When I got there, late last Thursday night, the Sinclair had an unusually low-key energy. It kind of felt like the Powers That Be had pushed back Twain's stage time (they were opening for Darlingside) to do a late-night sound check, or like the venue had been delaying things with a recorded set list but the speakers had conked out. Even with the low audience hum, it was that quiet, and there was that little energy. And having listened to Twain’s label debut with Keeled Scales (Rare Feeling (2017), more info here) a few times through now, the reality of their live performance was awkward; I had been expecting the coherent, and (occasionally) profoundly listenable sound that defines tracks like "Solar Pilgrim" and "Freed from Doubt," and instead found myself struggling to follow along. I'm sympathetic, though; all it takes is a coffee house experience or two to know that it's really, profoundly hard for acoustic groups to command attention, when that attention isn’t already there.
I’m gonna preface this write-up with a clarification, of sorts; something I’ve been taking for granted but never bothered to articulate (before now). Unless I say otherwise – and it’d take a productive imagination to think up any relevant scenario(s) – these bits are reviewing specific gigs; not the group, band, whatever you want to call it, that’s performing outside of how they present at the gig and how that jives with prior exposure. Before any of the reviews, if I haven’t already, I listen to relevant discographies, but unless I wanna take a God-like stance on “getting” the dynamics of a group from one measly gig (let me assure you I do not, don’t think my rabbi would be down w that anyway) these reviews are just reviews of the gigs they purport to cover. EOM. Having prefaced this then, I have to say that Monday night was not a great gig.
If you listen to their tracks on Spotify, lyrics aside, the Mountain Goats (historically) sound almost exactly like a mixture of those names on the “related artists” list; Neutral Milk Hotel, The Thermals, The Magnetic Fields, Okkervil River, etc. Their sound is cohesive, the music comforting in a way NMH or Beirut are, and not to get personal but they were all I listened to freshman year during my first big depressive episode. The band is, to put it simply, relatable and easy to enjoy- even if and maybe because sometimes it’s all blended together in a folk-jazz-indie kombucha mix. But their tour's House of Blues gig last Monday night (led by front man Darnielle and opened by Mothers) absolutely shattered any expectations I had- and only, somehow, in ways that had me wondering why I don’t listen more.
Earlier this year, Tank and The Bangas’ Tiny Desk contest-winning video went (deservedly) viral. NPR’s been hosting the concerts since 2008 (there had been 550, viewed a collective 80 million times as of November 2016), and the yearly contest is going on its fourth cycle now. But as much of an NPR fan-girl as I am Tank’s video is the first I remember watching the whole way through. Because, and maybe there’s no other way to put it, Tank, and The Bangas, are artists in a spectacularly new way.This past Thursday the group came up (they’re from and based in New Orleans) with Sweet Crude to play a gig at The Sinclair. Sweet Crude opened, starting exactly on time (and maybe I’m not going to enough Sinclair gigs but that has never happened to me, not once, not even within 15 minutes of the posted time) and right away had the half-full crowd completely rapt.