The Scene: Despite the snow that was steadily falling all afternoon Yeasayer and MGMT sold-out the Hi-Dive on Monday night. It was a diverse crowd that ranged from hardcore facepainted fans to preppy 30 somethings in-the-know with a few industry types scattered about. It was a cleary a show fueled by “buzz,” and while I am not sure it lived up the all the hype, I was plesantly surprised by the show that Yeasayer put on.
One thing I need to comment on is the several folks who were right up front taking hundreds of flash pictures throughout the Yeasayer set. Most venues have a no-flash policy for photography and if the Hi-Dive does, it is clear that it was not enforced on Monday. If it was bothering me, I can only imagine how much it was irritating the band. On another note, The Hi-Dive really has to continue to work on it’s sound. The shows that they are booking are steadily improving but the sound quality in the room simply isn’t up to par. The sound guys were working hard and doing everything they could but it’s just a tough set up.
NOTE: I have decided to split this review up as if it was two different headliners as Yeasayer stole the show in my opinion. As a result there are two different set of grades for this review, the first applies to the Yeasayer portion of the evening and the second to the MGMT portion.
Yeasayer: I went in to the Hi-Dive knowing very little about Yeasayer and as soon as they broke into their first song I knew that I was going to dig what they were doing. It is relatively rare to find a young indie band these days that has four members who can sing well, and more importantly sing well together. Though the vocals were drenched in reverb for much of the set this added to the already psychedelic feel of their music. Heavily influenced by world music from Africa, The Middle East and even at times the Celtic tradition, the band pushes the traditional limits of pop music while still lacing their music with hooks. They aren’t afraid to experiment with new sounds and ideas and many of these experiements are working very well. Simply put there are some great ideas coming out of these four men and the potential for what they could create is very exciting.
Each member of the band seems to contribute equally to the bands unique sound. Aaron Wilder’s relatively simple guitar riffs formed the melodic core to most of the songs while Ira Wolf Tuton’s fretless bass work was prominent in the mix. Both sidemen sang ably alongside lead vocalist and snyth knob twiddler Chris Keating to create densely layered, and at times almost chanted, vocals. On background vocals and a kit equipped with a programmed drum pad, drummer Luke Fasano laid down a beat that drove the music and kept the crowd moving throughout the set.
Though their studio album clearly relied on overdubs and other studio magic, they have managed to stage a live show that brings energy to the music that isn’t found on the record. I overheard lots of positive chatter about the music as they quickly won over the capacity crowd. After churning through about a dozen songs they triumphantly wrapped up their 50 minute set to a room full of pumping fists and the biggest cheer of the evening. Though the crowd seemed to be begging for more, the band packed up and yeilded the stage to the headliner, MGMT for the more anticipated (and less entertaining) set of the evening.
Stage Presence: A-
Set/Light Show: N/A
MGMT: Though their set was plagued by sound problems that weren’t their fault for the first 20 or so minutes MGMT never seemed to really get off the ground. They seemed tired and, frankly, a bit bored as they ran through a bulk of their debut full legth Oracular Spectacular. Though the album cleary has a couple of tracks that could be destined for dramatic overplay on mainstream radio and college campuses across the country, it lacked a bit of the originality that I was hoping for after the Yeasayer set.
With 5 members up on stage, several of whom did not seem to be completely comfortable on their instruments, it was the drummer who stole the show. He ferociously and tirelessly pounded the drums throughout the set and provided something interesting to watch as his bandmates plodded through their parts.
Overall the music had a good beat and the vocals weren’t bad but the stoic presence of the band on stage contrasted so greatly with the sound that was coming out of PA that it was almost confusing. Maybe it was an off night for them as they had struggled through a snow storm to drive in from Salt Lake City, or maybe it was the altitude toward the end of a long tour. Whatever it was, it didn’t sit too well with me on this snowy night.
Stage Presence: C
Set/Light Show: N/A