Often low or buried under layers of distortion-heavy guitar and bass, singer Chris Kelly slipped in mesmerizing, repetitive lyrics like, “Wait all day, all day I wait,” the opening lyrics to their album released that night, “Mean Tom.” (On that point, I would like to argue that the name Teen Mom is one of the best things to come from the influences of a certain reality show. The fact that Teen Mom’s album “Mean Tom” rhymes with their name is a double bonus for us. ) Reminiscent of beach rock, songs like “Say My Name” had a clear and twangy guitar tone, echoing through the verses. The unexpected transition from the clear sound in the verses to the aggressive, distortion-heavy choruses of most songs gave the songs a heady, and dramatic quality.
With only three players in a band, each instrument was easier to scrutinize. A funk-influenced bass and precise drums synced well, which put the pressure on the guitar for a standout performance. It worked, for the most part, although in places where the drum and bass supported the time for a solo, the solo turned out to be a wandering, stumbling line rather than a successful highlight in the song. The overall performance was careful, though. It felt like they were waiting for something else, as though they were just readying to deliver a punchline or insult. They almost did, sort of, sometimes. At one point, Chris announced, “This is a new song. It’s about friendship. Fuck friendship.” And after the end of another, he cried “Drink break!” before taking down half his cup. In playing their music however, Teen Mom was nothing if not earnest. Drummer Sean Dalby delivered steady beats with concentration, and bassist Tom MacWright (“Mean Tom”) bobbed in time with the rhythm. No one could question Chris Kelly’s devotion, closing his eyes in a green spotlight, balancing on one leg, swaying forward.
East Ghost delivered a melodic, satisfying set. It’s easy to hear their admiration for musical stylings from the likes of Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, with jangling guitar and longish pauses between vocal lines. In particular, they often used the technique of the slow, soft beginning that escalates to a huge crescendo and backs off again, wave like. In opening their set with the energetic “Docks,” third track off their new album “St. Elizabeths,” East Ghost underscored one of their most endearing qualities: a reliably warm harmony between main vocalist Ryan and keyboardist Taylor. They use harmony in many of their songs, giving Ryan’s already smooth pretty vocal tone an extra soft quality. This makes any song of East Ghost difficult to dislike.
Three songs in, Robert, bassist, said “This is the last time we will play this song, I promise.” They started on We Were Promised Jetpacks’ “This is My House, This is My Home.” Ryan sang, “Something’s happened in the attic” with devotion, singing with eyes closed. It was touching to watch one of the simplest pleasures a band can enjoy, playing one of their favorite songs. They sounded as practiced in playing “This is My House” as they did playing their own material. Robert introduced many of the songs, and in a similar vein halfway through their set, he started the song by saying their track “Godspeed” was a nod to Godspeed You Black Emperor! somehow. Is their a better band than GSYBE, Robert asked the audience? It was rhetorical of course, as he concluded with a resounding “Fuck no!” Tiny icicles of looping guitar carried on until the thumping drum and bass, synchronized, came in and broke the spell. Strangely, the juicy guitar tone, pounding rhythm and vocal line was more reminiscent of Radiohead than Godspeed, but it felt right all the same.
Songs like “Clouds and Their Shape” illustrate what is so beautiful about East Ghost’s operation. “I’m so far above all these fools and their love,” the first line rings out over a guitar playing alone. It’s that kind of emotional distance that characterizes East Ghost. They handle their music with kid gloves, and it makes one wonder if that’s how they handle everything they come across. With a more attentive ear, of course it’s clear they have written all their material that way, wrapped in melody upon melody, each instrument backing up the last. Everything is in tune, every sound has its place. The quirky keyboard line that rings out at the end, the guitar that rises up to meet it, the drums beating occasionally, it all comes together exactly the way it should.
The highlight of the set was a sad song, a “deep cut,” as pronounced by the band. “Although I don’t know that our catalogue is that deep,” Robert laughed. “Folded Hands” is not a song they play often. Each instrument had its own line, this time. The keyboard was played with the intensity of a driving snow. Cymbals hissed out from behind, on occasion, drummer Jesse making the song glimmer every now and again. The guitar and bass hovered steadily in the background. The vocals and keyboard come together during the chorus, ending with the lines, “Oh God I’m so late, oh God I’m so late, oh God I’m so late.” Both haunting and polished, I think an audience member got it right. She remarked loudly just after they finished, “That was beautiful.”
Closing their set with one of East Ghost’s strongest songs, “Architect,” a yellow light came on to spot them, contrasting with the dreamy green and purple lighting of the earlier set. It felt like dawn, like the sun coming up after a very strange set of dreams. The melodies in “Architect” are some of their most hopeful and uptempo. The guitar and bass carries steadily while vocals carry on over them. The chorus has a tense quality to it, a tension that needs to be resolved, which holds the audience captive for the song. At the end, vocals suddenly fought for the spotlight, duking it out with a distorted guitar, a second harmonious voice and splashy drums. Winding down in the last few seconds of the song, the last line sung softly again, two guitars and a bass played out East Ghost, resolving a final melody with just a guitar. It was a solid end to a strong show.
- Teen Mom: