Saturday, October 10, 2009

Never Saw 'Em Coming

Dear and the Headlights, Kinch
Emo's, 10/9

I've become a rising fan of Dear and the Headlights' recorded output somewhat despite myself. The band has a certain air of nonchalance that's either refreshing... or lazy. The way they've given their records long, goofy names; the band name itself. One of their t-shirts for this tour bears the legend "looking less pale after all of these damn summer festivals." Band lore implies that Dear began as a group of drinking and jamming buddies who were hauled into the studio by a producer friend who couldn't believe they didn't realize how good they were. They've won a decent fanbase (although evidently not one in Oklahoma) as one of the best, if certainly not the only, secretly classic rock bands that emo kids embrace. But the appeal of their records to most will hinge on their great singer.

Bands with great vocalists can be less than motivated sometimes -- often they just put him or her up front and go through the paces. Who needs to sweat out arrangements when your frontman sounds like an amplified trumpet? Perhaps it's the festivals, and certainly a lot of the credit belongs to the dramatic drumming of Mark Kulvinskas, but Dear and the Headlights utterly elevate their game when it comes to their live show. Mostly it's the excitement of the songs: they're good, and singer Ian Metzger is, as I mentioned, great, and the band grasps intuitively that to best present them on stage they have to exaggerate the highs and lows. Their records don't lack for drama, but on stage every song -- really every one -- has big crescendos, false endings, sections where everyone save Metzger and a single accompanying musician drop out. Kulvinskas will bust out with a few bars of everything-falls-apart-and-more drum mania, slamming toms, cymbals, and wood block, and then he'll be back to shaking sleigh bells and lightly tapping his hi-hat a moment later.

Close attention has been paid here, because although every song has its moments, it's never the same idea or the same player getting the spotlight. Here there might be an electric piano being pounded in ways its makers never intended, there there might be a 70's disco-soul bassline popping out into prominence. Metzger and his powerful vocals and momentum-providing rhythm guitar are going to catch people's attention regardless, but all praise is due to the group as a collective for getting all four of the other guys engaged and involved. As a result they have a vibe on stage that's contagious -- they're the kind of band where if somebody's laying out for more than a few bars, they grab a tambourine or start clapping their hands or slapping something, not because the music needs it, but because they're having way too much fun to stand still.

I couldn't help but wonder if the dynamic, floppy-haired duo fronting Kinch were brothers; they are not. (They are cousins.) In any event 75% band penetration of black-rimmed glasses and a real live keyboard front and center set an appropriate if somewhat limiting first impression of the band. Their songwriting is friendly and fun, with lyrics and melodies that get into the ear and remain there, and they have lots of little touches that make their power pop-derived sound their own. Brian Coughlin plays some psychedelic slide on his SG, an all-too-uncommon indie rock device. Drummer Jake Malone is fun to watch because he's lefty but plays with a standard righthanded setup; that means he doesn't cross his hands when he's playing the hi-hat and his fill logic is unusual and cool because of it. This very well-written profile from the Phoenix New Times explains how leader Andrew Junker had written 100 songs or more by the time Kinch made their first record. Yep, that's how it's done. He got started writing a song for a school project, too. That strikes a chord with me, as I wrote an entire album-length song cycle about "Macbeth" for an English class in 10th grade. Enough about me, though. Kinch's entire first album is available for free download here; I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't take advantage of that.

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