Hot Metal's Hot When You Touch It
As someone who plays in a semi-working band, I don't get to see too many bands I don't play with, so it probably limits what I'm exposed to. Not to say there aren't many great ones that I've had the pleasure of sharing the bill with (Lonnie Fisher, for one, is amazingly talented, and has been a great friend to us). But I digress. My point is that, when you have your own upcoming show to obsess over, it can be hard to go out and just enjoy a good night of music in which you play no role. Plus, there's a limit to how many late nights at the bars you can stand when you have to get up for work the next morning. Particularly at my age.
Anyway, last summer, I had such a night. It started typically enough. A band sends a comment through myspace saying, "We're coming to Lawrence, come check us out." And we went to their page and listened to their 5 songs, expecting to roll our eyes and dismiss them as yet another cheesy emo band. However were pleasantly surprised by it. They seemed liked kindred souls -- a loud, female-fronted noisy indie rock band that really didn't fit with today's stuff (kind of like us), so we all headed for the Jackpot. What followed was interesting, to say the least. We were treated by fine sets by Paristrika and Unwed Sailer, starting the night off on a good note. By the time Chicago's Sybris took the stage, it was clear that they had been, um, "warming up" for the occasion quite well. They staggered up, slurred through soundcheck -- it didn't look good. But when they started playing, everything fell into place. Being someone who has a very low tolerance for drinking and playing and chewing gum at the same time, I was quite impressed with their ability to channel the music inside them despite consuming God-knows-what in copious amounts. A lot of musicians claim they play better when they're in altered states, but if you hear those same people as a sober listener, nine times out of ten it only sounds better to THEM. Not so in this case. They killed, despite drunken (and quite funny) ramblings between songs, well-timed belches, and other shenanigans.
Angela's vocals were, for lack of a better term, angelic, and while most singers go flat when drunk, she was startlingly on, and really stole the show. The band backed her capably, sounding somewhat like Sonic Youth in their more conventional moments -- lots of atmosphere and beautiful noise. But Angela's voice... Wow. Regina Spektor and Feist come to mind, in that she could do the cutesy little girl cooing thing very well, but she could really belt it out when the song called for it. And she alternated between the two with amazing skill. I'm still not entirely over my singer-crush on her. Ladies, a secret: the OJ is a sucker for gals with pipes. We chatted a while afterwards, and the everyone in the band was very nice. There was talk of doing a show together when they came back through (standard procedure, of course -- probably won't happen, but it was still a good time). We both had funny drummers named Eric, and Shawn (bass) and I had a deep drunken conversation about balancing work and music, which I'm sure he doesn't remember. I spent some time trying to convince Phil that G&L had a line of guitars made in Korea (but I didn't have my own example on me to prove it). And Angela was a total sweetheart and had hugs for everyone. I was a bit smitten. Yeah, I know...
Anyway back to the music: I got my hands on their latest CD, Into the Trees, and while it was considerably cleaner than their live set, it was pretty impressive. It opens with an intentionally rough recording of "The Beach," which is later reprised at the end of the album in proper form in "The Beach Is Where the Ocean Goes to Die," moving into probably the strongest song of the album, "Oh, Man!" And they did a pretty clever video for it:Other highlights include "Burnout Babies," a Sonic Youth-esque pop song, where, like many of Sybris' (and Thurston-penned SY) songs, the guitar and vocals follow a pretty melody in unison, where Phil's guitar adds texture and Shawn and Eric create a tense, jerky rhythm behind them. This formula appears frequently throughout the album, but they do it so well and mix it up through interesting changes and strong songwriting that it never seems redundant. In short, they've found a sound that works, and they work it. "Hurt Hawk" is a notable exception, where Angela is the only performer, showing off her considerable fingerpicking skills and her voice, front and center, touched with bits of delay, reigns in the bombast of the intensity of the other tracks, just over halfway through the album before launching into the twitchy stomp of "Gin Divides Us."All in all, it is a brilliant, complete album. In this age of iTunes, it is refreshing to hear an album that sounds like an album. It is clear Sybris had an ear to sequencing, and as a whole, Into the Trees is a very satisfying listen. They make their way through our parts every so often, so if you get the chance, I would recommend checking it out. I know I'll be there. Maybe Angela will let me come up and sing a duet. A guy can dream...More stuff here: http://www.myspace.com/sybris