Playing out at tiny venues, when you’re young and innocent and in love with the music, is the theme of an unreleased song by Connecticut’s Own American Idol — and nobody sings about what it’s like from the audience’s point of view, possibly because songwriters are terrified of what we’re thinking when a show isn’t perfect and polished.
Friday night was my first visit to Best Video, where I sat next to the shelf of music-related videos and tried to resist the urge to just reach over and pet them. So many videos. It was my choice of shows because I’d intended to see Glambat for a second time at one of the Space Ballroom compound’s venues last Saturday, then gotten sick, so here comes Glambat again with two bands whose descriptions suggest they won’t confuse me too badly. (I saw a lot of conceptual punk last weekend and haven’t entirely recovered.)
Peter Omalyev of KEESH/Pheobe
Peter Omalyev is a songwriter from a local experimental psych-punk band (here they are on Bandcamp). Solo, he is experimental enough that you may be wondering what’s going on, but not so experimental that you will be startled by unexpected yelps. The concept is retro-synth backing track — calliope-like in parts — with electric guitar and deadpan vocals.
Personally, I’d do the backing track less loud, so that we can hear the tension with the electric guitar more clearly. If you’re thinking but where was the sound engineer? — there is no sound engineer. Musicians plug into their amps and play. Their friends in the audience shout suggestions for what should be turned up or down.
They also shout suggestions about pizza, because here in southern Connecticut, pizza is life, and pizza is also what we get into brawls over.
Glambat has picked up a bass player! We will determine, partway through the set, that their name is Jac and they’re from western Massachusetts.
So Glambat is playing, and I’m enjoying this a lot (iPhone in hand taking video, stupid grin on my face)… and the sound is feeling muddier than I remember, but depending on the venue’s acoustics, rock instrumentation often does feel muddier than I’d like… when Emily Rose says she’s getting too much distortion and needs to plug a different cable into a different amp. The optimum cable-amp combo turns out to be the Rubik’s Cube of gear arrangement.
This situation is way more dismaying for the band than the audience. If you’re here, it’s for the raw energy of young bands, plus if you live in New England, you’ve by now either become the kind of rationalist who lectures people or accepted that some shit is just haunted, and amps are no more or less likely to be haunted than anything else.
Correcting the gear sitch involves losing the bass player, but WHAM. This is the vengeful-mermaid Glambat I recall, where yeah, there’s a lot of percussion going on, but those clear, relentless vocals, laying out past wrongs and future resolves are a siren song. The final song (after the one on video), performed solo, was the eeriest, most haunting and transfixing experience, the kind of moment that makes up for every amp problem across two or three alternate dimensions.
“We played our first show here two months ago,” explains the frontman, “and now we’ve picked up a bass player.”
(I swear, someone needs to offer Bass Player Speed Dating. Line ’em up at the tables in one of our many local bars. Down the other side of the table, we have the decision-makers from various local bands. You have five minutes to get to know one another. Next!)
Soft Screams offers power pop that, in live performance, has some 90s grunge feel and a ton of exuberance. The frontman (who never introduces himself, and there are no names on the band’s social media) tells the story of how, at a show elsewhere, he managed to string his guitar wrong so that nobody could figure out how to tune it correctly. (I’m not sure if he gains or loses points for not just classifying that as experimental art-rock and rolling with it.)
Everybody tonight is better at the end of their set than at the beginning, probably because each song is three more minutes in which the amps haven’t blown up, the bass player hasn’t been abducted by aliens, and Cthulu hasn’t burst through the floor to borrow an obscure video on 1970s piano-driven pop.
You can’t equal this. I love music at every rung on the ladder to success, all the way up to the glossy professionalism that packs College Street Music Hall — and there’s an energy to cheap gear, young dreams, and being maybe 8 feet from the band, surrounded by the band’s friends and family (all of whom have opinions on pizza). It’s so innocent that it’s a like a good bath bomb for the soul.
So I dropped the cash in my wallet in the pay-the-bands jar on the way out and left with a smile on my face.