All words: Marie Formica & Colin Wilhelm
All photos: Colin Wilhelm
Marie: “This next song is for a man who inspires us: Paorus, which means hand passing through water. He gave us these feathers. He told us to make them our own.” And so, Chappo, adorned in brown feathers, variously on their shoulders or around their necks in giant feathery collars or tied to their biceps with bandanas, played their dreamy garage rock for the audience at Red Palace. At the very least, Chappo has a flare for the dramatic.
Introduced in Italian by a pretty girl with a huge beige poncho on (“Signori i signore…”), Chappo popped onstage with a burst of confetti from a cardboard tube. Confident in their music and ability (as they should have been, they were precise and practiced), various members of the band thrashed around with an incredible energy, half headbanging. At one point the keyboardist broke out a flute for a Jethro style solo. It was that kind of show.
Particularly notable was the band’s performance of their 2010 single “Come Back Home” (snagged for an iPod touch commercial in the same year). Singer Alex Chappo let fly a few sweet falsetto choruses of “ba da da da da dums” that showcased his vocal abilities. He used his tone and impressive range to electrify the amps and draw in the crowd. Throughout the show and he writhed onstage, bringing even the simple tambourine into the act, holding it up during the breakdown of one song like an arrow blessed by the ancient gods, ready to pierce the heart of evil. Guitar melodies sounded strong and clear behind the vocals. Spot-on drumming kept the rhythm’s flow through the audience. Members crooning and writhing and bouncing on stage, Chappo was an unexpectedly strong opener to which the audience couldn’t help but pay attention. Although that’s probably also a credit to the confetti.
Colin: I wasn’t quite as enthused about Chappo as Marie, but definitely agree on the highlight of their set. The invocation of ‘Paorus’ and subsequent rain dance/Jim Morrison impression did leave quite the memory.
Marie: Pittsburgh band 1,2,3 came on looking ready for a crazy night in their respectively living rooms, in stark contrast with the Brechtian style Chappo. Deeply involved in their individual instruments, the band came together well on songs like the catchy “Scared but Not That Scared” and rocking “Going Away Party.” With dreamy vocal lines and sleighbells galore, the sound of most songs had a sparkle all its own. Nic Snyder’s unusual voice was small, and not unlike a much more melodic Billy Corgan, charming nasality and all. Classic style harmonies were a nice touch, whipped up sweetly from the bassist/keyboardist.
In fact, all members of the band sang along very enthusiastically despite their lack of mikes that the audience the impression that they were all, well, really into it. Clean guitar lines and precise drumming were the main features of this the rhythmic half-punk and half-space rock.
Finishing up with a song called “Confetti” (are you sensing a theme here?), 1,2,3’s songs were dripping with longing and melody in all parts inspired by ’60s music. Often, all instrumentation followed the hook, which was where they sounded sweetest and most comfortable.
Colin: These guys really impressed me Friday night. I saw them open for Les Savy Fav at the Black Cat last year and while I thought they had potential, they did not particularly move me. I thought they were much tighter and relaxed during this more recent show, which had its fair share of full body head bang in the midst of intense guitar playing. Though the Black Cat review does neglected to fully report this [whoops!] they were a little mechanical that night. It felt a bit like a recital, though a recital with danceable beats.
Friday’s 1,2,3 seemed much more like a band that had become comfortable in its skin and had gelled from touring together the past year. The vocals still get a little whiny for me, thanks for reading my mind and stealing the Billy Corgan comparison Marie, but I thought 1,2,3 played the best set of these three bands.
Marie: It felt like Minnesota main act Howler played for an audience full of their friends. When frontman Jordan Gatesmith crooned (or perhaps growled) lines like, “I’m so lonely I can’t wait for anyone else,” it’s tough to forget he’s 19 years old. In a band that’s received national recognition as a great new band, that’s impressive. But one could sense the unease as he talked to the audience between songs with lines like, “It’s Friday the 13th– that means we’re all gonna get murdered right?” followed by nervous laughter. Minutes later, he remarked on a wide-eyed audience member saying, “You, in the blue cardigan, you scare me. You have a notebook.” After some derogatory remarks about how boring Iowa is to drive through it was a comfortable conversation, and easy to swallow. Unlike the other two bands, Howler really connected with the crowd. Besides, Howler more than made up for any lack of confidence onstage with their delivery of the best tracks from their 2011 album “America Give Up.”
A Strokes-like guitar part climbs the scale on “This One’s Different” and it’s easy to see why this is labeled surf rock by some. In fact, on their exit (before the encore cheered on by the audience), someone shouted “Brian Wilson!” Gatesmith demanded to know who said this when they returned to the stage. He laughed, pointing to his guitarist Ian Nygaard saying, “Exactly right.” The jangling solos, palm muting and steady short strumming lend itself to that comparison, while Gatesmith’s vocals are more reminiscent of the Ramones or maybe even a little Magnetic Fields. The result is an interesting, muddy sound.
Colin: I don’t see a way we can discuss these guys without mentioning the fact that they have a song titled “Beach Sluts”: though it’s definitely a tongue in cheek nod to the 60s genre, they quite effectively played up their punk elements in that song. Its (possibly offensive) title also belies a bit of their attitude toward the surf music from which they often take cues. When that one fan yelled “Brian Wilson” at guitarist Ian Nygard the still precocious (and slightly Bieber-haired) Gatesmith put a little more thought into it and retorted, “Wait does that make me Mike Love?” Ah yes, nostalgia for a time long since passed does not necessarily entail respect for one’s (litigious) elders.
The buzz around Howler largely stems from two facts: their sound hearkens back to two extremely distinct, largely antithetical musical subgenres (surfer rock and punk) which they play well, and they are barely out of high school. Most in the crowd probably thought they played an admittedly uncomplicated style of music remarkably well considering the handicaps and inability we often mistakenly place on people younger than us, while the others probably focused on “how do these 19 year olds already have an international tour and what have we been doing with our lives?” Never trust anyone over 25 guys, they’re all sellouts.
Howler’s bubblegum/punk combination bore some resemblance to Title Tracks, though at one point their lightly dueling guitars made me think of another John Davis band, Q and Not U. They sounded polished during each song, and drummer Brent Mayes may have Friday’s biggest revelation, as he pounded out some exceedingly fast beats and pulled off some impressive time shifts amidst the guitar driven songs.
The space in between songs was a different matter. Gatesmith engaged in what he characterized as far more than usual onstage banter with the audience, which seems natural at a place as small as Red Palace. Not that he should be judged much of this, but at times he shockingly came across like a 19 year old whose begun to receive far more attention than he’s used to. That’s where “we’re all going to get murdered” and picking on possibly the one person his age in the audience, freshman correspondent Sean Meehan of the American University Eagle, for taking notes comes in [later Mayes almost nailed the poor kid in the noggin with a cymbal flying edge-front after he had passionately slammed it into the ground; if it had connected we would have been the first witnesses to accidental manslaughter by drum accessory]. None of this is to overreact and moralize heavily; rather it just served as a reminder that Gatesmith and co. are rather young and therefore occasionally act that way. Their organization also reminded one that these guys would be in their first year of college if not for this whole ‘music’ thing, as they discussed amongst themselves (to the earshot of the whole audience) what they should play next. Ah Red Palace, performance space so intimate everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts.
However none of this detracted from a strong live performance, and in fact may have added some extra spice, anecdotes for writers to (somewhat lazily) match with the punk influence. Maybe they’re a little overhyped (surf rock + punk while fun is not necessarily the most unique sound) but that has more to do with the echo chamber so many music blogs become rather than Howler’s ability. Who knows, maybe they’ll be the next band to sell out two consecutive shows at the 9:30 Club after a few months after playing Red Palace.