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all photos: Shauna Alexander

A lot (A LOT) of internet ink has been spent around these parts on the musical stylings of both U.S. Royalty and Birdlips. We’ve seen them at clubs big and small, at festivals, at BYT events, at…well, you get the picture. But what made the two shows that took place this Wednesday and Thursday different was that both bands took these intimate evenings (Montserrat’s house capacity hovers around 100 and both night sold out quickly to the band’s obvious most trigger-ready fans) as an opportunity to well, show us something new.

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Birdlips debuted their new project GEMS, and U.S. Royalty played a strong set peppered with half-a-dozen-plus new songs.

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Unlike the folky, romantic sound of their original two-piece, GEMS sees Cliff Usher and Lindsay Pitts take a, well, darker, dancier turn.

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Gone is the romance, and sweat, dance and a few tears enter the equation. Sonically they sound competent if not completely confident and we’ll be thrilled to see them again after a few shows with this new material under their belt, as Pitts becomes more comfortable with her sultry self and lets the rawr in her sweet voice come out to play. Because it is there, just waiting.

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U.S. Royalty’s headlining set was the obvious draw for the evening, as everyone in house started moving closer and closer to the stage for their set up. We’ve always been firm believers that these guys REALLY shine on a big stage where John Thornley has plenty of room to chew some scenery and Jake and Paul and Luke each get almost a bubble of their of to showcase their impressive instrumental skill sets (see: our reviews of Sweetlife fest, their recent 930 club show…) but the guys used the tiny stage @ Montserrat to turn the focus back to music, as opposed to on-stage antics. And they did it well (though it should still be noted that even a tamer, more intimate U.S. Royalty show is still way more engaging to view than your average bigger club indie band performance, and that’s a good thing).

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USR’s Mirrors debut LP showcased the gamut of their musical influences-each song almost a little ode to a band or genre the band fell in love with once, all executed with strong hooks and a certain flair for joy which a lot of rock music these days seriously lacks. Whether channeling Creedence, Fleetwood Mac or even Leonard Cohen at times, they always seemed, on record and live to really love the song they are playing and that feeling is almost always infectious.

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For the new stuff we heard, they seemed to be taking a confident meander into yet another music category: the slightly dancier indie rock. This is the kind of music you listen to at a summer bbq, just as things are about to turn into a real party. John’s vocals are as strong and clear as ever (and the girl fans will be glad to know that the tambourine has not gone anywhere), and Jacob Michael and Luke Adams welcome the driving beats with both arms wide open, while Paul Thornley’s guitar is there, steady and confident, to remind you that you are very much still at a rock show.

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The audience embraced the new set (peppered with some old favorites) and if these shows were an experiment to see how the world would react to new material-then the experiment was a success: the air in the room was friendly and communal, with a strong sense of everyone being happy to see the bands take their sounds forward. And if you weren’t there-you’ll hear these songs again,don’t worry- we guarantee you that.

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and now for more photos, since both of these bands are the kind of bands that are pretty great to look at too:

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