Good Lazy System, Forever Changes
Dives of North Loop, 12/16
Our friend Ariel is one of those people who just belongs in bands. You can tell by the way he can't stand still while he's playing or even waiting to play, eyes full of anticipation and body crackling with potential energy. Every time we see him he talks about his latest project with the fervor of a politician campaigning. He's also one of the only people I know who reads everything I write. I hope it helps him in finding what he's looking for musically. Like a lot of young musicians I know, he tends to shift from band to band, instrument to instrument, sound to sound restlessly looking for the right fit. I would encourage him to continue working with his colleagues in Good Lazy System.
They're not awesome yet, but at their show Thursday at the North Loop Parlor the System demonstrated that they have the potential to grow into a good band. The mistakes they made are the ones nearly everybody makes at first. They took forever to set up and they goofed around way too much before starting the music proper (including an endless, sloppy opening cover that was bad enough to make me half consider leaving). They don't quite have mastery of their equipment yet. They had tuners, but they weren't quite sure how they worked. And they really need to spend some time working out the right EQ for their bass and two guitar amps. Although they were impressively tight for a three-month-old band, they didn't sound good at all... the bass sounded muddy, kick drum was completely inaudible, and the thin, trebly guitars lacked the bite they needed to give their rocking moments gut-punching force. The best prescription for this is to play lots more shows.
Getting instruments to sound right is elementary compared to writing good songs to play on them, and that's where I feel Good Lazy System have a leg up. Their sound has elements of late 80's-early 90's punk, particularly the upbeat-conscious, ska-influenced side of The Clash and its followers like Rancid or Op Ivy. That's blended with a bid of florid Manchester romanticism held over from singer/guitarist Ariel's last project, Consider Me Spilled. Despite the blend of punk and (Brit-) pop, they're not punk/pop. They tend to yell rather than sing when the tempos get fast, and their bassist balances the prettier singing with some rap-inflected hardcore hectoring.
I was impressed by how far they had come with their arrangements... the guitars didn't play in unison, and they varied the instrumental mix. Some local bands never figure out that doing stuff like pausing together, having the guitars and bass lay out in turn, and linking together changes with riffs or variations not only makes your music more interesting, but it also demonstrates to people who know how to listen that you've actually practiced and done the difficult, sometimes contentious group work of hashing out the details. That's why I have high hopes for Good Lazy System. They know how to work together, and how to creatively blend their different points of view. Next they maybe need a sound guy... and for the rest of the band to take a cue from Ariel's high activity level on stage. It was easy to tell that some members of the band were more comfortable being the center of attention than others. Ariel did a power slide, the "walk into the audience while soloing" move, and took off his jacket dramatically (for the ladies). On the other hand the second guitar player made only one facial expression the whole show, and that was during his sleigh bell solo... "Oh, no, now people are looking at me!"
Earlier in the day but just a few strides down the block Austin's own Love tribute Forever Changes played about half a set in front of the food trailer Counter Culture before the police arrived to tell them that, sorry, but playing in a parking lot on a weekday night half a block from a residential neighborhood is a bad idea. I guess I should go see them again since they didn't get to finish and they were playing without their usual second guitarist. I kind of liked them as a trio, though. I've written before about how the challenge for cover bands is pleasing hardcore fans of the original material while still having enough personal style to make the music their own. The garage-band approach to the famously orchestrated Love is a winning one, I think. I liked the way their singer/guitarist abstracted melodically packed instrumental breaks into winningly simple solos. The bass player's ability to carry the songs while the guitar player did his thing showed both dedication to the material on his part and the timeless quality of Arthur Lee's songs, which have simple changes but sophisticated structure. (Listening to Forever Changes reminded me more than anything of The Sour Notes. I'm going to have to ask Jared if he's a Love fan the next time I see him.)
Forever Changes has a great drummer, too. The drumming on 60's rock records is really challenging to approach if you grew up listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Drummers back then didn't have half a century's worth of rock texts to crib from, so they took cues from jazz, theater, easy listening, and elsewhere. Run-of-the-mill cover bands often get the guitars and the singing just right but end up sounding totally wrong because of the drummer. (I've never heard a single band in Austin get the Stones right because the drummers always play on the beat instead of behind it the way Charlie Watts does.) Forever Changes, although they could have picked a less obvious name, has both the creative spirit and the annoying details figured out to do Love justice. Obsessive fans (and to the best of my knowledge Love has no fans who aren't obsessive) will be well pleased.