Thursday, January 26, 2012

Twin Sister - The Earl, Atlanta, Jan. 25, 2012

The band Twin Sister put on a characteristically terrific performance last night at the redoubtable Earl.  Last evening was my third concert of 2012, and following shows at The Drunken Unicorn and Smith's Olde Bar, it's kind of surprising that it's taken me three performances before I managed to make it on over to The Earl.

The first revelation of the night was the opener, Kid Pyramid.  I hadn't heard of him before, and when he came on stage alone and started playing bass to recordings of his own music, I was dubious.  I've seen plenty of bands employ pre-recorded bass or percussion to accompany their live music, but I've never seen anyone play bass live to accompany their pre-recorded music before.  Further, I typically am distrustful of anyone on stage with so much of their music in pre-recorded form - they might just be lip-synching for all I know, and even if not, a lot of the spontaneity of a live set is lost to the dictates of the recordings.  

When John Maus "played" The Earl last year, he at least compensated for his lack of a band by his manic, extreme performing style, and Maus set the bar pretty damn high for anyone else trying to sing on stage to their own recordings.

Kid Pyramid didn't go the John Maus route - no jumping around the stage or pounding his own chest - but he won over the audience, including your humble narrator, by singing his punchy electro-pop songs in a clear voice that rose above the music so that his lyrics could be easily heard and understood.  His Facebook page indicates that Kid Pyramid is "the live, recorded and remix adventures of Ben Coleman from Judi Chicago / Noot d' Noot" (two Atlanta bands), and having framed the concept in that way, it makes sense that he performs the way that he does.

The oddness of the set-up wore off by the second or third song, and thereafter Coleman carried the set - and won over the audience - on the strength of his songs. 

Keeping Myself Amused is a great addition to the proud tradition of rock 'n' roll songs about masturbation, which includes The Who's Pictures of Lily and The Vapors' Turning Japanese.  Kid Pyramid sang his entry like a lounge singer, microphone in hand, stepping off the stage and into the audience, even kneeling down on the floor and then leaning back on his knees like a soul crooner. 

Phone call for Mr. Pyramid.

The Kid Pyramid set was far better than I would have thought, given the apparent limitations of his DIY approach, although I would like to hear these songs played by a full band some day.  But in any event, Mr. Coleman proved himself to be an excellent entertainer and a capable frontman.  The crowd insisted he stay on stage for a final song, a largely improvised number, with lyrics about something he called "the biscuit of my youth."

Kid Pyramid was followed by Brooklyn's Ava Luna.  The band is a sextet featuring three vocalists who frequently exchange lead and backup roles, mixing soulful R&B and quirky indie-pop into their own unique sound. The Village Voice has described them, not inaccurately, as "Stax meets Kraftwerk."  My initial impression on seeing a couple of videos was Dirty-Projectors-meets-Pickwick, but on hearing them live, I'd have to throw in a little Talking Heads and even a dash of Prince.  Not that they're at all imitative of these other band - they write their own songs and seem to be following their own muse.

Several of their songs end with unaccompanied, soulful vocal lines, emphasizing the emotional content of the lyrics, and it's a testament to their showmanship that the club was very nearly silent during these quieter passages.  They're fun to listen to and fun to watch perform, and I suspect that they will be heard from in the near future.  

In what should be an advertisement for Casio, their keyboard got knocked off its stand and fell to the floor twice during their set, once during the setup and again in the middle of a song, and kept on working fine.  Took a lickin' and kept on tickin', as it were.  

Part of the fun of seeing a Twin Sister performance is to see what look singer Andrea Estella will bring with her to the stage.  She's a virtual chameleon, and when she played The Earl back in 2010 she had black hair and wore a shoulderless tube top, and when she played the 529 last year, she had blonde hair and wore a prim, button-up blouse.  I've seen her in videos with her hair all teased out like Stevie Nicks, but when she stepped on the stage last night in a preppy sweater and collared shirt, she let her nearly straight blonde hair fall over her face and shoulders.  I don't know if she's ever looked more adorable than she did last evening (my amateurish photography does not do her justice).

They opened their set as they have in the past with Meet The Frownies, followed by the sassy Bad Street.  Most of their set was culled from their new album, In Heaven.

With every passing year, the band gets tighter and more accomplished, and at last night's concert, Twin Sister played some of the most adventurous and experimental music I've heard from them yet, while still covering their most popular songs faithfully enough to keep the audience happy.  It's very satisfying to hear them continue to grow as musicians and as a band, and all of the touring and constant performing is obviously serving them well.

Ms. Estrella's voice is also getting stronger and more assertive, although I miss some of the breathy, almost whispered singing of the past.  The change was particularly noticeable during All Around and Away We Go from their 2010 EP Color Your Life, one of the few songs played last evening not from In Heaven.  That song in particular was marked by Ms. Estella's airy, almost ethereal, vocals, but performing it last night, her voice was more pointed and assured, creating a new interpretation of the song, although the distinctive disco beat of the signature synthesizer line remained unchanged.

Twin Sister played a nearly 60-minute set to a very enthusiastic audience, ending with a mostly instrumental number that explored Sonic Youth-style noise before settling into The Other Side of Your Face.  They carried the energy of their closing song into their encore, ultimately sending the audience home well past midnight but very satisfied.

Twin Sister are a totally charming and likable band, from the charisma and allure of the lovely Ms. Estella to the workmanlike musicianship of her band.  I feel a special connection with them, as well, not merely due to the number of times I've seen them perform, but to the fact that Ms. Estella and others in the band are from Patchogue, New York, a suburban town on the South Shore of Long Island in which I lived for a couple of years in the mid-1970s.  Those were formative years for me on many levels, but I never expected that a band of this caliber would arise from that unassuming town.  

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