Friday, October 23, 2009

Rock That Works

Waterloo Records, 10/19

I've been moving all week long, and parts of my computer have been at opposite ends of Austin for most of it. You'll excuse me for writing about a show I attended on Monday, an eternity ago in blog time, I pray. Wiretree are eminently worthy of attention however belated, and I have to get back in the swing of things somehow.

This quartet, who have just released their second record Luck, were recommended highly to me by a number of other musicians when I first began exploring the scene in my new city. I keep a little scrap of paper with a bunch of scrawled band names in my back pocket and it's usually my practice to follow up on these leads on the web as soon as it's convenient. But Wiretree came so highly praised that I decided to do everything I could to avoid their digital recordings until such time as I could see them live.

Streaming music has its uses, but there are lots of places you can hide in 1's and 0's that don't apply onstage. A truly great songwriter's work isn't done until he (or she) has found a way to present those tunes in their best light with a full band. Kevin Peroni's work with Wiretree is rapidly approaching greatness, based on how his band sounds. There's elements of pop/rock from all over in Wiretree's sound. Their precise arrangements recall the Byrds at times; Peroni's vocals can echo those of The Shins' James Mercer; the band's slightly fussy quality reminds of the dB's. But Peroni and company are quickly pushing past the point where they're just a collection of influences, because the strong central vision shared by all of those bands is clearly at work in Wiretree as well.

This is a band that simply doesn't repeat itself. Introducing one song as a callback to the first record is hardly necessary, because the sense of progression in Wiretree's music is so easy to hear. That early tune uses simpler chords but tricky rhythms while the material from Luck adds precisely composed melodies from both guitar players. In Peroni's compositions the band never goes for more than eight bars without something changing dramatically; in the rare instances that the guitars don't change to something new and interesting the drums will pick up the slack. The basslines aren't busy but they're never duplicating something the guitars are taking care of already. In short this is music that's completed, the work of a composer who sweats over every detail in the manner of a sculptor or novelist. For those remaining few local music fans who are listening closely, this is a gift.

In Wiretree's music everything is subject to the needs of the song. Peroni is an amazing keyboard player, as it happens, with some eye-popping jazz chops. But he uses the instrument sparingly, because not every tune requires it. When he does take a solo, it's not the notes he plays that stick with the listener but rather the way he takes care to finish and switch back to guitar so that Joshua Kaplan can begin his lead figure with the proper backing in place. Luck, though lovely, lacks the impact of the stage show, partly because it's a little too stingy with the instrumental sections but mostly because it's more of a solo record than a document of a band playing. That will be the next challenge for an Austin group that's more than prepared for it.

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