Monday, July 26, 2010


Quiet Company, Calliope Musicals
Threadgill's, 7/23

I'm still not sure if I am a Quiet Company fan or not. What I can say for certain is that I am a fan of their song "Jezebel," which is a power ballad Skid Row or Slaughter would be proud to have written. And I don't mean that at all in a sarcastic way. I'm literal about everything, including my affection for monster ballads. When I was first starting to develop music tastes of my own in the very late 1980's, Mr. Big and Tesla made two of my favorite cassettes. It's not easy to write a song with an aching melody broad enough for the ladies and a driving power-chord climax behind which everyone can unite to pump fists. "Jezebel" is an amazing track and I kind of want the band to make a video for it set in an aircraft hangar, dressed in spandex and adding a gong to their drum setup simply for effect.

I'm glad that I've kept following the band even after the negative impression the first show of theirs I caught left me. There's more layers to Quiet Company than I first thought, and that goes a long way towards explaining their mounting popularity. At this weekend's show they proved to be less literal-minded still, setting up behind cutesy light-up letters spelling out "L-O-V-E" and then carpet-bombing through a set that past "Jezebel" and a few singles was macho enough for a biker rally. After beginning to hear some more of their range as composers on the Songs for Staying In EP it was curious to hear them head for the opposite pole, throttling their instruments and screaming as much as singing.

It's easy for a writer to focus in on their romantic side since the intentions of those songs are so clear. You can hate on "How Do You Do It" for being saccharine, but you can't say that it doesn't have a point to make. For their more questing, spiritual material Quiet Company are more willing to try unexpected bursts of ugliness in with all the melodies. That's good. There is certainly more to them than a Death Cab fan poking piano chords on the downbeats. As I understand them better I still have questions. Now that I have a bit more of an appreciation for their writing beyond love songs, I'm confused about how all the parts fit together.

Their singer Taylor howls in their most confrontational, self-doubting moments. But then a moment later he's all sweetness and light. I'm uncomfortable with the answers to these wrenching questions being found in such lightweight, "ba-da-ba" singing moments. (And I'm genuinely sick of frontmen who complain on stage about not wanting to come and play shows to appreciative, cheering, lyrics-memorizing fans.) "Jezebel" is different; its narrator accepts that easy answers aren't arriving but still yearns for a world where they might. Quiet Company's "light" songs are kind of childish; their "heavy" songs are so adolescent they need zit cream. "Jezebel" is the only fully adult one I've heard them do so far. I will be listening for more.

Calliope Musicals are a band with an identity crisis. The principals, vocalist Carrie Fussell and guitarist Matt Roth, don't seem to have a strong sense of what audience they're aiming for or how they need to present their songs to best serve them. I've seen them three times and although the material each time out was similar it could have been three entirely different bands. Once they were a dotty hippie-indie act, then coffeehouse folk, and now with a loud pocket drummer and bassist they sound like big ol' state fair country-rock entertainers. Of their various incarnations this one seems the most natural and crowd-pleasing for Calliope. Carrie is a good performer, with a glorious voice, and in the open air with a powerful sound behind her I was really moved hearing her just open up and let rip.

But if the band is going to let the rhythm section dictate the arrangements to this extent they have to make adjustments in the frontline. I really feel for the plight of vibes player Craig Finkelstein. His role in the band has changed constantly and it's not hard to guess why his playing seems completely at odds with the whole group now that they've gone and zig-zagged another time. With the lineup they have now he should be playing mostly as a second melodic voice behind the lead vocals, but he's still kind of plinking away at random through no fault of his own. He had to fill the role of both bassist and drummer for a time and now he's supposed to give up doing both all at once. Roth's rhythm guitar playing and second vocals don't really feel appropriate to the new drum and bass sound either. The band sounds brawny and populist where Matt's writing calls for quirky and off-center.

Free shows this week: Our new friends in The Sour Notes are at Hole in the Wall again on Wednesday and they're playing with Milk Thistle, who I wouldn't mind seeing again... pretty much any place in town is going to have better sound than the Beauty Bar, where I saw them the first time. White Dress are on that show as well and they come highly recommended. Also Wednesday Honey Thief are at the Parlor (North Loop). New instrumental rock trio Vanished Clan play the same joint Friday. And Entropy play the Carousel Lounge Wednesday.

Saturday at the Starving Art Studios, 2324 E. Cesar Chavez, is the grand opening of Iggi's Texatarian, a veggie food trailer. It starts at five, will have free beer, and the following bands are appearing: Stunts, Wine and Revolution, Mira Loma and the Bad Vibes, Mermaid Blonde, Coma in Algiers, Wild Harem, and The Zoltars.

Saturday night at the USAA is the Austin Bazaar Music Fest. This is a terrific lineup for any weekend show, let alone a free one: Real Book Fake Book, White Rhino, Sweetmeat, Tornahdo, and (Kurt Rightler playing double duty!) Squidbucket.

1 comment:

  1. Carrie does have a beautiful voice!... And she's super nice, too. ^_^