Soft Speaker, Secret Colours, and Headshadow At Beat Kitchen 11/19/11

Editor’s note: Having accidentally promised to be in two places at once, I was forced to outsource this review to Miles, bassist and executive chef of Chaperone. His thoughts below are better organized and written than what you may usually find here on the site. Don’t get used to it. I’ll be back next week with more rambling.

The first thing I saw upon entering the main room of The Beat Kitchen was a camera crane. It stood like a monolith in the left hand section of the floor, all cumbersome metal and vaguely threatening dullness. It felt out of place in the environment, something miniaturized and drop shipped from a U2 concert. It was an odd distraction for the whole night and I was worried, albeit irrationally, that it would probably result in my death.

The truth is, the crane was representative of the entire night. A precise metaphor for a group of bands trying to break from of the intimacy of the room with technical prowess and professional sheen, all aiming for the arena and losing a little connection as a result of their aspirations.

Headshadow opened things up, with a pleasant thirty-minute set. I’ve noticed a recent trend attempting to shift the music world’s retro obsession from the 80s to the 90s, and Headshadow could be a vanguard of this new nostalgia. A little bit Nada Surf, a little bit ThirdEyeBlind. Their sound was a skeletal at times, with the songs calling out for keyboards or a second guitar to flesh them to fullness. The band has been together for less than a year, and it’ll be nice to see how their sound evolves; whether they lean closer toward the plasticine nature of their pop instincts or cultivate something rougher. Regardless, I’d like to call a moratorium on any song that uses counting as a lyrical conceit. It was impossible to listen to “Rule #1” without thinking of Brian McKnight’s “Back At One” or, far more depressingly, Plain White Tee’s horrendous “1,2,3,4”.

San Diego’s Hotel St. George took the stage next. If you were wondering whether an amped-up National fronted by Jonathan Richman would sound ridiculously awesome, let me assure you, it didn’t tonight. The atmospherics present on the band’s recorded material were sadly missed and the enthusiasm of the band couldn’t save a disappointing set.

Chicago’s Secret Colours proved a nice remedy. A dusty bit of psychodelia that fit nicely in the confines of the space, the band was a southern-fried acid trip. Confident and personable, they played their set with a charming nonchalance. After a few missteps, they abandoned a song halfway through, claiming that it “fucking sucks anyways”. In the wrong mouth, those words could come off as cynical and pandering, but the band had won the almost capacity crowd over and the song’s dismissal seemed instead like a sweet, slightly dispirited bit of self-deprecation.

Soft Speaker closed the night on a high note, keeping the psychedelics and abandoning the country-tinge for something crunchier. They packed the Beat Kitchen in celebration of the release of their second(!) full-length of 2011, Votrobos, and did an amazing job showcasing their unique brand of riff-heavy, solo-stuffed rock. Dueling guitars jabbed each other at right angles, anchored by solid bass work. The band was tight and professional, without a note out of place, despite the teeming energy on and off the stage. It’s clear that Soft Speaker has work ethic in droves, not just from their seemingly endless supply of material, but their ability to reproduce that material on stage. They are destined, I’m sure, for more great shows in support of the 15 other albums they’re going to write before January rolls along.

And that brings us back to the crane. Back to the fact that, despite a generally solid show, with impressive craft and musicianship all around, I still left feeling that I had missed something. The truth is, it was all too perfect. Part of the thrill of live music is teetering on the knife-edge of disaster, thriving on the feeling that, hell, these are people playing different things at once, trying to mash them together into something whole. Something could go wrong at any minute. It all serves to remind you that music is a living, breathing thing, capable of surprising you, of terrifying you. It’s telling that the most memorable and endearing part of the show for me was Secret Colours’ mid-song slip-up, the strange mix of resignation and nervous, tangled joy on their faces as they felt their song tear itself away from them. It was a moment that felt fresh and unplanned and true. And that, to me, is what going to a show is all about.