Besides Sawka on drums and samples, Emilia's backing band included a guitarist and a keyboardist. Emilia herself had a fine voice that reminded me of Beth Orton. Her music was slow to mid-tempo pop mixed with downtempo electronica and a grooviness between jazz and blue-eyed soul. Although I liked Emilia's sound, I found to my surprise that it wasn't really catching me. Maybe I was expecting something closer to KJ Sawka's solo breakbeat sound or even like his previous project Siamese. In any case, Emilia was still a good start to the evening, and as I knew nothing of the other two bands, I felt satisfied that I'd seen at least one worthwhile band. As it turned out, the rest of the show proved to be even better.
Pilot Speed are a quartet of guys from Toronto on vocals and keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. As I mentioned, I knew nothing of this band and had no particular expectations, but my eyes widened with surprise during the very first song: these guys were good, really good. They played a rousing set of songs featuring ringing guitar and soaring vocals, somewhere between the dark moodiness of Interpol and the brighter pop of the Delays. (At the time, the only band I could think of in comparison was Boston band The Sheila Divine; it's a good comparison if you happen to know that band.) I haven't heard a band like this in concert in quite some time - not at least since seeing Aberdeen City in December 2005, and probably Interpol some time in 2003 before that - so I enjoyed the set all the more. I made sure to pick up their current CD, Into The West, after the show, and I'll be looking to hear more from them.
Annuals are a sextet from North Carolina, including Adam Baker (lead vocals), Kenny Florence (guitar), Mike Robinson (bass), Zack Oden (guitar), Anna Spence (keyboards), and Nick Radford (drums). However, it's misleading to list them so, because most of the members played at least one other instrument during the set. In particular, guitarist Zack played a second drum kit for half the songs, and Adam and Kenny each had a drum of his own to pound on occasionally; some songs featured all of them drumming at once, along with Nick. Anna and Mike also played a bit of percussion. In fact, the effect was that of having a band twice their actual size; I joked about them being a quarter-strength Polyphonic Spree, but that was actually pretty apt. They also had some of the quirkiness of the Flaming Lips, and the sweetness of Tahiti 80. Their skill as musicians became apparent when they had four people drumming: the keyboards, bass, and vocals weren't drowned out during those times, as the overall sound wasn't louder, it was just more textured. As with Pilot Speed, I was quite impressed with how good Annuals were, and I eagerly bought their current CD Be He Me too. Annuals are a young band with lots of talent and promise, and I expect them to get a lot of attention as the year goes on.