Sometimes it's hard to tell from lo-fi online sketches whether a band is any good or not. And sometimes it's all you need. Austin's Fever Dreams have yet to receive any major press notices, but it's certainly not for lack of musical muscle. The quartet have drilled their material to precision, and they can take flights of improvisational fancy or dial into brief allusions to 70's mainstream psychedelic warhorses ("Breathe in the Air" for a few bars, or "Achilles Last Stand") in the way jazz players tip their caps to great melodies past. It's never less than original and it's never boring because the four players are listening hard to each other, and when the electric bass jumps up to play high-register stuff, the guitarist comps; or when the guitar player plays with single-coil delay tone the bassist and keyboardist stay at home. There's a not-at-all fine line between making glorious noise and making a racket. The Fever Dreams were never for a moment on the bad side of that line.
What's more, it was a bit of an unusual show for the boys. Their current drummer was out of town so an alum filled in. That meant it was a bit of a flashback show for the Fever Dreams, covering material they'd been working on leading up to their first record; a second one is nearing completion now. You would have had to hear them say so to know, because they were massively tight in this configuration and didn't lack for stage presence or wit. (I liked the drummer's proclivity for playing beats on the wall behind the stage in addition to on his proper drums.) See them again and it'll be totally different. I will.
Low Red Land, visiting from the Bay Area, cleared the floor quickly. Overloud, with two singers who sang in unison (badly) rather than in harmony and a sequence of songs all of which alternated between two three-stringed guitar chords played with the same syncopation-less "strum as fast as you can" attack, they would have passed for one of the most useless local bands I've yet seen in Austin, were they not in fact on tour. Their bass player could play really fast with his fingers, but only one thing, and their drummer's leaden kicks suggested a rather limited musical imagination despite acceptable meter. When they did stop the annoying two-chord thing for all of one song, you wished that they hadn't, because you could hear the "singing" more clearly and it was quite awful. Also, when they slowed down (again for just that one song) it became clear that the drummer wasn't all comfortable playing in any other tempo, rushing things obviously and adding further unpleasantness to the overall din.
Red Leaves, locals, have at least figured out the harmony thing, but otherwise it was more eardrum abuse. Drummer who can play a lot of stuff, but only at one tempo and one (too loud) volume? Yep. Guitar player/singer who doesn't listen and stabs half-chords at random while wailing? Yes, there's one of those. Barely competent bass player who plays one-in-bar figures (nearly always late) while moving around a lot to hide the fact that he doesn't really know what he's doing? Indeed. And to top it off, a female baritone guitarist/regular guitarist with zero chops plunking away completely out of sync from the rest of the band and creating the overall impression of some hipster jokers who stole a real band's equipment and hijacked their Friday night club booking. There's a lot of this unrehearsed junk going on here in Austin and I've no patience for it.
I'm not going to write a full review of Haunting Oboe Music, who headlined, because schedule demands enforced my departure from Beerland only two songs into their very late set. (With a certain music festival occurring during daylight hours, this gig had a 10:00 PM scheduled first act.) That's certainly not enough time to absorb the full range of a six-piece group with five singers and furiously chaotic tunes that interpolate falsetto harmonies, Hart-Kreutzmann drum duels, jazzy lead guitar flourishes, and heaven knows what else after those first two songs. This particular club might not have been the best venue for first prolonged exposure to this unusual combo, as the small stage led to cramped musicians and sound mix problems galore. I will say that they clearly don't suck, not like certain other performers on the evening, and I will make it a priority to see them again. There's got to be something to a band where both drummers, the keyboard player, and the bass player all sing a lead vocal before either of the guitarists steps up.