Spring is in the air and the number of quality shows passing through town are once again picking up. The concert calendar got a surge of energy on Thursday with Bishop Allen's show at the First Unitarian Church. I missed the first opener but arrived just in time to see Mt St. Helen's Vietnam Band take the stage. I had streamed their new album earlier in the week before realizing that they were opening the BA show. To be honest the album seemed a little disjointed as a whole but has some very strong singles (Albatross, Albatross, Albatross & El Fuego). Once I figured out that I would be seeing them I did a little research to figure out their story. Thanks to another excellent interview on Pop Tarts Suck Toasted I got their back story. I'll let you go there to read it yourself but the key take away is the fact that the drummer is a 14 year old kid whose adoptive parents are also in the band. Intriguing? Yes. A schtick? Perhaps. But let me tell you half way through the first song it was very clear Marshall is a wicked talent. The group has a very distinct sound. Heavily influenced by hard core punk but drawn over the slower paces often found in recent indie rock bands. What is most remarkable are the percussion's syncopation's. They stop, drop, twitch,trip you up and break your groove. But in a good way. You have to be on top of you game to keep rhythms like this moving and coordinated with the rest of the gang. They powered their way through a thoroughly awesome set again with Albatross, Albatross, Albatross & El Fuego as the stand outs. I would easily pay to see MSHVB play again and see how their sound develops as their central member pulls down a few more years.
Bishop Allen got their business set up with impressive speed and dove head first into Rooftop Brawl a romping track off of their new release Grrr... BA's two founding members Christian Rudder and Justin Rice each exude their own degree of enthusiasm on stage [Rudder displays a modest Ben Lee like joy while Rice tends towards children's performer pep] that together got even the too-cool-to-dance high schooler hipster crowd moving.
Bishop Allen's lyrics have always nibbled at my ear whether they be ballad-y (Rooftop Brawl or Flight 180) or precise collections of witty musings (Click,Click,Click or The Ancient Commonsense of Things). Seeing them perform live gave their lyrics a sheen not captured in their recordings. There is an sincere degree of performance Rudder and Rice infuse in the delivery of every song, not surprising since they both dabble in the actor thing, which draws you in to the swing or bop of their sound.
The songs off Grrr... definitely lean a little more towards the absurd than previous albums featuring a circus of animal references with a smattering of food allusions. And its hard to ignore the influence of Pet Sounds and the peppiest of 80's new wave in BA's collective work; but when being sung by Rudder with Rice cajoling him with his guitar or, at the most sublime moments a ukulele, it doesn't seem hoaky at all. Rather, it becomes clear this music is at its zenith when seen live because it is meant to be experienced.
The supporting cast of characters on this tour are Darbie Nowatka who did the beautiful Butterfly Nets and rocked dem wooden mallet percussion instruments as well as the mouth keyboard. Michael Tapper grounding all the playfulness on drums. And the fantastic Keith Poulson on bass. Here I will admit to having an affinity for bassists as I once was one but Poulson's contribution to the evening deserves a little call out. He laid out the bass lines with that hint of shyness I fully appreciate but with a much more noticeable glisten of joy from being on stage doing what he obviously loves. This incarnation of Bishop Allen absolutely nails the perfect combination of playful performance and excellent musical delivery. Even if you don't like the new record you should still make an effort to see Bishop Allen live to fully appreciate the sound the group as whole has crafted.
Thanks to the crew at Crawdaddy for filling in the missing Keith_____ piece.
Mt St Helen's Vietnam Band
• Flight 180
• Cue The Elephants
• Butterfly Nets