April 13, 2010
Here’s some positive pigeonholing. Shows are generally more pleasant the more accessible, inviting, and open they are. And for a couple of reasons, experimental and mathy audiences tend to have a hand in creating this kind of atmosphere. They really like their music. And they like it good quality. Who can contest that?
No one really tried to on Tuesday at the show Manic Productions presented with Maps & Atlases headlining at The Space along with Drink Up Buttercup and Fugue. A healthy amount of heads congregated inside the venue, on the warmly lit patio and on the stairs during that in-limbo time between doors and openers. Fugue was to perform at 8PM, and drew everyone in and around the stage as Mike DiCrescenzo motioned to their shirts and free EPs above his spread of pedals, a laptop, and a guitar strapped to his chest. His addition to the band has made Fugue a recent six-piece upped from a five-piece ensemble of heavily melodic, experimental musicians from the general area of Fairfield County.
Despite projecting a delicate sense of professionalism in their song composure—a land where their hard-to-tame guitar (count ‘em, two), bass, and keyboard parts interject between an omnipresent regiment of technical rhythm—Fugue also has the kind of humor to open their set with a sample from Billy Madison (“Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard…”). With six instruments and variant levels in sound every time (at The Space, this means “loud”), it takes a bit of strain and some old fashioned staring to focus on the individual elements that compose their songs. DiCrescenzo is nearly impossible to distinguish from the noise, though he is a new addition to the band and his parts tend to mold what is already written. However, in “Sirens,” a virgin song to the stage, his effects were audible in the processing to the spaceship-like whirring noise dubbed in a build-up.
Watching Fugue, one can’t help but notice the frequent exchange of visual cues as everyone ached to nail the complicated progressions in songs they have been perfecting for the past year and a half. It feels like a new and evolving process every performance, including Alexa Ambrose (drums) grinning when Matt Lobo (bass) broke a string and solemnly carried his fallen four-stringed compatriot on his head through the crowd and Peter Katz (guitar) slamming a maraca like he was about to dislocate an elbow with the force he used to keep time.
Drink Up Buttercup tapped into the same well of vigor in their performance, which stood out with ecstatic percussion teamed up with unsteady melodies reminiscent of that guy you saw on the street staggering around with a bagged drink and a feathered boa the other night. James Harvey, an ex-opera study, has an audible contribution to this image. Drink Up has accumulated piles of press coverage over the past year since their conception as a band in a Buck’s County barn (definite Messianic suggestions), since which they released Born and Thrown on a Hook. The album art for the record shows a visibly upset woman turned away from a windshield splattered in blood, a cigarette perched between her fingers—something one could expect from a candidly morbid pop-punk trio, not a jerky ensemble who diced up Sgt. Pepper into a blender.
They even slid comfortably into the backdrop at The Space among the ornamental mannequins and yellowed lampshades. Chivalrous as ever, they brought their own severed doll-head to perch on the set. Everyone in Drink Up appeared to be in his own world on the stage despite being only a foot or so higher than the audience at their side. Between bouts of wailing trash-can jamborees, Mike Cammarata (drums) balanced on the kick drum with a hand open for support on the ceiling—the universal musician’s code for overdoing it.
And then Harvey wondered out loud on the microphone what some in the room had been wondering—“What’s up with Maps & Atlases?”
Neither bearded Dave Davison (vox, guitar) or the rest of his band of brothers were anywhere in the low-ceilinged room. Earlier in the afternoon as the four members of Maps & Atlases were about to make a pit stop in New Jersey to finally tweak all that needed tweaking in the van, their alternator puttered out. This left them vanless, semi-equipmentless, and a little worse for wear in the morale department a couple of hours later, where they successfully rented a new van and parked in The Space’s parking lot around nine to the muted giddiness of some fanboys and girls in the crowd. By the time they had completely set up, Chris Hainey (drums) was on a patchwork kit of Drink Up’s bright yellow kick drum, Ambrose’s red tom and another blue portion of his own set.
To the delight of everyone with a soul in the crowd, Davison covered Iyaz' “Replay” (You know it: “Shawty’s like a melody in my head…”) for his sound check—something only Davison could make sound nostalgic and multi-chromatic like it did, making all the girls in the audience wonder if they were, in fact, his shawty. The set that followed included a healthy balance of both old material from their previous EPs and new samples from their first upcoming full-length. Within the week of Tuesday’s performance, “Pigeon” and “Solid Ground” carved internet-headway, palpable when the crowd responded with at least a small ounce of familiarity towards their performance. Though the unabashed thigh-slapping and air-drumming indicated what the audience responded to best, those with their toes to the stage and the ranks behind them held an attentive air when the new songs were played. This was fairly easy to do, seeing as the new material is pressurized with sugary melody and more obvious balladry than their previous releases. Maps & Atlases are so learned in what they do that their newer material—although lighter and broken down into the simpler riff fats—emerged as incredibly refined pop songs.
Davison and the rest of the band have a profound respect and humbleness towards their fans. Besides the tone of their conduct, the highly groomed transitions and song choice in their set is clearly deliberately composed and chosen. They’re not a band that will trip into the technically-raucous intro to “Every Place is a House” by preceding it with some vague leftover reverb. No, by way of claves, cymbals and timed clapping, they develop the percussive tides nearly identical to those on Trees, Swallows, Houses. “The Sounds They Make” aptly proved to be a harmonious chorus for everyone in the room before it opened for “Artichokes.” Every now and then during particularly strong tides of sing-a-long, Davison would eek out an errant smile and hoist the mic stand into the heads of the audience who welcomed it with grins and demands for an encore (where they played an electric version of Davison's side project Cast Spells' "Glamorous Glowing").
Like I said, they like their music good quality.
(Images: Istvan Davis)