What's the point of music if it doesn't challenge you? What's the point of art if it doesn't try to do something different?
The Cincinnati duo Bad Veins clearly understand both of these questions. While their music is hyper-caffeinated, hyper-aware indie pop, live on stage it is an entirely different matter. Utilizing an antiquated rotary phone, a reel-to-reel tape machine and a vintage organ, vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastian Schulz performed a master class in how to perform music live, last night at Orlando's The Social. Though the crowd was small ––– 50 max ––– the tandem played without pretense and never stopped bringing their A game.
Davis walked on stage first and introduced himself and an absent Schulz before diving into "Doubt," an ode to revisionist history. When the song finished, Schulz walked on stage and the band kicked it into high gear with the uber-infectious "Don't Run," a valentine about a failed relationship. Bad Veins songs are anchored in Schulz's measured drumming and Davis' sturdy croon.
One of the things that is most compelling about a vocalist is when his intonations and utterances feel sincere and genuine, as if the pain he sings about is something deeply felt. Davis seems to understand this and performs each song with a gravity that cannot be underestimated. Whether it was the halcyon heights of "Gold and Warm," the jittery fragility of "Falling Tide," or the chilly grandeur of "Child," there was something riveting about every second. The duo write pop songs brimming with hooks and nowhere was that more apparent than on the sugary "Dancing on TV," and the driving "The Lie." Davis is at his best when he's laying it all on the line and the prime examples of that were the starkly honest "Dry Out," the symphonic "If Then," and the carnal rocker "Afraid." By the time it was finished, the crowd of 50 were eager for an encore. Mission accomplished.
Opening the set was the St. Petersburg quartet Alexander and the Grapes, who performed a set of dense Americana not unlike Pedro the Lion. Whether it was the two-dimensional "Where I Go," which started off hazy and autumnal and segued into something dense and concussive; or the autobiographical "East Coast," about the rigors of life on the road, the entire set was crisp, confident and air tight. Vocalist Alex Charos has a dry vocal delivery that gives the songs more depth. His vocals mixed with Chase Swan's pedal steel were a perfect compliment and the songs themselves were deeply resonant. While the sonic landscape is definitely Americana, the quartet were not afraid to dive into deep, dark rhythms and mine for something more visceral.
Also on the bill was Stagnant Pools, a guitar drum-duo, who recently release their debut LP on Polyvinyl. Their seven-song set was ripe with moody guitar lines, pulsating drums and frontman Bryan Enas' drowsy vocals. While many of the songs blended together, standouts included the cylindrical "Illusions," and the crunchy "Solitude." The biggest problem with the set is that Enas is shy and taciturn and so he never came across as engaging or warm. Being that the bed are young and fresh out of college, there's plenty of reason to think they'll only develop further as a live band, as the years pass.
In the end, the night belonged to the Cincinnati duo Bad Veins. Polished, pristine and incredibly passionate, it was everything that ones hopes for in watching a live set. If this band is not on your radar yet, make a point to change that immediately.