While a headlining gig across the United States is probably a bit premature, nonetheless the Australian duo Atlas Genius entered into Orlando's House of Blues armed with two singles and a hot-selling album. But having only that album and a concise EP in their canon, the set was as expected, markedly brief, chronicling only 11 songs with a running time of 68 minutes.
Walking on stage to a Beach Boys tune, the Australian duo almost immediately foreshadowed what the night be: a breezy and bubbly set of cheery indie-pop. Opening the set was "On a Day," a fuzzy and bright slice of dance rock that set the tone nicely for what was about to take place. Rather unpredictably the band launched into current single "If So," a ditty that is the very epitome of the word hip-shaking. "When It Was Now," the title track to the band's current LP was equal parts throbbing and pulsating as it was fizzy and free-spirited.
An airy organ opened the introspective number "Back Seat," a song whose tranquil melodies and dreamy kinescopes made for arguably the most compelling listen of the set's first few selections. Towards the song's latter stages, vocalist Keith Jeffery, yielded to his guitar and set on a lively and invigorating guitar solo. While the result was rewarding, arguably the best part of the solo was that it veered from the script, allowing a bit of improvisation from a set that thus far had been as expected.
Nintendo-like keys opened "All These Girls," a song which benefitted from a lengthy introduction and Jeffery's inherent charisma. Ostensibly a hazy valentine that is both languorous and dream-like, the song is both swirly and intoxicating and reveals the kind of magnetism that has carried the Aussie duo this far in their career. Similarly, the circular and kaleidoscopic "Symptoms" was intoxicating and enveloping but benefitted most from Jeffery's inspired guitar solo in the latter stages.
Arguably the set's most heartfelt exercise was the crestfallen "Don't Make a Scene," the first time in the set in which Jeffery appeared to be at his most vulnerable. After heart-sleeving his way through "Don't Make a Scene," Jeffery and Co. offered up the evening's most straightforward, linear and accessible offering, the yearning and big-hearted "Through the Glass," an effort that seems to point towards a certain radio future. Aided by a spartan piano outro, "Through the Glass," made arguably the biggest splash of any song the entire evening. Predictably the set closed with a pounding and rhythmically dense version of "Trojans," before rattling off a two-song encore of "Centred On You" and "Electric."
The former was entrancing thanks to Jeffery's winning falsetto, his deft guitar playing and a meandering albeit melodic strut that kept the crowd captivated long after "Trojans" had played its last note. On "Electric," the band soared into a new direction, shedding their dance-rock arena for something far more energetic, dizzying and transcendent.. Channeling elements of psych-rock, 70s era album rock and Brit-rock swagger, "Electric" had a methodic and calculated complexity that proved the Australian duo is far more than just a charting pop song.
While the set was surprisingly brief and was sorely lacking a choice cover, Atlas Genius more than proved their worth in just 70 brief minutes. Having expanded the live ensemble to a quartet instead of a duo has certainly paid dividends for the young upstarts and one can certainly see a decidedly bright future in the months and years to come.
Made my way to The Beacham this past Saturday to catch Frightened Rabbit. They are everything as advertised and then some. Hutchison was extremely taciturn but unfailingly polite and very workmanlike about the entire thing. Highlights from the set were many but few performances will ever top their rendition of "Acts of Man." It was in many ways otherworldly and jaw-dropping. I am still left speechless and awestruck when thinking back on how truly magnetic the performance was. Ditto to encore closer "The Loneliness and the Scream."
Equally as impressive as Frightened Rabbit, was Brooklyn's Augustines. Frontman Billy McCarthy is an absolute born performer and his natural charisma, charm and inherent confidence was apparent from the get-go. Highlights from the set included the whiskey-soaked piano-ballad "City of Brotherly Love," and the raucous "Book of James." The fiery three piece plays a blend of sweaty, ragged rock not unlike The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen. While they've endured four name changes and their career has yet to skyrocket, their 45-minute set was an absolute head-turner and a surefire eye opener. If AP.net kids want a band to watch out for come 2014, it most certainly is Augustines.
Last summer, revered music zine Paste wrote an article featuring the 10 Best Bands in the state of Florida. While that article is a fair representation of some of the best talent in the Sunshine State, there was one giant and glaring omission: Jacksonville Beach's Flagship Romance. A boy-girl duo in the vein of The Civil Wars, Delta Rae and Lady Antebellum, their dual harmonies and tender slices of indie folk remain make them arguably one of the most exciting under-the-radar musical acts in not just Florida but the entire nation.
Having already supported chart-toppers such as the Goo Goo Dolls and Mumford and Sons, to name a few, the supremely polished duo is more than on their way. Seen this past Saturday at Orlando's The Social while opening for Caitlin Crosby and Jesse Ruben, they performed what was easily the best set of the night. Whether it was the deeply impacting love song "My Jolene" or the timeless melancholy of "Games of Sorrow," there was a palpable sense that Flagship Romance are more than worthy of wider stages and greater acclaim.
On the impassioned foot-stomper "Strange Thing" and the leave-it-all-on-the-table slow-burner "Harvest," dual vocalists Jordyn Jackson and Shawn Fisher made the most of their all-too-brief set. Every concert has a statement moment and their ephemeral 30-minute set was a venerable call to arms for all those in the crowd. Flagship Romance will be something, that much is certain, how and when they get there still remains to be seen.
Though Flagship Romance was the inarguable showstopper, the remainder of the bill wasn't exactly a dud. Orlando native Matthew Fowler began the evening playing a confident and deft set of Damien Rice-inspired acoustic folk. Though he was visibly nervous and seemed a bit overwhelmed by the venue, his songs certainly made up for it. Be it the stripped--down version of The Cranberries ubiquitous 90s hit "Linger" or the placid fragility of "Beginners," Fowler was equal parts ruminative, introspective and intimate. His set's finest moment was the rising "Wear," a song which plays off both his harmonica playing and his soaring voice.
Co-headliner Caitlin Crosby, a LA native, was arguably the Robin to Flagship Romance's Batman. Her warm, confident and wholly accessible set vacillated gorgeously between melancholia and effervescence. Tackling dark themes such as human trafficking, drug use and narcissism, her set carried the most emotional weight. In between songs the bubbly blonde was chatty, upbeat and supremely comfortable. Highlights included the snarling blues cut "Gasoline," the gospel-tinged Crack Me Open," the lovelorn ballad "Consolation Prize" and the country strut of "You Make it Better."
The last artist to take the stage was Brooklyn's Jesse Ruben, an erudite and garrulous singer-songwriter in the vein of Matt Duke and Matt White. Though he played to a crowd of no more than 75, he did his best to keep the set entertaining. Unfortunately before the set could even gain momentum he was quickly distracted by a chatty albeit drunk couple and never once gave them a moment of peace. While it is one thing to scold listeners for cell phone use or fighting, his repeated barbs eventually derailed the set into a snarky and almost condescending character play. That is not to say that Ruben's set was without winning moments. The soulful ballad "Different," written for a homosexual friend, was star-making in every sense of the word. Similarly the strident "Point Me In the Right Direction" and the uplifting "We Can," pointed towards something worth revisiting in future listens. Though much of his material mined the woes of heartbreak and failed romance, it was his non-romance songs that truly made the biggest splash.
If the evening had a true silver lining it was that the music served a greater purpose. With the exception of Fowler all three musicians performed sets in partnership with a non-profit passion project. Flagship Romance's set was performed in support of Charity Water; Crosby's supportedThe Giving Keys, while Ruben's garnered interest for the Christopher Reeve Foundation. In an era when music appears to becoming more and more self-centered, this night of benevolence and acoustic-based songwriting was a perfect tonic from all the din and clutter that so often permeates the daily grind.
Synth-pop was on the menu Thursday night at UCF's CFE Arena for the university’s Pegasus Palooza 2013. Headliners Capital Cities were supported by Michigan quintet Stepdad and Kentucky quartet The Pass, with each one proving their worth in their own unique ways. First up was Louisville's The Pass who had arguably the most talented vocalist and guitarist of the night. Kyle Peters proved adept at both noodling and crooning and effortlessly tore through a set of seven psych-driven synth-stompers. An amalgamation of U2-era Zooropa, present day Muse and the Pet Shop Boys, the quartet definitely appears to be on the precipice of something truly exciting.
Grand Rapids' Stepdad entered the stage with a headlining sense of presence. Utilizing three part vocal harmonies, the band blasted out of the gate with the titanic and anthemic "Treasure Hugs" and the hyper-caffeinated "Wolf Slaying as a Hobby." Though charismatic frontman Ultramark was both quiet and wooden in between songs, he more than made up for it behind the mic. Though the set began sluggishly the band turned a corner after cheery singalong "Pick and Choose." Punchy effort "Must Land Running" was effortless, smooth and glided with precision, while "Magic Stones" had shades of Prince.
Ultramark's falsetto remains his calling card and it shined beautifully on the sleek sing-along "Will I Ever Dance Again?" Not content to wade in only electro-pop, the percussive "Jungles" got both concussive and vibey and ventured off into experimental psych-pop towards the end. By the time the band barreled into hit single "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails," they had won over the crowd and seemed eager for more. If there was one gripe to be had from the Stepdad set it was the entire tone of the performance. For a band that has made a habit of writing jocular and light-hearted summer songs, the entire performance felt rigid, lifeless and over-serious.
Headliners Capital Cities entered the stage in matching white varsity jackets with the band's name emblazoned on the back. Drawing strength from trumpet player Spencer Ludwig, the band careened forward marrying club-ready dance moves with thumping beats. Opening the set with a scintillating albeit unconventional rendition of Pink Floyd's "Breathe," the band made a statement from the very beginning: they were here to dazzle and wow, and never once did they fall short of that goal. Trumpet-laden "Chartreuse" was pliant, effervescent and undeniably dynamic. While an inspired cover of "Staying Alive" fell a bit short, a note-perfect rendition of Prince-cum-Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," continued to prove the band's versatility.
Other head-turners included the churning "Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast," and the anthemic "I Sold My Bed But Not My Stereo." The arena turned downright kinetic when the band segued into radio smash "Safe and Sound" and the entire set seemed to hit its zenith. Whereas Stepdad struggled with an identity crisis, Capital Cities seemed more than content in their own skin and their place in pop music. While at times the entire performance felt more akin to a Las Vegas entertainment revue or a So You Think You Can Dance routine than a pop concert, the energy was far from vacant and the band's enthusiasm was both infectious and downright refreshing.
Sometimes the surprises are the ones that pay off the biggest. Such is the way with "Fairy Dust," the new single from New York-by-way-of-Paris singer-songwriter Sacha DiBona. The new single, a violin-laden slice of sweeping theatrical pop is enveloping, enticing and utterly charming. DiBona, an admirer of literature and philosophy, is blessed with a vast vocal range and a love of musical theater, opera and pop. Having already charmed the Parisians, he has his sights set on conquering New York and beyond. Wholly unique, endlessly appealing and quintessentially New York, DiBona has the ability to appeal to a myriad of markets and charts.
Effortless. That's the easiest way to describe the nine-song set from Boston, MA's Pretty & Nice, seen last Thursday at Orlando's The Peacock Room. Playing to a crowd of no more than 50, the quartet rattled through a set that was was most definitely destined for larger stages (and crowds). Already in the midst of a big year, the band, now nine years in, seems finally destined to break through. Thursday's set was certainly proof.
Whether it was the synth-splash of the swerving "Mummy Jets" or the Elvis Costello-esque "Stallion and Mare," there was something palpable and important in the air Thursday night. The band's infectious blend of new wave, surf rock and psych-pop certainly presents itself well live and nowhere was that more apparent than on the indelible "Money Music," the uber-catchy "The Frog," and the near perfect "Yonkers."
Though most of the set was culled from the recently released Golden Rules for Golden People, the band was kind enough to throw in the bubbly "Capsules," from last year's Us You All We. Equal parts effervescent, engaging and ebullient, Thursday's set was just another reason as to why Pretty & Nice should be on your musical radar.
Don't believe me, ask Max Bemis.
While they remain largely unknown outside the Southeast and their native Florida, Alexander & the Grapes' moody, if not saturnine concoctions of Pedro the Lion-esque mood rock is truly something to behold. Thursday night's set was the first of a mini-tour around the state of Florida with Pretty & Nice and it is this writer's hope that said mini-tour will be the start of big things for the Tampa Bay band.
While four of the eight songs are on their unreleased, unfinished new album, they revealed a sonic density and complexity unseen on last year's criminally overlooked LP Hemispheres. "Keep Trying" was upbeat and determined, while "Open Door" was driving and dense. "Naturally Strange" was jittery and jaunty and arguably the band's biggest departure to date.
Opening the show was Orlando's hometown hero Andy Matchett. Stepping away from his counterparts in the Minks, Matchett rattled off a sterling set of five winsome summerjams. Though he admitted much of his time has been spent in musical theater and not indie pop that didn't keep him from busting out a serviceable cover of Buddy Holly's ubiquitous "Everyday." Closing the set with "Just Can't Wait (For the Game to End)" from a musical he wrote himself, he seemed more than ready to tackle The Who's Tommy front front to back.
A rare thing happened this past Wednesday night at Free Bird Live in Jacksonville Beach, FL. The opener, Nashville, TN's The Wild Feathers, performed a stronger set than the headliner, Grammy-and-Oscar-winner Ryan Bingham.
Whereas Bingham's set was brawny, blustery and drenched in sweat, The Wild Feathers performed a crisp, lucid and nearly flawless set of ten rootsy efforts. Utilizing three immensely gifted vocalists, the band allowed each one a shot at lead, as well as employing guitarist and pedal steel player Preston Wimberly for a barrel of four-part harmonies. With shades of The Band, The Eagles and The Rolling Stones circa 1975, there was little about the set that wasn't intriguing.
Firecrackers like "Backwoods Company" and the slowly rising closer "The Ceiling" had as much attitude as anything Bingham churned out. Moreover on the mid-tempo and melancholic moments, namely "Got it All Wrong," and "Love Me," there was something transcendent and timeless about every passing my second.
Being that all three vocalists (rhythm guitarist Taylor Burns, acoustic guitarist Ricky Young and bassist Joel King) have previous experience as frontmen, it was no surprise the set was as sterling as it was. Equal parts magnetic, awe-inspiring and wholly triumphant The Wild Feathers clearly proved they are on the precipice of something truly extraordinary. Since their signing with Warner Brothers, there have been whispers around the blogosphere that The Wild Feathers just might be the next great American band. While that notion still seems a bit too hard to swallow, there were enough moments in Wednesday's 40-minute set that gave ample amounts of credence to that very statement.
Imagine Dragons visited Orlando's House of Blues last Friday night in support of their chart-topping album Night Visions and in doing so cemented themselves as one of 2013's most promising new artists. With a stage setup surrounded by towering palm trees and a ten-foot tall drum, the group marched on stage and performed a percussion-heavy intro to a dizzying array of lights and airy guitars.
Opening with "Round and Round," a song not found on Night Visions (save for deluxe packages) the quintet made an impression from the get-go. The rhythm section was tight, the guitars were lively and impacting and Dan Reynolds had the swagger and charm of an industry veteran. And that small nugget should not be overlooked. Having only been at it for four years, Imagine Dragons appeared wise beyond their years in nearly every song played.
Whether it was the bombastic and chill-inducing "Radioactive," or the pleading "Bleeding Out," there was something crisp and well-executed about the entire 70 minute set. Arguably the finest moment in the set was when Reynold and Co. veered from the script. Standing on stage with just guitarist Wayne Sermon flanked on his left, Renyolds belted out the plaintive "Thirty Lives," an unreleased cut that is also going by the titles "Lay Me Down," and "Starlight." Ostensibly a plea for help, it is easily one of the band's finest songs to date and one can only hope it makes the cut on the next release.
On the contrary, the Aussie upstarts Atlas Genius performed a set that was well-executed and expertly performed, the only problem was the entire set lacked charisma. Whether the set falling short was the result of inexperience or just a band in a room far too big, the 45-minute set was unfortunately one giant letdown. Even the catchy single "Trojans," and the pensive "Back Seat," could not rescue this band from an underwhelming set of monotony sans charm.
Taking the stage before Atlas Genius was California's Nico Vega, whose frontwoman Aja Volkman is also the wife of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. Volkman is indeed a rare bird and has a strange sense of making her live set a piece of performance art. Though the set itself lacked the crispness and lucidity of seasoned veterans, there was a strangeness and a left-of-center verve that actually made the set worth watching. In many ways it felt like What Will Aja do next? But a live set should never be about a frontowman's antics.
In short, the night belonged to the Las Vegas pop-rockers and to them alone. It was a position they were more than willing to relish in. And if Friday night's set is any indication, they have all the talent and skill to remain a force on radio for years to come.
Call it the tour of reinvention. Or if you prefer, the tour of harmless sugar pop. Either way, both apply. Earlier this year, San Diego's Allstar Weekend on a farewell headlining tour. After this summer's Warped Tour, the trio is set to start anew. Same band members, new name and new mission. Also on the bill was Buffalo's Cute Is What We Aim For. Returning to the stage after a four year layoff, the band is making a comeback of sorts. Also supporting was YouTube star Tiffany Alvord, a 19-year-old California Mormon, and Beneath the Sun, a group of shaggy past-their-prime rockers who once went by the name Schoolboy Humor. All of it made for an interesting kaleidoscope regarding the current state of music.
Seen Saturday night at Orlando's House of Blues, the show was interesting to say the least. Beneath the Sun's spiky pop-punk was not exactly novel nor was it offensive. But at this point in their career, the group should be chasing down new avenues. Regardless, their job as opener was to fire up the crowd and they did so with gusto. What followed however was nothing short of puzzling. Alvord stepped on stage with an acoustic guitar and a mousy frame. Rattling off B.OB.'s "Magic" with ease, she appeared to be something worth remembering. But in a matter of seconds, that all came asunder.
Performing the next three songs (two of which were originals) with a background track providing all guitars, keys and rhythm section, this section of her set turned into a veritable American Idol audition. Despite this hilarity, Alvord got a tremendous reaction from the crowd as she served up Taylor Swift's ubiquitous "We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together." But at this point, the entire thing felt like karaoke (and in many ways, how was it not?) As if cognizant of this, she strapped on her guitar for a serviceable rendition of The Wanted's "Glad You Came." In her defense, Alvord was gracious, humble and unfailingly polite.
Those last three traits were sorely missing from Cute is What We Aim For's brash and brawny set. Opening with "Moan," the group segued into "Risque," "Newport Living," "Practice Makes Perfect," and "Doctor," with very little signs of rust. After a candid moment in which frontman Shaant Hackiyan apologized for his prior indiscretions and how his battles with substance abuse kept the band on the shelf, the quartet barreled through with "The Fourth Drink Instinct," "The Curse of Curves," before closing up shop with "There's a Class For This." But even in his candid admission to being three years sober, Hackiyan looked like he was more in love with being on stage than that of being a musician. Everything about the band's 45-minute set dripped with ego and self-congratulation.
On the contrary, the sun-drenched pop of Allstar Weekend was without pretense and unfailingly sincere. Though vocalist Zach Porter played Robin to bassist Cameron Quiseng's Batman, none of the band's 14 songs were self-serving or indulgent. Whether it was the bubbly "Come Down With Love," the bristling "Mr. Wonderful," the infectious "Not Your Birtday," or the throwback "James (Never Change," there was a sweetness to all of it that was both refreshing and rewarding.
Granted, most of the songs are shallow, derivative and ridiculously vapid, but what else does one expect from a pop group whose foundation began with the Disney Channel? To the band's credit, there were plenty of moments when the set could have veered off into hopelessly corny and the band steered away from that. Instead the show was a celebration of harmless, inoffensive candy-coated pop music. But the real takeaway from the set was how polished and pristine the set was. There were very few if any flaws and the entire 80 minutes had a workmanlike industriousness that was both commendable and worth respecting.
The band has already issued a statement ––– one that was backed up on stage as well -––*that their collective hearts are yearning for something else. Whether or not that project is received warmly by its fans remains to be seen, but if 80 minutes on stage Saturday night were any indication, it will most assuredly be successful. Some people were just meant to be in the spotlight and this California trio is no exception to that fact.
I was in the grocery store yesterday and Jewel's "Hands," came on and I found myself harkening back to the year that was released and how much that album moved me. And yet I feel like if the song was released today it would be comically laughed at and would have the shortest shelf life ever. Have we evolved (or devolved that much)? People can poke fun at "Hands," all they want, but it had an awesome message of tolerance and perseverance that a contemporary society hell-bent on bullying and political in-fighting might want to revisit.
That being written, two other radio gems by female artists from around that time also popped into my head and made me wonder. "Bitch," by Meredith Brooks and "Why Can't I?," by Liz Phair. The former was saucy and angst-ridden but had a big powerful hook and enough zest to tower over the airwaves. And yet I feel like a guitar-driven juggernaut like that might get lost in today's radio landscape. How is this possible? As for Phair, while it's no secret "Why Cant I?," is not her best work, its an unabashed pop smash. Does radio still play glossy guitar-pop like that? I feel like we're so far removed from that. Am I overthinking?
If you're a fan of four-part vocal harmonies, songs that evoke Southern gospel hymns and sterling live sets, you should do yourself a favor and check out the bluesy country folk of North Carolina's Delta Rae. Having been listed in Forbes' 30 Under 30 for 2012, these young upstarts (three of which are siblings) craft a homespun version of vocal-heavy folk that bends and shapes in all sorts of directions. There's a little bit of blues here, a bit of blue-eyed soul there, a dollop of country, and a bevy of crazy good harmonies. Seen Wednesday night at The Social in Orlando, the sextet was equal parts spellbinding, inviting and deeply indelible.
Opening with the piano-heavy "Morning Comes (Devil's in the Details)," vocalist Eric Holljes set the tempo almost immediately: the set was going to feature near pitch-perfect vocals and supremely polished performers. Rattling off a yarn that would make Hunter Hayes blush, "Morning Comes," was commanding and a ripe opener. Things kicked up a notch on the moving ballad "Holding On To Good," a song that gave Brittany Holljes a chance to showcase her wide range and ever-impressive lung capacity.
Her counterpart Elizabeth Hopkins took to the mic on the mid-tempo "If I Loved You," a song that echoed with shades of Lady Antebellum but in a far more bluesy tone. Hopkins' vibrant voice is titanic in its power and only three songs in the sextet had already made three powerful statements. After the maudlin piano ballad "Forgive the Children That We Once Were," in which Eric Holljes revisits his middle-school years, the group coasted along with "Whatcha Thinking 'Bout Baby?," a honeyed slice of country-pop and the first song in which guitarist and co-songwriter Ian Holljes sang lead.
Though he's arguably the weakest of the four vocalists, Ian still has a tone and timbre that would do well on its own. And it is there that Delta Rae makes all the difference. Most bands have one singer who deserves the spotlight (maybe), the Durham band is blessed to have four, all of which could arguably craft first-rate solo albums if they wanted. Armed with confidence, polish and armfuls of presence, they represent the apex of vocal pop. Though their Americana sound often dips into saccharine balladry, there's an integral pull to their music that is worth revisiting. Hopkins' leave-it-all-on-the-table ballad "Unlike Any Other," and Brittany's chill-inducing "Fire," had a potency and transcendence that revisited why live music is still a much sought-after medium. There's power and conviction in watching an artist sing with all their might. Gusto and bravado can only be conveyed in such a thin frame in a studio. Live, however, the artist has the ability to make magic. The four vocalists in Delta Rae seem to understand that.
Case in point, the band's first single "Bottom of the River," a stormy slice of blues folk that anchors itself in the four distinct voices weaving together. Utilizing only a trash can and a kick drum, the sextet allowed the voices to do all the heavy lifting. To call it awe-inspiring is probably doing it a disservice. Following up such a high moment is never an easy thing, but their spot-on cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain," allowed the momentum from "Bottom of the River," to indeed be carried forward. While the rollicking closer "Dance in the Graveyard," was a bit of a softball, the encore more than made up for it. Walking out into the frenzied crowd of roughly 100, the band sang "Hey Hey Hey," with just a box drum, an upright bass and those four fantastic voices. Intimate and hushed it made for a most winning finish to a most memorable night.
And yet for all the charm of the live set, Delta Rae still faces a tall order: winning on the radio. While their four-part harmonies and syrupy ballads seem prime for country radio, there's still a lot of Fleetwood Mac in their more rock-oriented arrangements. But maybe, just maybe, Delta Rae are set to change the game. After all, nobody would have thought a group of four scraggly Britons with mandolins and banjos would shift the rock landscape, but sure enough Mumford and Sons has done exactly that. Delta Rae has that ability, it's just a matter of how quickly the American public will catch on. Here's hoping they latch on soon, live sets like this past Wednesday are the kind of events not to be missed.
When it comes to live music, there is no greater joy than watching performers revel in what they do. No one wants to watch a band mail it in or look haggard and disinterested. And it is for this reason that Friday night's tour send-off show at Orlando's Backbooth, was such a treat for those attended. Ostensibly a happy trails shindig for local singer-songwriter Emily Kopp, the bill also included some of Kopp's closest friends: classmate Megan Alfredson, Los Angeles-by-way-of-Tampa singer-songwriter Connor Zwetsch and another Orlando native, Bracher Brown, the lone male on the bill.
Alfredson opened things off quietly and humbly. Though her set was mostly covers, she slammed home a wide swath of frothy cuts, including Paramore's "Misery Business," Willie Nelson's "Crazy," and a choicecover by Lil Wayne. What Alfredson lacked in stage presence she made up for with a belting voice. Though her hushed nature kept her mousey and unassuming, she certainly revealed a flair for vocal gymnastics and with more seasoning could certainly provide a spark to the meager singer-songwriter scene in Orlando.
Connor Zwetsch took to the stage with drummer Sandi Greco and a fireball of energy that was nothing if not illuminating, awe-inspiring and all-consuming. Anchored by powerful and deeply penetrating vocals, her (yes, Connor is a girl) set was easily one of the night's true highlights. Whether it was the racy opener "The Little Things." or her near-perfect cover of MGMT's "Electric Feel," Zwetsch performed a set wise beyond her years and revealed a talent that was both alarming and provocative. The one-time Tampa resident recently relocated to Los Angeles and the move seems to have done her well. There was a confidence and effortlessness from the opening seconds, that made her set so hypnotizing. Hard at work on her debut EP, Zwetsch is just a mere months away from shaking up the overcrowded California music scene.
Bracher Brown took to the stage with a three-piece band (all of whom are members of New Wave up-and-comers Stockholm) and armfuls of family and friends in the crowd. One would hope that the legions of kin would accentuate the rugged rocker's set. But alas, nothing did. Despite a buoyant cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl," little about Brown's set was memorable. While humble and hunky, his set lacked originality and seemed more concerned with brawn and braggadocio than brilliance and substance.
Headliner Kopp took to the stage shortly after 10 p.m. and barreled through an hour-long set that never wavered or sagged. Buttressed by an air-tight rhythm section and the zesty stylings of producer/lead guitarist Justin Beckler, Kopp never stopped smiling. Her songs, despite their maudlin subject matter, were nothing if not, affecting, poignant and undeniably potent. Whether it was the somber "When We Fight," the dark and stormy "Thicker Than Blood," or the grateful "Thank You," there's an assuredness and crispness in her songcraft that is both refreshing and revelatory.
While her debut EP veered more toward Colbie Caillat honey-pop, her new stuff seems more geared in indie folk and that change is something that should serve Kopp well going forward. Though much of her set was serious in nature, the 22-year-old was more than willing to add moments of levity. Whether it was a Britney Spears mashup with Alfredson, or a slightly comical version of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake," the sun-drenched set was a welcome tonic for a day marred in tragedy. And in an era, when so many artists mail it in and show little joy in performing, Friday night's set at the Backbooth elucidated exactly why live music is such a worthy endeavor.
Gainesville, FL's Levek is a sextet that plays dream-pop with strains of orchestral folk, psychedelia and even some indie twee. Seen Friday night at Orlando's Plaza Live, the group was anchored, affable and absolutely air-tight. Their set opened unconventionally as vocalist David Levesque entered on stage with an acoustic guitar and bassist Gerald Perez flanked on his right. They rattled off a sedate and nocturnal cut of sublime winter folk that was both well-timed and also well-executed. Levesque's hushed timbre made for a pleasant opening salvo and an earnest way to start things off.
Though Levesque failed to introduce his bandmates as they entered the stage, they came anyway and ripped through a languorous and dreamy instrumental that straddled the line somewhere between The Flaming Lips and Sufjan Stevens. Buttressed by Levesque's recorder solo and winsome keys, the song segued from ambient and airy to hallucinatory and drug-induced. There were even flourishes of Middle Eastern mysticism by the song's conclusion and it was apparent that something truly exemplary was happening on stage. Levesque has gone on record as admitting that the music of Disney has been a driving force behind his output and much of the set seemed culled from a Fantasia b-side (if there ever was such a thing).
Arguably the set's strongest effort was the three-keyed attack that is "Black Mold Grow," a whistling and whimsical affair that is arresting, adroit and nothing short of amazing. The Gainesville sextet wove a luminescent tapestry on their next cut, a song which featured a sonorous clarinet solo before segueing into a swirl of textures, moods and keys. It was also during this song that one got the feeling the music of Levek may be more about tone and rhythm than message. While there were lyrics, they certainly were not pronounced and seemed to take a backseat to their cornucopia of creativity.
Of the band's final four songs, very few moved past the gauzy vibe and much of the set felt like a flannel bath. Slinky and slithery, Levek made use of Gerald Perez's falsetto, and a structure that was as much percussive as it was sedate. Of the eight songs played few were as strong as the gnomic "Look on the Bright Side," which perfectly married their experimental leanings with their multi-layered pop dynamics. By the time it was all said and done, one couldn't help but want to hear more.
What made Levek's set so monumental was that it is never an easy thing to open for a band like Of Montreal. A band whose catalog is so vast, whose followers are so devout and whose live show is anything but predictable. And yet in their own understated way, Levesque and Co. managed to carve out something deeply indelible, unfailingly hypnotic and undeniably potent.
Having already written about them once before, this post feels a bit redundant, but sometimes such things need to be said. If the Florida-by-way-of-Brooklyn trio Jacob Jeffries Band are not on your musical radar, then please make an effort to correct this. Seen this past Tuesday at Will's Pub in Orlando, the group hammered through a 16-song set with an effortlessness that was both eye-opening and awe-inspiring. Fronted by the charismatic 24-year-old Jeffries, the band performs soulful piano power-pop that mirrors both Jellyfish and Ben Folds in its hook-driven arrangements.
Whether it was the inspired cuts from the band's latest album Tell Me Secrets, or older material like fan-favorite "Fairfax Diner," from the group's debut Life as an Extra, the set was nothing short of stunning. A natural at the piano and on stage, Jeffries has a youthful exuberance that is hard to imitate and even harder to dislike. Unfailingly polite, ever humble and vocally extraordinary, Jeffries has all the right ingredients to make a dent on the Billboard charts.
Though many in Florida were sad to see the band relocate to wintry New York, the move seems to have paid dividends. The band, which already had an alarming ability to display confidence and swagger without pretense, seems to have also honed their craft as musicians. The songs came easy, sounded more dynamic, almost expansive, and the arrangements felt more flexible.
What separates the group from its contemporaries is their first-rate live set. Tuesday's set at Will's Pub included a rousing cover of The Beatles "Why Don't We Do It In the Road," which is quickly becoming a staple in their repertoire; and a funked-up blues version of John Mayer's "Queen of California," of which Jeffries was quick to give all credit to his guitar player Jimmy Powers. And it is Powers' guitar-playing that makes the set so well worth remembering.
Granted Jeffries has all the charm and trappings of a born frontman but Powers' Mayer-influenced guitar riffs were nothing short of exemplary. Anchored by the ever-steady drumming of Eric Jackowitz, the band debuted a new song "Hate To See You Suffer," written in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and another untitled effort, which finds Jeffries opining, "If second-guessing was a sport, I'd be a champion." One of the set's more memorable moments came when opener Suzanna Choffel stepped on stage and sang an untitled composition, which featured arrangements constructed by Jeffries and Powers. The song, which is scheduled to be recorded in a week's time at an undisclosed Atlanta studio, has hit-potential written all over it and only adds a layer of gloss to both Choffel and Jeffries' already impressive repertoire.
In opening the show, Choffel offered a sterling set of dusty Texas ballads and a honeyed voice that mirrors Norah Jones at times. A recent participate on The Voice, the Texas-raised New Yorker has an appeal that seems destined for stardom and close-ups. Whether or not she finds fame from the Jeffries-penned tune is still to be written, but if her seven-song set at Will's was any indication, she is most certainly well on her way. At times her set bordered on lounge fare and others seemed drawn from the Tift Merritt playbook, but one thing was for certain, she came to make an impression.
At night's end, both artists had cast a deep impression and left this listener waiting more. In the end, that's all a listener could really ever want.
Easily my favorite song of this week is Wizards of Time's "Benjamin," an epic and highly nuanced slice of art-rock not unlike Sufjan Stevens or The Dear Hunter. The band is led by vocalist and musical wunderkind Andrew Levi Hiller, who has an expansive imagination and a distinct sense of artistry that is unlike few others. While lead single "Little's Jingle," was proggy, guitar-driven and dense, "Benjamin," is inspired, uplifting and decidedly off-beat. Yet where it turns left, it also turns pleasant and that sense of amiability is what makes the song so darn refreshing. The Arizona group's debut release Will The Soft Curse Plague On? is out now on Hidden Shoal Recordings. For more details, head here.