It’s eight o’clock sharp, on the slightly humid night of Wednesday, June 23rd. I am the fourth person in line at Daniel Street. So as not to be presumptive, I ask the bouncer if he has a guestlist, instead of just telling him that I should be on the guestlist. Shrewd move on my part – he is guestlistless. However my contact comes immediately to the door, and all is well.
Once inside, a lone woman onstage is tuning a left-handed guitar. The music playing over the sound system reads like one of my high school mix CDs: Pavement, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Gang of Four. I reminisce a bit and get settled into the seat that, barring a few chats with friends and closer looks at the bands onstage, I will be parked in for the rest of the night.
When the opening band’s members take to the stage, it turns out that the woman from earlier is the guitarist and lead singer of the New Haven three piece outfit EULA. The first sounds consist of errant drum hits, bass runs, and slow, deliberate guitar strums. This free rhythm of sounds seamlessly morphs into the band’s first song where distorted, picked bass guitar is prominent. Throughout the set the drummer and bassist are very busy with their respective instruments, creating a propulsive sound punctuated here and there by staccato rhythms that the guitarist joins in on. Conventional chords seem to be avoided by the guitarist, who often uses voicings that include open strings. The klieg lights blink idly in the background. Between songs the lead singer addresses the audience but avoids eye contact with the crowd. There are seven brave souls who have elected to stand up close to the stage, some with arms crossed, most nodding stiffly to the music. The band has a nervous energy, but is tight and competent.
After EULA's set, I comment to a friend that they have a good live sound. No frills. But unlike the other two bands, I have not listened to EULA on record. Maybe they, like the other bands with whom they’re billed, have a reverb-saturated sound on record or use other types of studio trickery to find a distinct sound, and from only listening to them on record perhaps I would have gotten a different sense of the band. It is this studio recording / live performance dichotomy that has me interested to hear the next two bands because both of their sounds depend heavily on effects. How would the bands choose to adapt their sound to a live performance?
The next band, Wild Nothing, is outfitted with shiny new Fender guitars, including a fire engine red Jaguar bass, a style of Fender guitar that along with the Jazzmaster, first gained popularity in alternative rock circles because they were a favorite of Elvis Costello, who incidentally started playing over the PA as soon as Wild Nothing’s set was finished. My previous thoughts on the transition from recording to performing are quickly proven to be naïve. Effects that are used in the studio are easily reproduced onstage - the lead singer simply asks for some reverb on the mic, and there’s that characteristic sound. The plaintive vocals and the shimmering harmonics of the arpeggiated suspended chords contribute to the band’s bittersweet, ethereal sound. About halfway through the set the band’s half scale Roland synth gets some attention from the second guitarist. After each song the guitarists take time to alternately retune or change tunings. There is about double the number of people standing up close to the stage during this set.
The Depreciation Guild sets up their gear while I’m outside, and when I hear obvious mic checks I make my way in to watch the last band of the night. Like EULA the band's tune ups become the first song, which uses guitar atmospherics and long note vocals, conjuring a sonic landscape firmly in step with My Bloody Valentine, Low, etc. The second song starts with an e-bow swell from the second guitarist, then the wall of guitars comes in. Then the chiptune elements pop up, which is more prominent in the band’s older material. 8-bit major scale keyboard parts always make me think of baroque classical music. I wonder to myself if the band’s name is truly inspired by those institutions (Guilds) popular during the period, or if it’s just coincidence. After each song the band takes time to adjust their tunings or to add capos to the necks of their guitars. However, they sustain a nice white noise during the breaks that gives continuity to the whole set. Towards the end a slower, quieter number starts off with what I’m pretty sure is the same major seventh chord from the Cocteau Twin’s classic “Heaven or Las Vegas”. Sweet.
If there is a theme to this evening’s show it is understatement. Instrumental prowess is on display by all the bands, but it takes second stage to songcraft and the cultivation of a mood. Synth pop is the way I heard Wild Nothing described before seeing them live, but the synth onstage was used sparingly. The chiptune elements of the Depreciation Guild’s sound were subdued as well. Is it a tasteful use of technology that if used too much would only diminish the mood the bands were going for? Are they elements of a band’s sound that make them unique and simply were not used enough? You decide.
Photos by Luke "The Duke" Dringoli