All words/photos: Kara Capelli
If you’re a college-aged, indie-rock-loving female, Oberhofer is your band. That’s according to only a few data points, of course, mostly what I gleaned from their show at Black Cat Wednesday night, plus what I can extrapolate from listening to their debut album Time Capsules II and what I see on mtvU. With his curly, dark hair and quick boyish smile, lead singer Brad Oberhofer makes an adorable garage rock darling, worthy of any school-girl crush, as he jumps and kicks his way around the stage, performing inane, dancey songs about being a boy in his early twenties. I can’t imagine very many people outside of that demographic will get super stoked about this band.
I sort of take that back. I did at one point get super stoked about Oberhofer. I saw them at SXSW in Austin last March at an easy-listening showcase for a crowd of mostly older yuppies. Oberhofer seemed an odd choice for the mix of bands and ended up sandwiched between Milo Greene, who did, among other folky pop songs, a Sufjan Stevens cover (yes, it was as lackluster as you might imagine…) and Built to Spill, who, I assume most of the crowd was there to see. I was doing an exceptionally good job that day remaining buzzed and happy, without moving across any lines to wasted, sunburned or passed out, and this showcase was a less than ideal compromise of a place to meet up with my friends. So I was resigned but hyper, thinking, as one often does at SXSW, OMG I’m missing something way more awesome.
Oberhofer was not way more awesome, by any means, but they were high energy. The long-haired, bouncing-off-the-walls Brad Oberhofer was on a complete tear the whole time, all over both the X and Z axis of the stage, wailing on his guitar doing acrobatic jumps from anything he could climb onto. They were tight and on point, with fast, intense songs. The stage was big and the equipment made for tall precipices from which to descend on every climactic guitar stroke. I was at the very least relieved and intrigued, and made a mental note to anxiously anticipate their upcoming album, expecting something along the lines of Cloud Nothings – another young, talented upstart, forging his own loud rock ‘n’ roll path.
Problem number 1: The stage in the back room at the Black Cat is tiny, so the theatrics were mostly nixed on Wednesday. That was disappointing, but there was still room for all kinds of jerky, intense headbanging and such, just not as much space as Oberhofer apparently needs for their expansive energy. This was also the first show for which they had a five, as opposed to four, piece band, tightening the stage further, now that one of the members has finished his degree from Brown.
Clearly that degree isn’t being used to contribute anything to Oberhofer, which brings me to problem number 2. Brad O. writes and records all Oberhofer’s stuff (it’s his project and the rest of the band is Brad support), with lyrical wit somewhere between a middle-schooler and Best Coast, naming his signature hits using text message lingo (Away frm U), or more simply yet, a string of the same letter (oOoOoOooo). Every song has approximately eight unique lines, the rest of the time chalk full of repetitive filler and embellishments.
I’m also giving a big nod of agreement to Pitchfork’s assessment that Oberhofer’s music on the recently released debut Time Capsules II would have been significantly different if his last name hadn’t started with an O. By the third song we were in the thick of it: the characteristic Oh’s, OH’s, ooooooo’s and drawn out go-O’s, in the song I Could Go, which starts with approximately 20 seconds of OOOOOOOOO ooooooooooooo OOOOOOOOOOOOOO then launches into a Blink-182 style “I know you, I know you” on repeat then ends with “I could go, I could go….,” also on repeat.
The show mostly comprised of songs from Time Capsules II, an album full of simplistic, conflicting muses about girls. In oOoOoOooo (yes, that’s the title) he’s not ready for love: “And I know that you love me/But I’m just too damn hungry/For loving that I don’t need/And I know that you like my shoes,” (What?) to wanting to settle down in Haus: “I wanna build a house with you/A house with you/A house with you/A home/So we can be alone.” I imagine that all these things are floating through his head simultaneously.
But really, who am I to judge? How many times did I hear a high-pitched WE LOVE YOU BRAD over my shoulder? The crowd jazzed up even more about halfway through the show when they played Landline, which is the catchy tune that features advice on how to get ahold of Brad: “Oh girl, if I don’t pick up the phone you can call the landline/Call the landline.” This song was followed by Cruisin’ FDR, which is probably the peak of his poetry writing skills, or perhaps an homage to one too many games of Kings in college (9! Bust a rhyme!): “I’m cruisin’ down FDR/I’m driving my buddy’s car/ the skies a little bit grey but in a beautiful way and you’re not too far, away.” I will give him this – he hit several impressive on-all-toes falsettos during that song.
Just as I was about to totally write this band off, they started to do what I thought was going to be something really awesome. They kicked into Dead Girls Dance with a soft and slow build, until we were half lulled and mesmerized by a intense, pretty soundscape. Brad O. left through the back door and the remaining four were left to keep up the build, doing so quietly, mostly squatting on the ground turning knobs and such, setting the perfect stage for a dramatic re-entry (why the heck else would he have left the stage?). My mind was going wild with all the cool things that could possibly happen – clearly this was where Brad was going to redeem himself and remind me that he really is as awesome and fun as I remember. I thought maybe he’d sneak back in through a secret door or fall from the ceiling – at the very least jump off an amp. Something, anything! The reward for my anticipation came when he simply walked from the back of the audience and gently stepped on stage from the side, to finish up the song with the band without any satisfying climax. A big freakin’ build to nowhere.
Was that supposed to be theatrics? Semi-sulking in disappointment, you can imagine how impressed I was when next they announced a song never before played in America…yay…if you care, it was called Earplugz (yes, with a z. idk k?).
I wasn’t thrilled by the show. Despite all of that, I’m still holding out hope that Oberhofer will dig deep to expose the edgier, grungy core I’m sure is buried within. He certainly has the voice for it.
Here’s my take on this band: Brad Oberhofer is extremely talented and probably at heart capable of leading a really great, really entertaining band, subject matter of his lyrics notwithstanding. Award winning producer Steve Lillywhite saw that spark, that raw talent, and pulled him up by his britches prematurely, overproducing an album for him that reaches past his current talent level and outside his natural comfort zone into an unnatural poppy, overly-youthful vibe. All the production on the album comes off as prescribed and contrived, the show stilted. The band has been over promoted to the mainstream – the Letterman audience, MTVU, etc. – before they’ve had time to develop a signature sound, to go crazy, to mess up and get stronger for it, and before Brad had the teeth and experience to back himself up.
Taking the stage just before Oberhofer in drab, 70’s shag colored suits, the Danvilles, from Vienna, VA, wasted zero time grinding and screeching their guitars in the style of fingernails on a chalkboard, which is apparently the only thing they practice. Certainly they don’t spend much time harmonizing in their garage, though they should. The lead singer (I think) has a voice that’s a pleasant combination between Matt Berninger of the National and Jason Spaceman, but it was more often than not overshadowed by the need to be as loud and dramatic as possible.
When I thought it couldn’t get any louder, well, yes, it did. They seemed uncomfortable when they were quiet, which was actually when they shone brightest. Thanks to the last song, a cover of Jack Scott’s The Way I Walk, I gathered that their apparent lack of talent is in their song writing, not their playing and singing abilities, because this rendition was absolutely fantastic. It held true to the style of Jack Scott’s original for about 10 seconds, until it became the screeching death metal version, and, It. Was. Awesome.
Since there was really only one Danvilles song that did anything for me, I’m going to give the first opener, The Sea Life, first prize in the official battle of Oberhofer openers for the evening. Don’t put this group on your lists of bands to watch just yet; but keep them in the back of your mind. The Sea Life is an above-amateur college band with a lot of promise. They are five college dudes, friends from high school, who have been playing together for half a decade. In short, they are 100% – and I apologize for this, but I’ve been trying to use this word for the last six months in conversation, and I fear the opportunity won’t come up again if I don’t take it now – adorkable (Thanks, done forever with that one).
With their caps and glasses and (for one of them) barefeet, they looked like they had just come from the library, or an ultimate frisbee game or a student council meeting. They sang with childlike passion, pulled off four part harmonies some of the time, switched their instruments around, and, standing in a row of four across the stage, gave no impression of a band hierarchy. They need more time to develop their sound and their stage presence, but still, they played for a room three-quarters full, indicating, most likely, that their College Park following made the trek to D.C. In their soft spoken way they interacted with the crowd between every song, much appreciated by friends, family, and new fans alike.
My only issues with them was that they did the Oberhofer Ohhhhhs and Whoooaaaaas thing in every song! Is that an age thing? If you’re a rock band whose members are under the age of 25 you must embellish at all times with some form of the letter O? Please tell this is not a trend…
- The Danville’s