Sunday, June 05, 2011

Twin Sister Are The Real Deal

One of the really fun and satisfying aspects of watching young new bands is being able to see their artistic and creative abilities emerge in real time. Last night, after the ARTlanta festival, I saw Long Island's Twin Sister for the second time, and heard an even more confident band with a more diverse sound than the one that performed in Atlanta last summer.

This year, Twin Sister played at 529, the East Atlanta spot formerly occupied by retro soul bar The Village. 529 is a tiny, little hole in the wall (in the best sense of the term) with a small bar, an outdoor patio, and a smoky performance room. Cool feature: a closed circuit tv over the bar that shows the band on stage. When I got there, the band was sitting outside at the patio enjoying what appeared to be a few Pabst Blue Ribbons and chatting - I recognized them but didn't go over and bother them at that time.

I had been looking forward to seeing Twin Sister again for a while now (last year they played at The Earl) and to make sure that I didn't get sold out again like had happened with some shows earlier this year, I bought advance tickets on line and requested that they be mailed to my house.

Well, funny thing, though: weeks went by but the tickets never arrived. I was not happy about that, but rather than miss the show altogether, I decided to go anyway, pay the cover charge (the show hadn't sold out after all), and sort it all out with Ticketmaster later.

But here's another funny thing: I got in the club for free. Somehow, I walked right past the guy at the door - I even made eye contact and nodded, but he watched me walk in without saying a word. All I can think is that he figured that the old man he saw walking by him must have been either confused or lost, and that I'd be wandering back out as soon as I realized that The Village was no more and that this was now a club for young people.

I think I confused the bartender, too. When I asked her what time the music started, she thought that I had asked, "What kind of music do you play?", suggesting than an old goober like myself couldn't possibly have been interested in modern rock. But then again, the question would not have been entirely inappropriate, as the closed-circuit tv over the bar was replaying an old, 1970s, Waylon Jennings concert at the time, making me momentarily wonder if I had wandered into the wrong place after all. I also felt a little sheepish as the members of Twin Sister came in from the patio to use the rest rooms and were confronted by Waylon's music from his most belligerent, redneck period, probably reinforcing the Long Islander's stereotypes about the Deep South.

But, whatever, I got in for free, and it wasn't even like I had meant to slip past the bouncer without paying. It was my first time at 529 and I wasn't sure if the guy at the door was collecting the cover or merely checking ID's; when he let me walk right past him, I assumed that he figured it went without question that I was over 21 and that I would pay a cover separately on the inside, like at The Earl. But once inside, I realized that there was no barrier between the bar and the stage, and that I was in, free of any covers. Since I had already paid for tickets on line, I felt that I had already supported the bands and didn't feel any guilt about not contributing anything at the door. Better the club go ahead and sort it all out with Ticketmaster than I.

The evening started with a loud and energetic set by Atlanta's Chandu's. Apparently, I had just missed the Chandu's play at the ARTlantis festival earlier in the day - they played right before Adron, but also right before I got there (I arrived during Adron). Chandu's is the punk-pop collaboration of David Spence and the lovely Jaye Marie Spangler (below), with Lily Roche on keyboards and a guest drummer for the night. They played an exciting set of DIY, low-fi, garage pop, but I wouldn't be honest if I didn't mention that Spangler looked smoking hot on stage in her skin-tight mini-dress. I'm sad to say that the picture doesn't do her justice.

Chandu's were followed by Featureless Ghost, the sci-fi synth project of the "paranoid Altantan mutant pop duo" (according to Altered Zones) of Elise Tippins and Matt Weiner. Their music has been described as sounding a lot like how you imagined the future when you were a kid, and that's not a bad description of their space-age pop. What sets them apart from countless other Animal Collective wannabes, though, are their vocals, sung over their twin synthesizers and through Vocoders, but with a gusto and enthusiasm bordering on soul. Their songs were long but didn't drag, and they kept their set consistently interesting.

Twin Sister didn't take the stage until after midnight, but ultimately played until almost 1:00 am. They opened their set with Meet The Frownies, the song commissioned for the Shaking Through series sponsored by Weathervane Music and Philadelphia radio station WXPN. Shaking Through gives handpicked artists that are short on cash but long on talent a chance to record for a couple days in a nice studio with engineers and producers, for free, to see what happens. The whole process gets filmed and posted on line. The title of the song refers to their “alternate personalities,” and they've claimed that lots of their songs start off as jokes - Meet The Frownies opens with the unforgettable line, "Smoking weed with you in the leaves and the fog" (which, come to think of it, isn't a bad description of their music).

The tiny club was packed with enthusiastic fans, and for the duration of their set, I found myself pressed up against a dancing, buoyant Spangler and Spence of Chandu's, who had stayed around themselves to hear Twin Sister.

With her shaggy blonde hair (wig?) falling into her face and wearing a prim, buttoned-up shirt and long skirt, singer Andrea Estella looked almost like a Mormon version of Stevie Nicks, a significantly different look than she sported last year at The Earl.

Anyway, after Meet The Frownies, they played Lady Daydream and then a couple of justifiably well-received new songs, and then All Around and Away We Go, probably their best-known number. With it's disco-era beat and breathy, almost airy vocals, it wouldn't sound out of place besides Blondie's Heart of Glass, but it's prominent bass line grounds it into this era. All Around and Away We Go was followed by an acoustic number with just Estella and guitarist Eric Cardona on stage, and the full house respectfully quieted down to allow them to perform.

But speaking of new songs, I got a chance to briefly talk with Ms. Estella before their set began. She was hanging out alone by the merchandise table while the band was setting up, and I didn't feel the reticence I exercised earlier when I saw the band on the patio. She couldn't have been kinder, patiently answering my questions and showing no indications of a jaded rock musician's aloofness from her fans. She told me that she was from Patchogue, Long Island, a town I lived in for a few years back in the '70s, and we got to talking about our shared enthusiasm for the beaches of Fire Island. I told her that in my travels, I don't think I've ever seen a better beach - clean white sand, minimal development, and long enough to walk all day and never reach the end. She agreed and told me that the band had wanted to spend the winter on Fire Island to record their new album, but the lack of regular ferry service in the winter months made the logistics too complicated. Instead, they got a place for the winter out in the Hamptons to record. The album, she told me, is coming out later this year.

So I think this is sort of a scoop, an exclusive: Twin Sister apparently have a new album coming out which they recorded while wintering in the Hamptons. It should give their pretty, romantic dream-pop a nice desolate, off-season, beach-y vibe. I'm thinking Meet The Frownies meets Funny Games.

Estella herself is a much more poised and accomplished front-woman than she was last year. Her signature sound is her airy, breathy singing, which she uses to sound alternately sexy and innocent, but she also sang in other tones and to other effects last night. While on stage, she framed her face with her hands, clutched at her skirt, and at one point, kicked off her shoes. In short, she was nothing less than adorable, and she exuded charm and kindness and seemed entirely sincere in her frequent thanks to the audience for the warm reception.

Twin Sister's touring and frequent performances appear to be transforming Estella into even more of an all-around entertainer than before, but at the same time not spoiling her with the arrogance of fame. The band's tight musicianship should provide her a solid foundation to continue to explore her possibilities.

Last night was the second of Twin Sister's current tour, which brings them to Dallas tomorrow night. It's a long drive from Atlanta to Dallas - I hope they know that - but then again, they drove equally far, from New York to Chapel Hill, the night before. I understand that later this year, they'll be playing the Northwest Music Fest in Portland, Oregon.

All in all, it was quite a day for me. I saw a total of six bands - Adron, Lyonnais, and Social Studies outside in the 90+ heat at ARTlanta, and then Chandu's, Featureless Ghost, and Twin Sister in the smoky and crowded 529. I didn't get back home until well after 1 am, late for an old man, and had to then get up early this morning to open the Zen Center and give the Sunday morning dharma talk while the bands, the bouncers, and the bartenders of 529 were still sleeping off the previous night's festivities.

One other thing, and a sad note: As I left home this morning, I saw that someone or something had scooped the nest of the tiny bird out from my mailbox and down onto the street. With the nest destroyed, the hatchlings would have been left out to die. Who would do such a thing?, I wondered as I drove off to the zendo. I investigated the remains when I got home, and could not find the baby birds that had been nested inside. I like to think that the mama bird carried them away to a new nest - I can imagine her carrying them in her beak one at a time - and that some predator hadn't gotten them.

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