All words: Colin Wilhelm
On Monday the Red Palace successfully maintained its reputation as the place in D.C. to see developing but unheralded bands. The troubadourial groups that set foot on stage might not always be as finely polished as those that typically play, say, the 9:30 Club or Black Cat, but if you want to catch a band that may become the next Foster the People, minus the ubiquitous single that walks a fine line between pop touchstone and the aural equivalent of Chinese water torture, then 1212 H Street Northeast is your spot.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Caveman has a quality that might add them to the pantheon of bands who have graced Red Palace’s halls about which you can say, ‘I saw these guys before they were big. Back when they played in a room that supposedly fits 100 people but really could only contain probably about half that, back when you could find junkies with needles sticking out of there veins on H St.” [full urban revitalization still pending]. Their sound blended the moody audacity of 80s-style keyboards with well-crafted melodies and an oft aggressive rhythm section, and while several bands could claim a similar in these days when 80s pop has become perhaps the predominant contemporary influence in our thoroughly postmodern musical community (I’m looking at you, Drive soundtrack and M83).
What made Caveman more than a set of Joy Division enthusiasts? Well a fuller sound and palette for one. Songs (the band mixed in some new ones with those off their first album Coco Beware) were made more welcoming by a couple major-key guitar bars amidst the postpunk bass and space-filling keys, or double bass drums pronouncing the entrance of a new song. If all this sounds very New York, well, it was, and of course that just happens to be where Caveman hails from. It’s a familiar sound, though they put their own spin on it, and when all instruments click together, as they did on “Thankful”, that sound works towards minor brilliance, or the finale of their set, which went from primordial postrock beginnings to a pop that then devolved with a full on, play each instrument in the style of ‘epicness’ ending.
None of this means Caveman is somehow beyond reproach or flawless alabaster destined for rock ascendancy: the vocals were sometimes thin, though they had some nice harmonies, and the keys sometimes washed out the rest of their sound. Altogether though they were a band worth spending an hour with on a Monday night in Northeast.
Precocious openers Night Moves [not this Night Moves Band] did a decent job setting the table. The pride of Minneapolis, they looked as though they’d rolled themselves and their equipment out of a ’78 Volvo station wagon, the kind someone’s mom handed down to them at some point. Hopefully named after the Bob Seger song, they brought with them from the waters of Lake Minnetonka a combination of thoughtful songwriting, somewhat rough around the edges musicianship, and odd Midwestern charm. Heavily used reverb effects accentuated their late 70s hard rock and disco-influenced sound, though their attempts at Bee Gees level falsetto octaves sometimes fell flat.
Still their songwriting sounded sharp, even if the live product wasn’t always there. A solid dose of touring and continuing to play would probably help these guys, and cut down on the awkward partially picked up by mics debate over what song to play next, a scene anyone who’s attended a high school or college band’s gig would recognize. People, however, can practice playing live and become better: Night Moves have the more difficult task of songwriting down fairly well, a hopeful sign for the future.
Plus their bassist has a sweet-ass moustache. That’s always a plus.