April 14th, 2008

April 2008 concert 1: KEXP Audioasis live at the High Dive

Two Saturdays ago, on April 5, I went to the High Dive for a concert and live broadcast of KEXP's local music show Audioasis. KEXP has been doing these broadcasts at the High Dive on the first Saturday of each month for just over a year now, and the proceeds of each show are donated to a local charity, in this case the Seattle Public Library Foundation. The performances of two bands are broadcast live on the air during the normal hours (6-9 PM PST) of Audioasis, and then a few bands perform after the broadcast. For this show, Mono In VCF and The Dimes were featured on the air, followed by The Transmissionary Six, A Gun That Shoots Knives, Cancer Rising, and finally an encore performance by Mono In VCF.

Since first seeing Mono In VCF live at the Triple Door in February, I had been wondering how the band would sound in a small club, and whether they would use the full seven-member lineup or just the core quartet. The answers in short are, they did use the full septet, and they sounded almost as gorgeous as before. Some nuances were lost occasionally in the general volume even in the early set, before the levels were turned up for the later acts, but still it seemed fairly well-balanced for a large band in a small club. One detail I noticed in this performance, one of the guitarists actually used the head of his guitar to play a keyboard part simultaneously during the song "Spider Rotation", which I thought was pretty neat.

The Dimes played a mix of upbeat indie-pop and slower folky songs. They sounded something like early R.E.M. or perhaps The Decemberists, mixing in some mandolin and melodica to their basic lineup of three guitars, bass, and drums. I half-jokingly remarked to a friend at the show, "they sound like a Portland band," as indeed they are from Portland. They decorated the stage some, adding in an old TV and floor lamp and many candles, creating a living-room feel for their set. Although the band were all decent players and the music was appealing, they didn't really catch on with me, but I can see them getting popular.

The Transmissionary Six, belying their name, appeared as a quintet at this show, including lead singer Terri Moeller and musicians on bass and backing vocals, guitar/pedal steel guitar/backing vocals, guitar, and drums. (Their MySpace page suggests up to nine people are regular band members, with a bunch more occasional members.) They had an even stronger folk element to their sound than The Dimes, almost being country-rock. They reminded me of the Cowboy Junkies, and Moeller has a similar nice low voice. Their songs were more on the midtempo moody side than rocking out.
They had a good sound, and although I wasn't compelled to seek out a CD, I'd like to hear them again and they may grow on me.

As A Gun That Shoots Knives were setting up the stage for their set, something told me I'd better put in my earplugs. Perhaps it was the wacky costumes they wore, or the large gong they set up, but I guessed that this was not to be another moody folk-rock band. Sure enough, the quartet (vocals/keyboard/gong, guitar/backing vocals, bass/backing vocals, drums) seemed to be a noisy punk band at first, but proved to be something more. Their songs were more melodic than the typical fierce-young-guy punk band, with vocals that were (more or less) sung rather than growled or hoarsely screamed. The music had an early eighties vibe to it, hinting at the reggae-influenced punk of The Clash and The Police, and varied from upbeat to fast and thrashing. Their song topics included literacy (apropos for the benefit), karate dojo, sushi, birthdays, an exhortation to "stay in school motherfucker", and a faux-metal tribute to the Balrog of Moria (yes, really - and it was AWESOME). The lead singer was very engaging, at one point asking the audience proudly, "Do you like the gong? We rented it for the weekend!" A Gun That Shoots Knives was highly entertaining both to watch and to hear, and I'll be looking for them in the future.

Cancer Rising, in short, were not my thing. A hiphop trio including two rappers and a turntablist, they seemed to me the most out of place in the evening's lineup, although in fairness the whole lineup was pretty disparate and A Gun That Shoots Knives was just as strong a contrast to the previous bands. I did recognize at least one song that I knew from KEXP airplay and found it reasonably enjoyable, though unfortunately I don't now remember what it was. I thought the DJ made good use of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Phenomena" for one rap, but otherwise I didn't notice anything remarkable (which I think says more about my listening than his actual skills). For the most part though, I found them abrasive and didn't care for the set.

Finally, Mono In VCF closed the evening with a second set, featuring a different order and more songs. Both of their sets included a new song, which was great to hear. In this set they had a weird break in middle, that seemed like it might be technical difficulties. Then they began an instrumental, and then to my surprise brought out Cancer Rising to rap over it. I didn't think that blended well at all, but I have to give both groups props for giving it a try. There seemed to be a lot more people talking rather than listening during this set, but it was the end of the evening, and perhaps the juxtaposition of Cancer Rising and Mono In VCF made for a weird mix in the audience. In the early set, the band had an almost Cocteau Twins sound for the song "Chanteuse"; for the late set's last song, "Cinch Ring" (if I recall correctly), the higher volume levels produced a lot of shoegazer-style feedback. It was totally worthwhile to stay through the whole evening - including Cancer Rising's set that I didn't care for - to hear Mono In VCF twice, and I can only see my love for the band growing.

I ended up not getting many good photos, as for the most part I was not near the stage. I did upload 11 photos, starting here.

I should probably add a disclaimer: although I am a volunteer at KEXP, the opinions expressed in this review (and all others on my blog, for that matter) are solely my own and do not represent or reflect the views of KEXP.