a Whole Day’, which turned out to be among the more charming moments in the set. Not content with his own array of songs, Vance also burned through a mind-boggling run of covers late in the show, including Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’, Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and a version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ that can be best described as orgasmic. While Vance’s younger Ed Sheeran-influenced fans might have lost interest at this point in the show, for those of us who recognized the original songs, Vance’s display of musical prowess here was nothing short of spectacular.

Rather than insisting on a proper encore, Vance took only a brief moment off stage before declaring to eager applause, “I want to keep playing, shall we just get on with it?” As the clock approached midnight, Vance wrapped up the evening with ‘At Least My Heart Was Open’ and the by now customary singalong ‘Guiding Light’, which saw McMullan reappear for a brief cameo before the flock of Foy Vance faithful reluctantly called it a night.

Guiding Light

Foy Vance will play the Barn on the Farm Festival in Gloucester on the 4th of July and Ireland’s Indiependence Music Festival in Cork on the 2nd of August. He will support Ed Sheeran at Wembley Stadium on the 10th of July as well as joining Sheeran’s Australian tour in November and December. While in Australia, Vance will also play a support slot for Elton John in Brisbane on the 8th of December. You can find a complete list of live dates and ticket information on Vance’s official Web site.

Previous TGTF coverage of Foy Vance can be found right back here.

 

Live Review: Mallory Knox and PVRIS at Marquee Theatre, Tempe, AZ – 24th January 2015

 
By on Friday, 30th January 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Cambridge alt-rock quintet Mallory Knox have signed on as support for punk rock bands Pierce the Veil and Sleeping with Sirens on the second leg of their American co-headline tour, which began on the 23rd of January and runs through the 4th of March.

Doors for the double support, double headline show at the Marquee Theatre were opened at the obscenely early hour of 5 PM, and when I arrived at the venue, the queue for entry was already around the block. As soon as I saw the massive throng of teenagers standing outside, I understood the reason for the early start. I knew I had bitten off more than I could chew, but I bravely soldiered my way in. Luckily for me, Mallory Knox were the first opener, and despite having to play at 6:30 PM, they were right on form to set the tone for the evening.

Judging from the overwhelming number of Pierce the Veil and Sleeping with Sirens hats and t-shirts in the crowd, I wasn’t sure how well Mallory Knox would be received. Most of the kids in attendance didn’t seem to know or care who the opening bands were. But their anxious enthusiasm for the headliners quickly transformed into enthusiastic appreciation as Mallory Knox opened with the energetic ‘Beggars’, from their 2013 album ‘Signals’. I wasn’t very familiar with Mallory Knox’s back catalogue, but I did recognize in the set list three of the singles from the band’s recent LP ‘Asymmetry’, namely ‘Shout at the Moon’, ‘When Are We Waking Up?’ and ‘Ghost In The Mirror’.

Mallory Knox at Marquee Theatre 24 Jan 2015

Lead vocalist Mikey Chapman was confident and animated in his performance but endearingly self-effacing as he thanked the crowd for showing up early to hear only the band’s “second ever U.S. show”. If Mallory Knox were at all nervous, it didn’t show in their onstage demeanour. All five band members were lively and self-assured, and they beamed with pride at the overwhelmingly positive audience response. After their set, I overheard several young ladies whispering about sneaking out to the merch table to meet the “cute English boys”, so I suspect Mallory Knox may have already won over at least a few new American fans.

Mallory Knox at Marquee Theatre 24 Jan 2015

The second support act of the evening was Boston, Massachusetts rock band PVRIS, which according to frontwoman Lyndsey Gunnulfsen is pronounced as “Paris”. PVRIS is a darker, more synth-oriented rock band who released their latest single ‘St Patrick’ last summer ahead of their debut full-length album ‘White Noise’, which came out in November 2014. It was ‘St Patrick’ that generated the most excitement among the crowd, after earlier hits ‘Fire’ and ‘White Noise’ sparked mild recognition.

PVRIS at Marquee Theatre 24 Jan 2015

The band apparently had some technical difficulties in the transition between Mallory Knox’s set and their own, and a missed lighting or sound cue made the start of their set awkwardly anti-climactic. Gunnulfsen attempted to draw the crowd back in by prefacing every chorus of every song with the interjection “put your hands up”, and her audience did oblige, but her annoyance with the tech glitches was evident, and overall PVRIS’ set was a bit listless after the fresh ebullience of Mallory Knox.

PVRIS at Marquee Theatre 24 Jan 2015

There was a lengthy delay after PVRIS finished playing, as the tech crew began the elaborate set up process for the first headliner, Pierce the Veil. During the transition, I decided to move from my central spot on the main floor and find a position in front of the soundboard, where the sloped floor would give me a better sight line and where I hoped I could avoid the crush of sweaty strangers invading my personal space.

Pierce the Veil at Marquee Theatre 24 Jan 2015

I will admit here that I don’t know a single song by either Pierce the Veil or Sleeping with Sirens, and I was completely unable to catch a song title or even a snippet of lyrics in either set, except for the oft-dropped F-bombs. By the time Sleeping with Sirens came onstage, I had moved even farther to the back of the venue and found myself standing among a group of stunned, bleary-eyed parents who were waiting for their adolescent offspring to finish moshing/passing out/puking on the general admission floor. But once again, I must commend the Marquee Theatre for its sound quality, even so far removed from the stage. Both the visual effects and the sound were excellent throughout the venue, and the fans who remained upright were clearly able to enjoy the performances from all vantage points.

Sleeping with Sirens at Marquee Theatre 24 Jan 2015

The contrived, trying-so-hard-to-be-punk atmosphere of the show (commercially sponsored by Rockstar Energy Drink) was a bit too much for me in the end, but the opening support slot was unquestionably a huge opportunity for an on-the-rise band like Mallory Knox. Having already headlined their own UK tour as well as supporting bands like Don Broco and Biffy Clyro, Mallory Knox have clearly honed their live skills over the course of releasing their two LPs. Their style straddles the line between alternative rock and post-hardcore punk, and with the exposure provided by this support slot, their natural onstage charisma could easily win them legions of new fans among both genres.

Mallory Knox will be on tour in America with Pierce the Veil and Sleeping with Sirens through the 4th of March. They are scheduled to appear at Southampton’s Takedown Festival on the 7th of March . A full listing of live shows can be found on Mallory Knox’s official Web site. PVRIS will visit the UK and Ireland in April, taking on a support slot with Lower Than Atlantis; you can find those dates here.

 

Live Review: The Antlers with Thus Owls at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ – 17th July 2014

 
By on Monday, 21st July 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Barely 2 weeks after arriving in a new town, having relocated from the Gulf Coast of Florida to the Desert Southwest, I found myself becoming further acquainted with the western end of Interstate Highway 10, driving the 2 hours from Tucson to downtown Phoenix to see The Antlers at the Crescent Ballroom. It seemed fitting that my first trip to a new venue also involved two bands who were both relatively new to me. I discovered The Antlers at the recommendation of our own editor Mary, who asked me to review their recent album ‘Familiars’. (As usual, her sense of what might be my cup of tea was correct. Read the review here, if you haven’t already.) Support act Thus Owls, was completely unfamiliar, except for a quick glance at their Facebook page before I set out for the evening.

Thus Owls at Crescent Ballroom 17 July 2014

Montreal-based Thus Owls is a Canadian-Swedish hybrid based around husband and wife pair Erika and Simon Angell, who are, respectively, Swedish and Canadian. The band’s name is admittedly a bit of an enigma, and Erika Angell took several occasions to remind her audience of it, assuring us that it made sense in their minds when they chose it. Their sound is an appealing blend of fragile Scandinavian etherealism and weightier guitar rock, focused around Mrs. Angell’s delicately beautiful singing voice and flavored with dashes of interesting instrumentation, including one percussion instrument that I was unable to identify.

Erika Angell and percussion instrument

Thus Owls’ set consisted almost exclusively of songs from their newest album ‘Turning Rocks’, beginning with the title track. The only exception was the exquisite art song ‘I Weed My Garden’, from 2012 album ‘Harbours’, where Mrs. Angell took the opportunity to display her singing voice its fullest effect. She mentioned near the end of the set that the songs on ‘Turning Rocks’ were inspired by stories her grandmother had told her, specifically closing tracks ‘As Long As We Try A Little’ and ‘Smoke Like Birds’. (If you’re interested, ‘Turning Rocks’ was released worldwide in April on Secret City Records and is available on Spotify.)

The audience at the Crescent Ballroom had gradually filled in during Thus Owls’ eight songs, and where I had enjoyed a comfortable amount of personal space at the beginning of the show, I was packed in tight by the time The Antlers took the stage. The hipster college crowd was clearly more familiar with the headline act than I was, judging from the snippets of conversation I overheard, including one person’s self-proclaimed confession that she was “a sucker for a concept album”. She had well and truly come to the right place.

The Antlers opened their set with the opening 3 tracks from the current album ‘Familiars’. The expansive ‘Palace’ was quite literally breathtaking, and from there the band swept without pretense into ‘Doppelgänger’ and my personal favorite groove, ‘Hotel’. I was a little surprised to hear ‘Hotel’ so early in the set, but it turned out that ‘Familiars’ would be more than adequately represented later on.

Peter Silberman of The Antlers 17 July 2014

The set touched on The Antlers’ back catalogue in the middle of the show, including ‘Drift Dive’ from the 2012 EP ‘Undersea’ and 3 songs from their breakthrough album ‘Hospice’: ‘Kettering’, ‘Sylvia’ and a particularly moving performance of ‘Epilogue’. The band played straight through most of the set list without banter, except for the occasional “thank you” from frontman Peter Silberman. They were very deliberate about the proceedings, apparently intending their set to be a continuous sort of Gesamtkunstwerk à la German Romantic composer Richard Wagner.

Unfortunately, the youthful audience were antsy to hear their favorite hit tunes, and a bit of heckling interrupted the flow. A beautiful flute interlude by touring member Kelly Pratt was marred by a punter’s mocking, and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci was enthusiastically complimented on his “amazing” hair. Silberman eventually gave in and acknowledged the distractions, sensing, I assume, that this was the only way to make them stop.

Kelly Pratt with The Antlers 17 July 2014

The set proper was symmetrically bookended by the 3 closing tracks from ‘Familiars’, played through without interruption and building to a massive climax at the end. It wasn’t really until this point that I noticed the intensity of Michael Lerner’s drumming, and I was struck again by the sensitivity of his performance in songs that could easily be overwhelmed by too much percussion. All four musicians created a spot-on delivery of the arrangements that worked so beautifully on the album, particularly the extensive brass, which was shared between Pratt and Cicci on either side of the stage.

Darby Cicci of The Antlers 17 July 2014

After the aforementioned heckling, I wasn’t 100% sure that the band would play an encore, but as it turned out, the songs that the crowd had been yelling out for were reserved for last. ‘I Don’t Want Love’ and ‘Putting the Dog to Sleep’, both from 2011 LP ‘Burst Apart’, were the best received songs of the night, even inspiring a bit of singing along from the more dedicated fans at the front of the stage. I didn’t know the lyrics myself, but I found myself succumbing to Silberman’s darkly emotive singing and making a mental note to listen back to the older songs that had brought The Antlers here in the first place.

The Antlers at Crescent Ballroom 17 July 2014

After the cut: the Antlers’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: The Antlers with Thus Owls at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ – 17th July 2014

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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