The crowd of stylish electro-heads may have ducked out of the rain to catch Junior Boys at the the Mercy Lounge last Friday, but if you're looking to give the night a fresh start, there's no better opener than Max Tundra. Welcoming the crowd with a rendition of the Beach Boys' "Feel Flows" as the speakers faded out the same song, Max Tundra (a.k.a. Ben Jacobs) quickly snapped into standout track "Orphans" for his official opener.
A spastic, tireless one-man show tapping out brain-bending beats one song to the next, Jacobs ran across the stage like a manic ballerina, sometimes switching from among his menagerie of novelty instruments for but a few seconds of play before once again pounding his many keyboards. Closing out with a frenzied cover of "So Long, Farewell," Tundra had the crowd primed for the night's headliners.
While Junior Boys' albums typically deal in layers of discreet, meticulously balanced melodies, their live show turns those otherwise austere textures into danceable drum-and-bass bursts. Each song kept its rather precarious structures in tact, but tracks like "Work" converted soft patters into a full-on house beat that drove home the revolving synths and swelled into a floor-shaking collage. A backup drummer maximized the Boys' power, and live staples "Double Shadow" and "Birthday" stamped out flinty rhythms without ever drowning out the song's melancholy undertones.
If mixing board mastermind Matt Didemus stood expressionless behind his table of mangled wires and Moog synthesizers, vocalist Jeremy Greenspan held his own fairly well as the de facto frontman. The rabble of fashion-conscious patrons—which included Nashville's own electro-dance outfit Jensen Sportag, there to cheer on Max Tundra, who recently released a remix of their song "Cocktease"—hugged the stage, glad to soak up the throbbing bass.
Land of the twee
OK, so we walked into The End on Saturday night secretly wishing that we'd cross the threshold and suddenly find ourselves awash in a sea of smart glasses, Talulah Gosh T-shirts, LP bags, Kurt Cobain cardigans, Wolfie pins and skinny kids who collect electric typewriters. In other words, we were hoping the scene would be Twee as Fuck. Spoiler alert: This is still Nashville.
We did walk in behind what we're going to guess is Nashville's only Michael Lerner look-alike, as new-to-us locals Bows and Arrows were, unfortunately, finishing up their last song. We liked what we heard. We also liked that a like-minded local band was on the bill with a touring band. We also liked that there is a like-minded local band to put on said bill. We look forward to hearing more from this very young-looking band.
Then a couple of Transylvanian-looking dudes with raven tresses began setting up their equipment, which included a pedal board the size of three pizzas. This could only mean that Mother Father were getting set to jammify the galactic light show, or something, and meanwhile a couple of very nice kids from Memphis had procured a bunch of free donuts from the Krispy Kreme down the street. We were much obliged. MF held the room captive to such a degree that the night's headliner would offer blowjobs as reward. We're not kidding, though the person who said that might have been.
Next up were Brooklyners Zaza, whose three pieces included Pains of Being Pure at Heart drummer Kurt Feldman on stand-up percussion. They pretty much blew us into a low Earth orbit from which we found it difficult to return. Ethereal but heavy, the band's sound was like shoegaze with an oversexed dub pulse, and it was badass.
Finally, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart may, in fact, be an overhyped band. Just as true, however, is that they're quite good, and whatever over-attention they're currently receiving is no fault of theirs. In fact, in a world where we're constantly being sold the story that such-and-such band has a lot of "swagger" and is therefore good, we were happy to be reporting from Swagger Free Saturday, as TPOBPAH showed us the importance of being earnest. (Notice that's different from the self-importance of being earnest, which we see a little too often.)
Opening their set, the Pains played their most recognizable songs, the excellent "Young Adult Friction" and the self-defining "This Love Is Fucking Right!" back to back. We were a little bummed that keyboardist/singer Peggy Wang was too low in the mix early on—we love her melody on "Young Adult," but the band just kept bopping hard through their set. Feldman was not all Zaza'd-out, luckily, and was more forceful on the drums than he comes across on the recordings. Moreover, the energy was great, which an air of sameyness in some of the songs did not diminish. It might not have been twee as fuck, but it was pretty alright.
Your heart is a crowded room
"You mean the guy from Postal Service has another band?"
This response from a friend of The Spin to the existence of Death Cab for Cutie immediately reminded us of Elaine Benes' response to news of Kramer's tiff with Reggie Miller: "Cheryl Miller's brother? I didn't know Cheryl Miller's brother played basketball!" Yes, Death Cab are a big enough deal to play packed shows at The Ryman on back-to-back nights. On Monday, the place was filled with a remarkable array of white people—shaggy-haired teens and fedora-wearing hipsters, stone-washed jeans-sporters and sorority girls—out on a school night to see this quartet from Seattle. Our pewmate was one of those shaggy-haired teens, and he could barely contain himself. "Are you excited?" he asked. "I'm freaking out!"
The band took the stage in a flood of blue light, and frontman Ben Gibbard immediately began a strange, kinetic rocking/dancing movement—something he continued throughout the evening. Stationed to the left of the stage—leaving the center to bassist Nick Harmer—Gibbard bounded about as he led the band in a wide selection of tunes from their decade-long career. Early on they played some crowd favorites, including "Your Heart Is an Empty Room" and "Crooked Teeth," as well as some standouts off the recent Narrow Stairs. (The slow build of "I Will Possess Your Heart" was particularly awesome.)
At one point, Gibbard remarked, in reference to a group of tech-wielding die-hards up front, "Guess I'll get a better look at that one tomorrow on YouTube." Speaking of technology, our enthusiastic pewmate remained glued to his iPhone—Twittering the setlist perhaps? Kids these days!
Toward the middle of the set, Gibbard pulled what we like to call a "Jeff Tweedy" (named as such after the Wilco frontman's mic-less Ryman performance of "Acuff Rose") and came to the front of the stage, sans amplification, for a delicate rendition of "I Will Follow You Into the Dark." The remainder of the set included Spin favorite "Title and Registration" and some of the more rambunctious tunes off Stairs. ("Cath..." and "Bixby Canyon Bridge" were standouts.) The encore featured a song off the band's wonderful new EP Open Door as well as "Soul Meets Body" and "Sound of Settling," which Gibbard deemed their "No. 1 hit."
Tell that to the guy in front of us who insisted on yelling "Postal Service!" all night.
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