Friday, October 07, 2011

The show last night by Stillwater, Oklahoma's Other Lives at the Drunken Unicorn was one of the best start-to-finish concerts by a band I've heard in a while - it's up there with The Head and the Heart's performance at Variety Playhouse or the final portions of The Antlers' set at the accursed Masquerade after all the noise from upstairs finally subsided. And that's saying something.

The video above (Friday Night Video) is a fan-generated effort, not an "official" video, but it's pretty good and does capture their sound and mood fairly well.

So, last evening I headed over to the Drunken Unicorn as part of Rocktober to see Other Lives.  For those of you new here, Rocktober is my imaginary early autumn music festival, cobbled together by attending as many concerts in Atlanta in as many different venues as possible. It started way back on September 17 and at the current rate I expect it to last until the end of this month, and I haven't yet been to the same venue twice.

I hadn't heard the other two bands sharing the bill last night with Other Lives, but was quite pleasantly surprised by the opener, Chicago's Yawn.

Yawn is a quartet of talented young multi-instrumentalists.  The band has two frontmen,  Adam Gil and Sam Wolf, who share vocal duties, and during many songs, the two alternate vocal passages as well as harmonize.  Both also play guitar and  electronics, and the bass is passed back and forth between Mr. Wolf and Daniel Perzan, who also plays guitar and electronics when he's not holding the bass.  Their excellent drummer, Jorge Perez, plays standing up.  

But beyond being mere versatile musicians, their songs are interesting and fun.  There are many tempo changes and other twists and turns in their compositions, as well as the loops and overdubs they get from their repeaters and other electonics, and the different sounds they coax out of the synthesizers.  But their music is not instrumental or electonica, and is primarily driven by their vocals and the beat. Here's a sample I just downloaded from their web site, and the hilarious opening and closing sequences may very well indicate exactly why they clicked for me the way that they did.

Their performance last night was not nearly as derivative of Animal Collective as the My Girls-style video suggests.

So, they were a complete surprise to me.  Musically, they're nothing like Other Lives, and yet somehow they seemed like the perfect opening act - they woke everyone up, got everyone in a great mood, and had us eagerly anticipating more.  

But did I mention multi-instrumentalists?  I lost track of how many instruments Other Lives played on stage: in addition to the usual guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums, they featured violins, cellos, harmonium, piano, organ, zither, and much more.  One band member in particular, Jonathan Mooney, was often playing a trumpet with one hand and holding a violin in the other with a guitar or bass slung across his back, all  while standing in front of a vibraphone and a keyboard.  Here he is on guitar and trumpet:

Meanwhile, sometimes it seemed that Jenny Hsu was just showing off.  Between cello and violin and other strings (including the aforementioned zither), she'd produce a pair of castanets just to accent one or two lines of a single song, only to have them disappear again for the rest of the evening.  And check out whatever it is  she's playing at the 1:20 mark during Tamer Animals:

Of course, once she captures a loop of it by 1:52, there's no need to pull it out again.  There were probably a half dozen other instruments that made brief appearances at one point or another, but as I said, I lost track.

They played their beautiful and moody music perfectly, the mix was perfect, and I had goose-bumps during almost their entire set.  Here are the pictures:

But amazingly, at least to me, they were not the headliners.  Mates of State, the husband-and-wife duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, got the top billing.  I hadn't heard them or heard of them before, but I tried to like them, I really did.  Mates of State play party music, and the packed house seem to be having a blast.  

But after the complex-but-moody, almost-melancholy-but-also-at-times-spiritually-uplifting music of Other Lives, it was a bit of a jarring transition.  Most of the crowd, other than your bald-headed narrator, was obviously there to see Mates of State, and I think it speaks well of the artistry of Other Lives that they kept the party-happy Mates of State audience so spellbound and absorbed for their "and now for something completely different" set.  I like party music (Yacht, Givers) as much as the next person, but I just couldn't get a hook into Mates of State's music.  Everyone else in the audience seemed to know every song, cheering in recognition at the first one or two notes of each one and frequently singing along, But I felt left out in the cold.  

Don't get me wrong: they weren't bad - not at all - it just wasn't what I wanted to hear right then.  I stayed through what I think was most of their set, well over 30 minutes, before I finally slipped out the back and went home.  

Whatever.  For what it's worth, here's the pics:

After looking at these pictures, I wonder in retrospect if it wasn't the cotton clouds and the Drunken Unicorn's decision to go with green lighting for their set that made me feel so queasy.

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