Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ghost Dance

Red Leaves, paperthreat
Ghost Room, 11/3

I write mostly about bands in their first year of existence. That's partly by choice. I quite enjoy being the first person ever to write seriously about a new band, and it puzzles me why few other music bloggers feel the same way. There's also an economic factor in play. Anna and I are poor and we couldn't make live music such a big part of our lives paying $15 or more covers three nights a week. When we decided last summer that we were getting the heck out of Boulder, finding a new home where worthwhile cheap and free shows took place was paramount in our thoughts. We nailed it.

Red Leaves have really gotten their stuff together since the first time we saw them. For a band with a pronounced Sonic Youth resemblance, they really know the value of laying back. While their drummer is a constant blur of motion, guitar and bass parts are stripped down. They play off of one another instead of piling on the layers. This puts particular emphasis on the band being very together rhythmically. They weren't always, but a few weeks ago at Ditch the Fest Fest I felt I was seeing them really click for the first time. While drummer Dorian Colbert holds everything together and then some, Marcos Lujan plays spare, intermittent bass pulses. David Lujan strikes suggestive chords in the spaces left by the bass, and Singer Mayberry adds very delicate single-line figures on guitar and second bass. The way they divide up the measure instead of all attacking at once makes them powerful without being loud, and it leaves a lot of room for their vocals to be clearly heard. David and Singer both have great voices for a noisy rock band -- not technically perfect, but memorable and capable of ringing right out over the guitars and drums. His impassioned approach contrasts well with her cooler, sweeter tones, and when they harmonize it's lovely. They've really perfected their basic sound and I look forward to hearing what wrinkles they will come up for it as they get ready to make an album. Their EP Trouble in the City of Water is a great teaser.

As for the unusual, cerebral paperthreat, I could go on for some time about what makes them excel and I will. But Anna C. got right to the main idea as we were walking back to our car at the end of the show: "If they got their songs a little tighter, they could be famous." I agree. The Threat's coalition of electronic dance beats; jazzy chords, horns, and guitar tone; and pop vocals will inevitably draw some lofty comparisons. I hear Tortoise, TV On the Radio, and (that universally acclaimed five-piece British band that no critic can mention by name without immediately losing their credibility). But as always it's not the band's influences that matter but what they choose to do with them, and what you need to know most about paperthreat as a live band is that at certain points during their show Wednesday night people ran, not walked, to the dance floor. They bring a ton of instruments on stage and they can play all of them really well, but at no point does it seem like any of the musicians are showing off. I really like the divide between their main singer's more traditionally pretty lead vocals and the gruff, quirky ones delivered by their guitar player. They also present different approaches lyrically, with more political, universal stories sharing time with quite personal ones. The paperthreat drummer keeps together with the looped elements of their songs without ever seeming enslaved to a click, and their bassist easily switches to keys, laptop, trumpet, and guitar without losing his cool or the timing of his dance moves.

There are a lot of exquisitely trained, technically adept players in Austin, but often as they gain the ability to play more difficult material they lose the ability to form a primal connection with an audience. What sticks out most about paperthreat isn't their jazz chops or their mastery of multiple instruments or their ability to use computer technology correctly. It's that their songs make people dance and they have warm, obvious hooks you can keep returning to. Bassist Rene tells me that clubs in town have a hard time figuring out what other acts they should book with paperthreat. That's a great sign! That's what you should want clubs telling you, lest you end up playing with the same two other bands every three weeks for the rest of your foreshortened career. Venues usually end up letting Rene pick the other bands himself, and he simply selects musicians he wants to see. Yes! Exactly! That's how I want to see more bands operating.

There's a notable free event tonight at Mohawk that I will be attending. It's Local Music Is Sexy presented by the Austinist and the acts I am most excited about seeing there are Markov, Weird Weeds, Dana Falconberry, and Sleep Good. There are also a few bands on the lineup I have encountered before and not enjoyed. That's not a bad thing. After all these raves lately I am beginning to feel like I'm losing my edge. Anyhow, I'll see you downtown.

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