Like many of you, my first exposure to Nik Freitas came from his involvement with Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band. Before Oberst’s first solo record came out Kari and I went to see him perform in Omaha at The Anchor Inn with Jenny Lewis. The Mystic Valley Band was already formed at that point, and they even played a couple of songs that ended up on Outer South. It was a weird show, because I had no idea that this new band had formed. So when Freitas started singing lead on a song, I was all, “What the hell is this?” I didn’t find out who he was until the album came out, and he was instantly my favorite member of the MVB.
I didn’t dig too deep into his solo stuff after that, but earlier this year when I found out he was going to be opening for The Submarines at Schubas, I made sure I was there nice and early to catch his set.
Saturday Night Underwater was still a couple months from release at this point, and he didn’t play every song from it, but what he did play was great. Not only were the songs good, but the way he pulled them off was very impressive. Since he wrote, produced, and played all the instruments on the album, he had to improvise a bit live. He had a laptop with him, so you’d hear him playing guitar or singing vocals or whatever, while he was also singing lead vocals and playing the piano. It was interesting. I’ve seen other bands use the same kind of device to fill in their sound with little or no success, but it worked for Frietas.
Now it’s a few months later, and while I’ve been listening to this album off and on, I hadn’t really given it it’s due until the last week or so. How silly I was to overlook this little gem. Freitas never goes for anything huge, which means on first and second listens the album doesn’t seem all that great. But, with continued listening, fans are rewarded with some deep, lyrically beautiful songs.
Not every song is amazing, but the songs that stand out are fantastic, and the rest are all good. The first one that caught my attention was “Middle.” It’s one of the more produced songs on the record, and features some electric guitar, keys, strings, a driving percussion section, soaring vocals and great words:
I wanna lose everything in the middle
I wanna share it with a friend
Fall asleep with the words we believe in
Wake up with some confidence
Working for a couple years with Conor Oberst doesn’t hurt a songwriter, I’m sure. And while there’s nothing on here that makes me think he’s the heir apparent, I am convinced that he’s a great scribe in his own rite, and he certainly knows how to put a tune together.
Even though I enjoy his technological prowess as far as performing goes, I find Nik strongest when it’s just him and his guitar in perfect harmony. Even though there are some background things going on behind it, I think “Affected” is the best example of this. The song allows him the opportunity to show off his vocal range, and his ability to paint a picture with his words.
I’m happy with Saturday Night Underwater for a couple of reasons. One, Freitas stays true to his vision by taking on all the challenges of making an album himself. He doesn’t try too hard to impress anyone, he just makes the music he wants to make. Second, standing in the shadows behind one of the great american songwriters of the last decade is a tough spot to be in, and when he gets the spotlight shone on him, he does it justice. It’s unfortunate that it took me so long to get to this review, but now that we’re here I can tell you that Nik Freitas is definitely worth your time. Check him out!
I first became aware of Nik Freitas the same way most people did. He played an integral part in Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley Band on the album Outer South. After a few spins of that record, Nik became my favorite non-Conor part of the record, and I’ve been wanting to hear him perform live by himself since I saw him with TMVB a couple years ago in Omaha, where they did a show with Jenny Lewis.
His set, for the most part, was workman-like. He came to the stage ready to get down to business. There wasn’t much in the way of banter until about halfway through the set, but there were great songs. Mostly Nik played acoustic guitar and sang lovelorn folk-pop, but he had a couple tricks up his sleeve. He brought along some pre-recorded material to accompany him either on guitar or piano, so the audience got the effect of a full band (or at least most of a band and a drum machine).
There was a good mix of stuff from his first album, stuff with TMVB, and material from his new album. “Big Black Nothing” didn’t get the response I thought it would, but people seemed to dig the new songs. One of them, the title track “Saturday Night Underwater,” had a nice buildup, so I was able to ready my camera and take a video:
Overall, I was pleased with his set. He has a great voice, and he writes songs that suit him without having them all sound the same. I felt bad, because the crowd at Schubas was one of the rudest I have ever seen. People were talking over the music for a lot of the set, but he stuck with it, and probably won them over by the end. Check out his new record Saturday Night Underwater when it comes out in June.
When The Submarines took the stage, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I had heard their songs before (but not the new record), so I had an idea of what the show would be like, but not really. As it turns out, I had no idea what I was thinking of, because the band I saw perform live was much better than the one I’d heard in my headphones.
There was boundless energy and the band seemed to be having the time of their lives. They play power-pop so infectious I found it hard to not get up and bust a move (though I did restrain myself). Frontwoman Blake Hazard had a big smile on her face all night, making it difficult for anyone to not like the band.
There were a couple of songs I thought missed the mark, “1940″ being one of them. But more often than not I thought the band succeeded greatly. Never more so than the song “Brighter Discontent.” It started off with Blake playing the song alone as the rest of the band sat on the side watching. The song talks about trying to move on after a tough breakup (I believe the song was written during the period between Blake’s breakup with bandmate John Dragonetti). It’s a couple steps above Taylor Swift on the lyrical side of things, but it’s sincere and emotional, and live the song is sold so well that I almost felt uncomfortable being in the room with the two of them. Then about three quarters of the way through the song, the rest of the band joined in and the song exploded with harmonies and swirling guitars. A great live song.
There’s an underlying message in every song The Submarines play. It’s such a part of their music that it oozes out of every note, every word. The message is that love is the answer, regardless of the question. It can be overwhelming, it can suck, it can lift you up and tear you down at the same time. It’s the one thing everyone wants, and we search for it until we find it-like desert walkers searching for water. The Submarines have latched on to this idea and run with it.
As I said, I haven’t heard the new album, Love Notes/Letter Bombs, but based on this show I probably need to seek it out. The Submarines are a pop band, no mistake. But don’t confuse their kind of pop with the garbage you hear on the radio. Somebody once said something like, “You can find truth in pop music.” In the case of The Submarines, that’s very true.