Thursday, February 24, 2000
~concert reviewed by Michael Otley
The Upstage is a bar and concert venue above the Wichita restaurant in Olde City Philadelphia. I got there around the time the first band was supposed to play, though there was pretty much no one there with exception to the employees and the band members. I guess everyone know shows don't start on time. So I sat down on one of their comfy couches in the large room facing the elevated stage (five feet aprox). I would have been fine there waiting if it weren't for the irritating music they were playing. Sounded like a bad yet clean Clash rip-off band, although I think it was actually a bunch of different bands. But let us jump forward in time to the first performers.
Apparently all the bands were from Michigan, though I can't imagine that they are all on tour together, at least I didn't get that impression, though some of them had to be (as the second and last bands shared a member, and I noticed some connections to lead me to believe the first was with these other two bands as well).
None the less, Heart + Hand was first which consisted of a man behind a sampler or four-track and another man with a black sheet-like outfit dancing, or moving rather, in front of the stage. The music started with noise loops and then added drum beats and techno-like sounds. It seemed to be one long continuous piece and ended with a very calming scratchy buzz after about 20 minutes or so. I'm guessing it was about 20 minutes that we were all (everyone in the place) watching the man dancing infront of the stage. His movements at first were very eerie. the black sheet-like outfit gave him the ability to twist parts of his body making the form look very unhuman. Eventually he lost the sheet and the dance took on a less spooky and almost silly approach. They certainly got everyone's attention.
The second band, Flashpaper, consisted of four individuals who all live in separate cities now, but got together again for this tour. One guitarist/singer, one violist, one bassist (stand-up bass), and one guy with a lap-top and a little xylaphone. I really loved this band. The guitarist's approach reminded me of Low, but the rest of the band presented a more raw Rachel's kind of building up and then release. The guitarist's voice cracked and whined as he sung too high, though intentionally, and that worked (for some reason he reminded me of the lead singer of Luna, though he might have just looked a lot like him). The added effects of the lap-top were also successful and tasteful. Our lap-top/xylaphone player switched instruments with the guitarist for one instrumental that proved to have an even more indie-rock, yet soft, appeal.
The third band, The Weather, had a much more alternative rock approach, with two guitars (each trading lead vocals), drums, and bass. Although they didn't seem to fit in with the show, a few people seemed to really enjoy them (with beers in hand). I actually thought they were local until someone said all the bands were from Michigan, though maybe they were wrong. For some reason they played one song, prefacing it with, "most of the band doesn't like this song." Almost needless to say, it was their worst. However, their best song was a lengthy instrumental written for their favorite airline (I didn't catch the name of the airline). It was slower than the rest and very full. The guitarists both experimented a bit more with their sounds and with harmony.
Headlining was His Name Is Alive, a band I'd been waiting to see live for some time. Shamefully I'm not familiar with their recordings, although I do know that their first CD was released ten years ago (this being their tenth anniversary tour). From what they said, I gathered that they played music from the first release, their next release, and plenty in-between. For those who don't know His Name Is Alive (I didn't), I would describe their sound as experimental indie rock with some 70's influence as well as some Portishead thrown in. That's probably an awful description, though it will give you some idea. The guitarist (who also spoke for the group) played one song by himself before the rest of the band joined him. A fairly androgynous looking girl sat behind her minimal drum set, the guitarist of Flashpaper strapped on a bass, an almost goth looking blond girl in black sat behind an old keyboard, and a beautiful and shapely short African-American woman with big hair framing a serious and smiling face walked up front to the center microphone.
This band has a lot of character and were a lot of fun. All of their songs were nicely arranged and well performed. The singer's voice was brilliant, the guitarist had a great sense of humor and took full advantage of his wawa pedal. They used some fairly simple drum loops for a couple songs in addition to the minimal drum set up they were using; all the drums were fairly simple and very pleasing. The most memorable portion of the night was when they played a song about a Rhinausorous and all of the sudden a Rhino comes running out of no where. Ok, it was a man with a cardboard outfit, but it was impressive. He danced around and ran into people.
Another person brought out a sign "RHINO TOSS" and handed out big wooden rings to toss at the rhino's cardboard horn (which was actually very stable). After successfully tossing the ring (ok I cheated and just put it on his horn), I was badged on my shoulder with a Rhino Toss Ribbon. How proud I am. At one point the guitarist jumped off stage and started chasing the Rhino around. It was a blast for everyone. Good music, good fun, I'd recommend His Name Is Alive's live show to just about anyone.
New York City
February 14, 2000
~reviewed by Michael Otley
The venue was right next to CBGB's, in fact I'm told it is actually part of it. It felt like a nice coffee shop with a bar. Maybe that's what it was, I really don't know. Before the show we heard the new Cure album from beginning to end, as they were doing some promotional Cure CD give-away.
While setting up his guitar sound, Bella Morte guitarist Bn gave away his Cure influence (as if it's not obvious anyway) by playing a few licks along with the CD. We sat in chairs all around the room. I know that isn't encouraging to see the audience sitting like that, but I felt like it was a nice little change, as I'm used to standing in a big crowd of people. A few got up to dance throughout the show, but I just sat and bobbed my head, tapped my feet, and kept track of the set-list.
After the boys disappeared (to put their hair up), they came out ready to play. They started with a very new song, "Demons", that begins with very full and powerfully slow chords. It wasn't long before the song broke into uptempo gothic rock, Bella Morte style with Andy jumping around the stage in a fit of energy. "Fall No More" (off the Dancing Ferret label compilation Vampire the Masquerade) followed, another powerful goth song with electronic structure supported by the textures of live guitars and bass along with Andy's clear and strong vocals (the key to much of Bella Morte's music). The next song (the title track to their most recent release) "Where Shadows Lie" is a fast and very upbeat song, with (of course) a lot of energy. Bn and Gopal jumped in with some vocal support for the key line of the chorus. The movement of the band was tremendous, their energy pouring out of them. Bn was almost attacking his guitar as it squealed to the song's end, very appropriately.
For "The Rain Within Her Hands" (also off of Where Shadows Lie) Bn switched to supporting keyboards. The song is much more laid back and very beautiful. I'm still very impressed with the drum program for that song, as it has so much texture that is often lost in programs (but not here). For "Always", Bn picked up his guitar again. This song is a very interesting one, with an odd electronic program, strange hard to describe music (almost something jungle-like about it). With Bn's strong guitar parts this comes off heavily Cure influenced. I can't say enough how impressed I was with Bn's performance. As the newest member of the band, he's had some catching up to do, and over the past year or so he's really done it.
Another new one, "Through the Window", followed. I was impressed by Bella Morte's consistency with this set. Every song was so strong and the sound was so good. Past shows Bn's guitar has been often difficult to hear or the keyboards or base fade away, but everything was pretty much right on. In the past I'd often focused on Andy jumping around, or Gopal's fulfilling bass performance, but for much of this show I concentrated on Bn's sure handed and energetic guitar playing. He uses his guitar well and the effects he uses are always well suited to the song, never too much effect for effect's sake. It's a very tactful approach, rocking out when called for, fading notes in and out when needed for atmosphere, etc. He utilizes these tactics in "Relics" (again off of Where Shadows Lie along with i.D. Entertainment's of passion and remembrance compilation). I was almost surprised by their next song, "Remorse", one of the first songs Andy and Gopal wrote together in late 1995 or early 1996 it must have been. I hadn't heard them play it in a while, it really took me back to 1996 in Virginia.
Andy was jumping so much he was bumping into people in their chairs and even landed on me at one point. After that, they finished the night with their two self-proclaimed death rock songs, "Remains" (title track of their first CD as well as their touring van) and "The Fallen".
I'd love to see any band I like at this venue, and I'm looking forward to catching the Bella Morte boys open for Gitane Demone in New York next month.
Thanks guys, it was a blast.