Friday night I left New York under ominous conditions and a ceiling of crazy cool clouds, to make the drive back to Philly to see The Most Serene Republic at North Star Bar. The normally 75 min drive took a full two hours with intense lighting and torrential rains holding nothing back over the New Jersey Turnpike. The delay caused me to miss Wheat at Kung Fu Necktie which I feel really horrible about cause I like their stuff and was really looking forward to the show. I was pleased to find we had only missed the first of two openers for TMSR.
The other opener Buried Beds did a good job prepping the audience for TMSR to take the stage. While not entirely remarkable Buried Beds attempted to include pretty much every indie/pop/alt country trend device; chamberish harmonies, regular use of strings (in this case violin) and crowding the stage with a small village of band members. All of this without managing to really establish a clear sense of what impression they wanted to leave behind. Although there were a few songs towards the end of their set that begin to suggest the potential of good things to come for the group.
The Most Serene Republic came to my attention via Ryan Hansen of Ryspace about two months ago and I have been looking forward to this show ever since. I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the hard to define but easily listenable troupe but hardly could have hoped for the musical mastery I witnessed.
The group is about to drop a new album so there were a lot of new unheard songs on display but they still included some of the older stuff. The new material tends toward the pop end of the progressive indie music spectrum. But it is most def. a thinking man's pop. Songs like Heavens To Purgatory use a little banjo and thumping bass loop to bounce along chasing some of the best guy/girl vocals in the biz. Despite using the word Gadzooks the Canadian outfit manages to avoid Twee territory by grounding it with juicy instrumentals. Other new pieces were more reminiscent of their older more typical progressive rock sound which appealed to the die hard fans in attendance.
Watching them perform really adds another layer of appreciation for their distinct sound. The songs are far more epic live then on record, an effect achieved by the well placed horn lines and the occasional string contribution. Like other bands I really love both live and recorded (Frightened Rabbit for example) it was evident these guys all knew their music inside and out; their own lines and times as well as their band mates. The comfortable way they interact both musically and personally on stage contributes to a very inclusive concert experience. Plus the presence of hand clapping and the dose of humor brought by lead vocalist Adrian also keeps it from getting too cerebral.
The gave new shine to some of their earlier works to balance out the new stuff. The version of Compliance started with lulling and scenic instrumentals that dropped you off at the door of strong in you face vocals. I was not expecting but fully adored this departure from the album version. Phages was a bit more like the album arrangement but simply in the live setting it too carried a new appeal.
By the time they ended their set I felt as though I had witnessed the most complete live set I'd seen in a while. There was something for everyone, including the band who all seemed to take a certain pleasure in the particular tracks they had chosen for the evening. We grabbed the new album (which comes out in July) and I had it on repeat most of the weekend. Go grab the first single and find out if they're in your area cause both the live and recorded versions of TMSR are worth your complete love and adoration.
Heavens To Purgatory