Last September when Staten Island’s Cymbals Eat Guitars opened for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart at The Black Cat they made everyone put down their drink and actually listen to them. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a band make a bar stand still (the other two examples were when I saw Bill Callahan in 2008 and We Were Promised Jetpacks last October). But in there third trip to D.C., Cymbals Eat Guitars were headlining a killer triple bill (on paper) with BYT favorites Bear In Heaven and Freelance Whales.
Freelance Whales played their set while I was waiting in line to get into the building. I couldn’t get into their much talked about Weathervanes, but I was definitely curious to see them live. I walked into the last two songs of their set. And they were damn good. Live, Freelance Whales shower the audience with a cloud of curious instruments — banjos, synthesizers, glockenspiels, toy pianos — that give their music a child-like feel.
Brooklyn’s Bear In Heaven played the middle card for the evening were hit or miss. The high’s were very high (“Lovesick Teenagers”, “Beast In Peace”) and the lows were low. It’s not that the songs aren’t good, it’s just they’re not good in a live setting. They tend to meander and have a general same-ness about them. I had the same problem when I last saw Beach House. The one strong highlight of their set was watching drummer Joe Stickney. The dude is a one man metronome and kept a lot of tracks afloat with his intense, tribal drumming.
When Cymbals Eat Guitars took the stage around 11:30 singer Joseph D’Agostino remarked that there “were a shit-ton of people” in the Rock and Roll Hotel before kicking into their set with a brand new song — the first of four during the night. If you haven’t heard Cymbals Eat Guitars by now they sound a lot like your favorite ’90s indie rock band — Pavement, Modest Mouse, Built To Spill.
Still riding the wave of critical praise from their self-released Why There Are Mountains, the band played everything you wanted to hear from there first release and then some. “..And The Hazy Sea” was anthemic and even more powerful than usual. The freak out at the end of “Cold Spring” was even more Malkmus inspired than usual. When the band finished their set with “Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)”, they had already won over the non-believers.