Thursday, October 8, 2009

White Light White Heat

Isle of White, The Riot Scene
Beerland, 10/8

I'm growing to really dig Beerland. It's casual but no-B.S., if the sound is bad it's the band's own damn fault, and they have easily accessible water. The brick wall behind the stage is excellent for projecting drum sound, and they usually have "King of the Hill" reruns on the TV's. What else do you need?

Last night it was back again to check out the live set of Isle of White, a power-pop quartet whose EP bears the distinction of having been subjected to my first local review as a genuine local. Their songs are strong, with clever lyrics, persistent melodies, and varied and occasionally outright surprising arrangements. As a live act, they're still working out some kinks. Daniel Stone's vocals are strong and audible, but the guitars are often muddy. Their bassist sounds better on stage than he did on the record, but there's still an awful lot of four-in-a-bar dullness, and mistakes if you're listening closely enough. I do like seeing him step out a bit more in some of the band's dramatic, extended arrangements, but not to the extent that the bottom falls out of the mix -- one of the guitarists needs to pick up for him there. (Also: Bassists in general, learn and embrace your seconds, thirds, and sixths. Knock off that pentatonic stuff, that's for guitar players.)

Isle of White are tight, even when the guitars are less clear than they should be, thanks to strong drumming and a solid knowledge of the material from all four guys. The stage harmonies at this point are kind of a disaster -- maybe they should leave those bits out until they've got the guitars reined in to the degree that the backing singers can hear what they're doing. I like the way the songs never go verse to chorus and back again, but not every song has to be epic. One breakdown with snazzy guitar chopping on the upbeats is cool, but the impact is diminished when it's recycled for another tune. I really like the alternating leads from the two guitarists, but a lot of the instrumental breaks could be half as long as they are now with little loss of momentum. Both White and Dusty Doering do some cool, unexpected things at times, from harmonized leads to whole-step key shifts to major-to-minor modulation. Less fuzz would help this be more evident to everyone.

Only caught a few songs by The Riot Scene but really dug what I heard, particularly their drummer's calisthenics pounding tom-and-snare combinations. Like the way their singer/guitarist uses palm-muting cleverly to mix up the rhythms during the slow parts and even lays out here and there, relying on the bassist to keep the pulse. Nice variety of stage presence styles, with the bassist and singer getting down and the skilled lead guitarist staying hidden underneath his watch cap, almost motionless. I like the way the bassist's screaming alternates with the lead singer's slightly more melodic approach, and the skewed-but-effective way they harmonize (after a fashion). Cool band, must see them again.

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