Birthmark crammed themselves onstage at the tiny Backstage of the Black Cat this week, more orchestral than rock band in their newest iteration. They slid in one ethereal song after another. The arrangement of each was more like a drama than a traditional song, instruments straining against one another and making wide cinematic gestures. This is fitting since the ideaman and founder himself Nate Kinsella started seriously making music after writing the score for a friend’s documentary.
It is the wrong season for Birthmark- summer’s end is still warm and friendly and welcoming. This stuff was meant for winter weather, fluffy snow and shorter soundwaves in a cold snap. It was ice silvers along a dead leaf. So, the music was pretty and fragile and dependent on the hollow taps of orchestral xylophones and the deliberate plucking of violins (“Stuck“). It was often mysterious, in the way that old black and white pictures painted mystery. Sometimes, it was near creepy(“Pacifist Manifesto”), but not scary (like what you might hear during an independent horror movie about the realities of living in the suburbs). The tension between the celestial sounding violin and viola was often left unresolved, leaving the guitar, bass, cello, drumpad or one of two xylophone-like instruments to clean up the mess. Songs abruptly stopped, so it was an evening of tense music all around. At one point, the bassist remarked, “You’ve all been really polite and respectful and awesome.” It’s no wonder. It is very difficult to rock out, or in any way go rebel against the spell Birthmark sprinkles over their listeners. The swell and receding of the passion ended on a quiet, minimalist song, “Big Man.”
Baltimore bombs “Me and This Army” played a lot of fuzzy noisy rock, their frontwoman and president of charisma Courtney Hargrove singing over twanging emo rock with pop senisibilities. Her strong midrange voice balanced against heavier rock gave them a Metric-like sound. The three piece played their hearts out, their levels maybe slightly too similarly pitched; as the songs wore on, they also became familiar, similar.
Philadelphia based Liz and the Lost Boys brought their old time charm to the Black Cat’s Back Bar to open the set. Aforementioned Liz of the Lost Boys (Ciavolin) used a crooning, meowing tonality in their dreamy, offbeat songs. Often she used one or two sentences and repeated them, emphasizing the words in a different way until we forgot their meaning. Liz and the Lost Boys played a cross between circus fetish tunes and avant gaarde noise. The experimental feeling of the music eased the accordion-sharpened edge off what could have been a creepy abandoned carnival feel. Instead they brought the crowd on a rollicking fairy-pop jaunt.
Me and My Army:
Liz and the Lost Boys: