Nik Freitas, The Submarines @ Schubas 4/20/11

Karee Photography

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.

Karee Photography

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.

Karee Photography

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.

Karee Photography

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.

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