Considering that Wednesday’s show was part of Owen Ashworth’s last lap under the name Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, anticipation for an exceptional performance was fair, though bittersweet. Here he was, performing solo in a humble and intimate setting which was also the last time many will see him perform. This tour was constructed in preparation for his notable Chicago show at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which he made a point to mention made this show “practice”—not that it made any difference to those in attendance. No, for Ashworth, the crowd would do a special favor at the end of the show and move to the front from behind their glass partition at the bar.
For Lion Cub and Arms and Legs, the square that marked the dance floor seemed to repel the crowd as if there was an unannounced game of the floor is lava.
The expression on Chelsea Hahn’s face was still one of continual pleasance, something close to an ‘I’m just happy to be here’ look. Though they currently live in Massachusetts, Hahn and Chad Jewett have deep roots in New Haven, which also housed the creative process for their upcoming debut full-length, Seneca. Between Hahn’s hand-carved stamps for their merchandise and the distinctly folksy content of their songs, they present all the style and aesthetic of lo-fi electronica while rooted in something much more wholesome.
The room’s new color lights whirred around the floor in time with the beat, moving so fast at times that the motion blur mimicked gnats dancing in front of a light. Hahn’s spine was straight, ankles crossed, firing out drum beats on the Nord in front of her while Jewett wailed into the microphone on her left. His guitar was about two sizes too loud for the room, adding abrasiveness to the otherwise pleasance of the two during songs like ‘American Buffalo’ and ‘The Bird on Your Sill.’
Nights like these, Lilly’s Pad seems more like an exclusive loft rather than what it is—an after hours dance floor turned venue. In between acts, most of the crowd would plop into a chair at one of the tables for two along the wall or brazenly socialize behind the bar’s glass partition. The few under 21 mostly loitered awkwardly, but were the ones who braved the invisible frontlines for Arms and Legs’ set.
Arms and Legs have an air of wizened musicianship about them, which could be owed to their time in Beijing playing to thousands via festivals put on by their label Modern Sky Records. Scott Daly moved with positively manic energy which appeared to be gunning through his vocal chords. His voice contradicted his fever and emerged unharmed in Thom Yorke-like croons. He seemed to permeate octaves, leaving a lonely tone to float hauntingly within the darkened room. Each instrument in the mix left the same lingering effect in their wake. At times, the double drums shook your ribs more than the bass throbbed with your pulse. Everyone in the band pulsed trance-like with their parts, making it feel like more of an awakening when a song closed and Daly laughed nervously, saying “Alright, then” or “Whaddaya say, gang?” At one point he excused his banter by saying he’s been listening to too much Jim Morrison lately.
Powerful and authentic, Arms and Legs were certainly the best set of the night. The cycles of applause swelled with more excitement at the close of each song. Yet on top of the powerhouse of instrumentation already in place, every now and then one drummer would turn to an open laptop at his right and play a track to sync into a song. It was the only artificial source of sound in the set, and in that bound all three acts of the night by this common denominator. These were mostly filled out by keys and looped vocals, which could have been manually orchestrated by Daly as he had equipment to do both on either side of him. Then again, he was so possessed by song at times it was like an exorcism taking place above York Street for all passerbies to see. Like Daly has tattooed on his forearm: “Never afraid, never ashamed.”
The reception for Ashworth was like a dinner par- actually, more like the last scene of Titanic. Warm, familiar, with an undertone of excitement for his future endeavors. Also, Leo was at the top of the staircase.
In any case, Ashworth was not among strangers, a crowd he’s earned after 13 years of musicianship. Requests were called out, sneakers fidgeted in clear excitement as the notes to a familiar song began to play (most of which were off 2006’s Etiquette). And at the relentless request of ‘Love Connection,’ Ashworth waved up two eager devotees (notorious and wanted CT Indie contributors John Packer and Megan Manowitz) to awkwardly hammer out the lines to the song over the glow of Packer’s phone which displayed the lyrics to the song just in case. They wanted to hear the song so much, they were even willing to sing the line ‘a delicate blend of sweat and menstrual blood.’ Menstrual blood! Oh god, the fandom!
It’s clear that none of this has reached Ashworth’s head in any negative way. He stood above his motherboard of equipment and microphone, never behaving with any visible gusto though with a subtle precision. Still, he’s probably humbler than the next indie legend. “I feel weird about playing this song because the Sun Kil Moon version was better,” he joked with a dryness stirring up laughter as he went into ‘Natural Light.’ He spoke about his trip to Las Vegas in an especially endearing way, how he visited the Liberace Museum and made sure to capture himself in the shots with mirrors behind immortalized outfits from the musical icon; how he ate lobster not one, but two times. With overtly mortal stories like these, it’s funny to remember that Ashworth is just as goofy as any of us, no matter the lack of underground sensationalism in our lives.
However human, someone still graciously provided him with a bar napkin for his sweat.
Some people prefer what they can expect. A good bar, a modestly-stacked bill (three acts—not too many, not too little) and a decent crowd. This is part-in-parcel for both Manic Productions and Casiotone for the Painfully alone, actually—both known for their consistency in production and backing tracks (well, only one of them is known for the latter. Give you one guess.)
But for all the things you try to anticipate, there are just as many outliers. These tend to define the bands, performances and shows beyond the impression you get from a packaged record. It’s part of why you make the effort to go to these shows, whether they are a debut or final performance.
(Photos: Luke Dringoli)
Here are some more photos from the night taken by Simon Remiszewski: