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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - The Beatings

eclectic reviews and opinions

The Beatings (with Fivehead, Aloud, Dust Buffalo)

17 Jul 2004

The Middle East (Upstairs) (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

To my chagrin, I get to the Middle East just in time to miss Dust Buffalo completely, but the room doesn't show signs of having been blown away. Standing in line to buy my ticket I overhear, "I think they're done; I think it's safe to go back in." The mp3 for "Timeline" at dustbuffalo.net is interesting, if a bit long; "New Way" seems lacking in personality. I'll reserve judgment.

I'm going to make enemies now, so I should point out that that Aloud are over the first bar. They have nice-sounding gear, they're reasonably tight, and have two above-average singers in Jen De La Osa and Henry Beguiristain (well-rehearsed harmonies, too).

But, uh, they're kinda boring.

Their (sizable) crowd was polite more than enthused -- a young woman even sat cross-legged in front of the stage for a while. Aloud doesn't have the sort of commanding stage presence or virtuosity that makes good material unnecessary, so the band could benefit from sharper writing. Avoiding those "too easy" chord progressions (or voicing them more creatively), fewer choruses, and more bridges would help. Most importantly, more tempo variation would take them a long way toward "good" from "okay." On the plus side: one of the new songs was one of the best.

Austin's four piece Fivehead mix everyman vocals and intricate harmony guitar parts with lots of instrumental breaks in a way that draws comparisons they can't possibly live up to: I'm reminded of Superchunk, the Feelies, Sonic Youth, and Television (and even more specifically of Vanilla Trainwreck, who distilled a similar blend of those influences). But even if they're not genre-defining gods, they're damn good -- by the second song I'm hoping there's enough left in my wallet to take home a plastic reminder. Drummer Davis Comeau and bassist Jeff Jones are especially impressive -- the songs groove enough to keep people moving even when they're weird and mathy, and they provide a solid anchor when the guitars threaten to get noodly. The set loses momentum when Jones and singer/guitarist John Hunt trade instruments for a few songs.

Beatings singer/guitarist Tony Skalicky plugs into his Marshall. It goes "kchhhhh." "Does anybody have a guitar amp I could borrow? Greg, that solder didn't work." Fivehead's Beaty Wilson drags his Fender Super Reverb back up onstage, and about 30 seconds later the Beatings are roaring into their opening number. Afterwards bassist Erin Dalbec asks if the sound is ok: "We didn't get a sound check," she explains. These problems could sink lesser bands, but not the Beatings. They're tight in a way that doesn't rule out anarchy, they're both loud as fuck and pin-drop quiet, but what really sets them apart is their command of musical tension -- even on the rare occasions they fall into a predictable set of changes, rhythmic and textural shifts threaten to make the tune explode. The audience demands and gets an encore even though they end late.

This review originally appeared (in slightly different form) in The Noise.

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