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This Week’s Music in Review, Pt. 1

I preface this review by saying that it takes a lot to blow me away on the first performance. I wouldn’t like to consider myself a music snob, but I’ve seen a lot of terrible bands in my day. Luckily, Wednesday night was very far from that. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – congratulations, I’m thoroughly impressed, but more about them later.

The evening began with miscued doors. Turns out we interrupted the sound check trying to enter the venue at 6:00pm – the time posted on the flyer. In retrospect, this should have been a sign of things to come. Technical difficulties were plenty throughout the entire night. It took Margot’s Richard Edwards to finally make a big enough deal (and a bit of humor) out of it. With these things aside though, there was some great music ahead.

Read the rest inside.

The first band, Matthew and the Judes, was good. A local band from State College, they clearly possessed the “indie” vibe of recent. This may be their biggest strength. The band was a great fix for these sorts of cravings, and they’re still unknown, too! They fit in perfectly – especially with the following acts. They had a nice blend of guitar, bass and drums which featured the occasional xylophone and trumpet – something unexpected (until I saw Margot, of course). The continual cut out of the house main speakers left the band as puzzled as the audience, yet they persisted on and put on a nice set despite the fact. They were fantastic openers: short and sweet, leaving me wanting to investigate more.

Next up for the evening was The Study Band hailing from our great state of Pennsylvania. I was very impressed with these boys. Their sound was that of hellogoodbye if they grew a collective four pairs (Forrest Kline especially) and cut out that all those goofy synthesizers. Their first number recalled the sinister riffage of Muse (minus the stellar guitar work of Bellamy) with the coatings of Death Cab For Cutie. Their tunes were catchy (they even had one appropriately Christmas themed song) and they had great presence. Guitarist and vocalist Eric Morelli had no problem keeping the audience entranced – especially the female constituents. Move over Zac Efron, there’s a new teen sex symbol in the Keystone State. Also entertaining was the mix between bassist Keith Gibbons and drummer Eric Boyd. Their rhythm section endeavors were crucial to the group’s sound – giving it a very original flair. Pianist Jack Roberts was very entertaining, too. Most notable was his use of three limbs for a few raucous piano stabs. I was very impressed. These guys will be something to look out for in the near future.

Raise Up Roof Beams, the third act to grace the stage, were probably the least impressive. They had a strong tie to folk music – summoning early Dylan and Tossers style numbers. This was nice – a good reminder of American music’s heritage. Also representing from Central Pennsylvania, their biggest drawback was lead singer/acoustic guitarist Nathan Robinson. He may be the biggest Bob Dylan rip-off I’ve ever seen. I love Dylan, but I don’t love someone strapping a harmonica around their neck if they aren’t going to put on a pair of Ray Bans and play “Maggie’s Farm.” This put me off a lot at first, yet they had potential to redeem themselves with multi-instrumentalist Justin Arawjo. He could be the first person to play power chord riffs on a mandolin. The only problem: he was very low in the mix and his parts were essentially absent from the band’s presentation because of it. I never thought I’d be saying to turn up the banjo at a concert. Also, their stage presence was non-existent. It took a majority of the set for me to catch the name of the band. Overall, nothing stuck out to me. They were very average – with the exclusion of their videographers. They took first rate footage of the performance. We’ll give the group good marks for effort though. Probably should have put The Study Band third on the bill though.

And finally, Margot took the stage. I could write about this performance for days – I was that moved by it. I’ll try and keep it brief though. For those who aren’t aware, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s began in Indianapolis, Indiana with the alleged meeting of Richard Edwards (instruments will be spared because every one of them plays so damn many!) and Andy Fry in a pet shop. Strong indie. The band is comprised of the two, Chris Fry, Hubert Glover, Casey Tennis, Emily Watkins, Tyler Watkins, and Erik Kang – making their show a sort of visual artwork, too. There is action at all times. Their “baroque” or “chamber” pop sound is that of Abbey Road era Beatles with a spin of Broken Social Scene (not surprising). Hubert Glover’s reverb-drenched trumpet even recalls Bitches’ Brew era Miles Davis – a personal favorite. Needless to say, there is some complex composition going on with these mates. As if their indie cred couldn’t get any higher, the band again braves new trails by releasing two different copies of their latest LP – Animal! (featuring songs the band selected) and Not Animal! (featuring songs Epic, their record label, selected). Edwards and Co. feel that fans should listen to Animal! first. In addition, the band has also graced famous red-head Conan O’Brien’s studio for a performance this past November.

The band is very unique in their choice of instrumentation and arrangements. The use of brass, synthesizers, lap steel, violin, guitars, only begin to cover the thick layers that the band employs to voice their arrangements. Of particular note was the use of a double drum assault akin to the Grateful Dead of the Allman Brothers Band. Casey Tennis (who had one of the most over-the-top personalities I’ve ever witnessed) used an array of drums, electronic triggers, and garbage (water jugs, suitcases, car hub caps, etc.) to create a pseudo symphony along with set drummer Chris Fry. The band would be incredibly entertaining even if it was comprised of only these two members. My award for most valuable would have to go to Erik Kang though – his unorthodox usage of lap steel, violin, and guitar were added textures to the tunes that I regularly was dumbfounded by. A similar sense of awe hit me while listening to the showering of vocal harmonies. The best part about this band is that they use literally everything as an instrument. In addition to this, I found Andy Fry addicting. His 2000’s approved version of a young Eric Clapton was wonderful – he even had good technique. And I feel confident saying that I’ve established keyboardist Emily Watkins as my new celebrity crush. From numbers like the percussive “As Tall as Cliffs” to the electrified “At the Carnival”, this was an amazing set. I felt like their hour long run had occurred over a fifteen minute stretch. Their closing remark was great punctuation as well. A chaotic collective improvisation (chaotic noise to most) a la the closing to “The National Anthem” by Radiohead was ethereal. While we waited for an encore it became apparent that closing the show any better may have been impossible.

Overall, here’s the long and the short: go buy their LPs NOW. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s is exactly what the indie movement needs. Each member is technically savvy and Edwards’ compositions are virtuosic in a world dominated by Coldplay – who, if a judge rules in favor of, apparently steal their hit singles. There is something great about seeing them live that contrasts the band you heard on record. The group is much more intense than their at times subdued studio performances. Falling asleep or cravings for an energy shot never crossed my mind. In conclusion, while Margot may not be for everyone, they are a shot of life in a slowly imploding music scene – something greatly appreciated by listeners everywhere.

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