After the Lights - I love theater. I also love to read, and of course there are movies and television. For a long time, I have understood the art of rising tension and dramatic builds, seeing curved lines on a graph that illustrate the builds and drops. I love it when bands like tonight's opener have songs that they execute with an understanding of the drama they can create. Whether or not tonight's local quartet plans it this way or not, it was certainly the way it came off. They feature keyboards/vocals, guitar/vocals, cello, and drums. Early on the guitar is played so deeply, I thought it was a bass and only the tinkling right hand of the keyboardist was dancing around the upper ranges of the treble clef. The drummer worked with mallets and they created a dark ambiance. Then the guitarist moved up on the fretboard, added some welcome fuzz and they started rocking a bit more while keeping a shoegaze drone at times that sounded like a heavier Richard Buckner style. There was even a post Velvet Undergound feeling about it all, with explorations of both light and dark as the set built. Very nicely done and the smallish crowd seemed to dig in as I did.
Co La - Up next is one guy behind a table with the dreaded Mac and some electronics. Well, not dreaded for most, but it is a big challenge for someone like this to win me over, especially playing between two bands. And sadly, he did not win the battle tonight. The music was decent enough, but there just was not enough going on to want to get deeply involved. Oddly enough, the 'crowd' agreed as there were even less people than before all hanging around the perimeter going about their own business. And for once, I can not blame them. Generally, if I want to see someone leaning over a Mac, I would rather see it at my house as they try to find an Excel version that has working Macros for me. I will say that on the right bill at the U Street Music Hall, Co La would do just fine. The 21 minute set here just did not do enough.
Joan of Arc - Speaking of dramatic buildup.... this Chicago band starts with a drummer and a vocalist. The vocalist straps on a guitar for the second song and a bassist joins in. Then, for the next song a female singer jumps on stage. But not only do the different looks keep us guessing, the music is some of the more fascinating art-rock I've seen in some time. Although they don't sound like Pere Ubu, they seem to take the same approach of constructing and deconstructing rock music. Ultimately, as they do something on the folky side, they finally remind me of Akron/Family, although this band is a bit more serious and instead of really rocking out, they do more progressive runs. But there are drones, oddball chord shifts, and all kinds of great interchange between the instruments and the vocals. Somehow, the crowd really grew into a reasonably filled room by this point and they were a sharp bunch, willing to go with this very jagged flow. There were some odd transitions and the stage patter was distracting to the point where the guitarist was going all Abe Simpson on us until the drummer just shrugged and started the song before he could finish. Smart AND a fine percussionist. I see where they have played with my old pal, David Grubbs (Squirrel Bait, Gastr del Sol) which is a nice match in highly creative styling. This is not always brilliant, even with my jaw dropped many times, but it is always edge of your seat interesting. I am happy to finally catch up with this band and will gladly do it again any time.
Quote of the Night: From JofA's singer regarding the unusual crowd shifts between bands... "You're such a sneaky audience, you're so coy. I though like no one's coming to the show tonight".