Sun Ghost Release Show-Yucca Tap Room 05/06/2011

It seems lately that on any given Friday or Saturday night, you want to be at three different venues at the same time–the local music is that good and there are enough venues coming around to supporting it that the choices are getting more and more difficult to make. Friday, May 6th was one of those nights–there were amazing shows everywhere that night, but I hedged my bets and wagered on the one I thought was most apt to blow my mind and from what I understand in the aftermath, I made the right decision. My decision process usually works around the idea of “where can I stay in one place all night long and enjoy every single sound around me.” Often I will wager on the gig where I know the most bands I enjoy are playing, that Friday I did something slightly different and for various reasons.

I had seen the other bills for the other fantastic offerings that evening, but I had to go to the Yucca Tap Room. First of all it was four bands for one cd release show and I love watching local artists support each other. Secondly, Dearspeak was on the bill and I know they have a new EP in the works so I was sure to get to hear some new songs from one of my favorite trios. Third, Ladylike was playing their first gig here since they got back from recording their debut album in Kansas and I was certain that performance would offer quite a few highlights for one of my most personally anticipated releases of the year. Finally, the other two acts playing that night I had never seen live before, I had heard nothing but great things about Small Leaks Sink Ships and checked out some of their stuff online and I had really dug into the online stuff of Sun Ghost. It was Sun Ghost’s release show and I had pretty much decided they would be my June feature for JAVA Magazine. I wanted to see them live to clinch my decision.

I showed up just early enough, perhaps too early because I didn’t want to miss a thing, to catch Dearspeaksoundchecking. The crowd was just starting to fill in when they kicked off their set with the most riveting take on “Famine For The Feast” I’ve heard yet. Justan Jesse’s drums were downright tribal, while Ree Boado’s vocals were like nothing I had heard out of her before–she really lets go on this number these days. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this live or on their Tame The Hysteria EP, but nothing compared to this. Ree’s vocals were on the verge of rage, she sounded like how I always wanted her to sound–completely free and angry, exploring new territory in a songs she has to have played hundreds of times live. “Disappear (Delusions Of Grandeur)” followed this up with Ree simply introducing it as “This song is about my schizophrenic father” and again it was another amazing performance of a song I’ve memorized and been mesmerized by many times before.

It was time for a new song and that’s exactly what we got–”In The Clouds” is an actual love song and it’s dreamy confectionary stuff that’s simply great pop, though I must admit it was more reminiscent of Ree Boado’s solo material than her work with Dearspeak. That is to say it’s great. In a perfect segue, that new song led to two of Ree’s solo songs, “The Farmer And The Gate” followed by the brilliant “Arizona Sun,” both of which were nice to see with Jesse and David Boado backing her through these gems from her 2010 triumph Pretty Little Flies. Dearspeak finished the show with three new songs that have yet to appear on record. Ree introduced the first of these by saying, “This goes out to everyone who’d been messed up by religion,” they then dutifully launched into “Holy Rolling Stone,” a song they’ve been playing live for quite a few months and one that is quickly becoming a fan favorite. “Underneath Our Noses,” was introduced as a “brand spanking new song” and Ree warned the crowd that it was intense and it was–it’s difficult not to feel the intensity of a song that is clearly about human trafficking. The grand finale was a brand new song from the forthcoming EP called “Cadavers” and that has to be the most unlikely title for a song with such an amazing pop hook. It is stunningly brilliant and it makes me eager to hear the rest of the EP in all it’s brilliance. In the mean time you can check it out on their facebook band page HERE. Ree Boado’s pipes are amazing, whether she is seeking sweet perfection in her solo material or walking the edgier side with Dearspeak, her singing makes my soul soar and it was the perfect way to kick off a flawless evening.

I had never seen Small Leaks Sink Ships before, I’ll admit it, I am way late to the party on this one, but I have a feeling the party is only getting started. I had just finished an article for the February issue of JAVA about local EP releases (Sounds Around Town: The Great EP Revival) and when the publisher asked for more photos to fill the pages I pleaded to add another EP after having just gotten wind of the just released Small Leaks Ships Oak Street Basement EP. Unfortunately, they just wanted more photos. However, there will be “better late than never” review of it in the July/August issue. I had heard great things about this band, mostly from other musicians in town, thus I was expecting great things, but I have to say, nothing could have prepared me for how freaking great the performance I was about to witness would be. When I listened to their stuff online I got the sense that they had a sound akin to very early Modest Mouse–and that is a pretty great thing unto itself–but what I saw at the Yucca Tap Room that night went well beyond any of my first impressions. I didn’t know any of the songs or the song titles, except for the third song in the set that they announced as “Kitchen Sink” and was simply said, one of the most amazing live instrumental performances I’ve ever seen in my life.

I have this to say, I’m not usually a person that likes “instrumental rock”, meaning I usually need lyrics to back up my music and make it meaningful. I have to say that while watching Small Leaks Sink Ships, that part of my soul died and I no longer clung to any semblance of that belief, because I found myself completely devoured by their instrumentals and while the songs with lyrics and/or vocals were certainly great, it was their lyricless numbers that sold me completely. These guys are geniuses, there is nothing more I enjoy greater than hearing a band that literally challenges my mind to comprehend them and that is what they did. It came across as asymmetrical, impressionistic math rock, precision chaos–post rock drawn to it’s ultimate brilliant conclusion. Songs were exploding and collapsing upon themselves like apocalyptic stars, it was akin to the “Too Pure” sound of the 90s but, beyond what they were even capable of doing. The companions I brought with me and I all experienced the same thing during their performance–literal shivers, goosebumps, hair standing on end as though the very performance had electrified us physically. It was like the beauty of a hurricane when you can watch it safely from the perimeter. One page in my notebook for the evening simply reads: “Holy Fuck!” And I think that sums it up.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a huge Ladylike fan–and I have Ree Boado to thank for that, I saw them first at her solo CD release show last year and I’ve tried to make every show of theirs since. Ladylike combines all the great elements of singer/songwriter Americana that I love–part Brian Wilson, part Randy Newman, part Jackson  Browne and part Ladylike, the latter part is what I love the most, how they coalesce their sound into something brilliantly and uniquely their own. It’s really to the point where I will have  one of their songs randomly playing in my head and after I review bands of the last 40 years that I love and come up with nothing, I realize it’s Ladylike. That’s staying power and that’s brilliant. I was excited for the set, it was their first since they returned from recording their debut album–so it was sure to have lots of old favorites and plenty of new tunes and as I watched through the first two acts, they had properly imbibed enough to ensure a great show.

I was not disappointed. Morbidity, seemed to be on top of the list for the themes throughout the evening and the first song was introduced as one “About a guy in love with a dead girl.” Not unlike Dearspeak, Ladylike can take an otherwise unlikely theme and turn into pop genius and that was the case with “Youngblood” and while the lyrics may proclaim that the “light is on, but the fun is gone,” the fun had only just begun. After that they launched into a trio of crowd favorites, “She’s On To Me” is always, always brilliant and it’s difficult now, not to think about the video that accompanies it as Rob Kroehler plays his heart out on it. “Commit Me” will be, I hope and pray, on the new album as there is yet to my ears no proper recording of it as of yet and it’s been a favorite of everyone that hears it for ages–it’s enough that the crowd sings along to nearly every verse and not just the chorus. Finishing the trio, with the announcement that it would not be on the forthcoming album, was one of my favorites, if not my favorite song by them ever (and if you ask me, I will never be able to explain why)–”Cannery Row” is their perfect take on a “working mans ballad”, just enough Springsteen added to the power pop and piano delivery to crush your soul and make you sentimental for times you’ve never known. At the very least, we have the free demo you can download from their website.

Another new song, a triumphant new song followed the trio of fan favorites that drove the crowd as wild as the tunes they had just been singing along to–”The Auctioneer” was yet another preview of what is to come this summer. Amazing, hook heavy, brilliant indie pop–in short, it will soon become another signature Ladylike number in their growing catalog. “Leave The Boy Alone” followed this up and once more, one wonders after the demo appeared for download on their website if this will make it to the new album–it certainly should, but then, so should “Cannery Row”, however, I have a feeling these guys are writing nothing but gold all the time and whatever they finally decide to put on their debut full length will probably blow all our minds, souls and hearts alike when the finished product is released. “Cinema Kiss” is a brand new song and I’m not even sure if I’ve heard them play it live before, once again it only whet’s the appetite for the upcoming release and it seemed like one of the more polished numbers in the set. The finished with their signature number, the one that plays in my head at 3am and the one I wonder who it is until I figure out that it’s not Brian Wilson, it’s not something that graced the top 40 in the prime of the rock era, it’s Ladylike, they finished with “Do It To Death.” It made me wonder if any of the songs from the online EP would make it to the album–commercially it would be a brilliant move, but Ladylike seems to me to be a band that doesn’t look back and just keeps going and going, because it’s that good.

At last it was finally time, after an already soul expanding evening, for the main course–the band I had come to see. Sun Ghost. The entire gig was their evening, it was their deal, this was a CD release for their debut album Love, Hurt & Paradox and as far as wise decisions for opening acts they chose brilliantly. After the pump was primed, I was pretty excited, especially because I had never caught these cats live and also because after what I heard online, I was interested to see just how good it would be in person. The answer: It was the loudest fucking local act I have ever heard. It’s the truth, I think I suffered some permanent hearing loss due to them and it was worth every bit of it. Since recording the album, Sun Ghost has incorporated a 1970s Thomas/Moog organ into their sound and written an entire albums worth of songs and the results are amazing. They began their set with one of their new songs–characterized by the organ’s calliope like song in a dirge like manner that is, at this point called “Water Level Song”, I was hooked, this was not the Sun Ghost I had heard, no this was on a totally different level, a beter level. “Pale Blue Dot”, yet another new song sealed the deal, one of the best from the new batch, when Trevor Denton sings “Having the best time of my life,” you actually believe it’s true and on stage, you know it is.

It wasn’t until the third song in the set that Sun Ghost got around to playing a song from the CD they were releasing and it was the opener for the album, “1.21 Jiggawatts” which was as much outer space rock live as it is on the album–I’m a sucker for any band that talks about outer space since the Pixies and these guys nail it. “Buffalo The Cat” quickly followed and proved that the addition of the carnivalesque organ adds an element to their sound that, while it wasn’t necessarily lacking before, sounds absolutely necessary now. Denton introduced “Cooper’s Song” as “This is a song about a dog,” and while it may be, the song itself is a searing rocker that left my eardrums ringing. “Tornado, Tornado” followed, a nice pairing since the latter two songs are probably the hardest rockers on the new album. After that, “Jump Into The Lake” shone like pure pop gold at top volume, pure polished alternative rock that couldn’t be delivered better by anyone on a major–this song alone stuck in my head for a good three days and the performance of it live was stunning. “Glitter, Guns and Gold” is yet another song that indicates their next record will be no sophomore slump–dark circus anthems on the organ, set to a rock’n'roll guitar and a brilliant nightmare lead, yet all in all it still seemed that that it was great music for kids to get trashed to. Mission accomplished?

“This is the time to slow dance if you want,” Denton announced before “Sleepy People”, another new song that almost sounds like a ballad coming from Sun Ghost. Trembling, tremolo vocals quiver, “I think it’s love this time.” And it’s brilliant, uncertain and honest, the way it’s supposed to be. While Denton said it was number six on the CD, it turns out that the song with the creeping “Watching The Detectives” bassline  is actually number five and the brilliant “Photo Radar Blues” proves to be even more powerful live than on the album. “My Theoretical Favorite Person” was up next and came across as pure pop satisfaction, with lyrical imagery that cannot be beat, nearly anywhere else in their canon…you picture the ghost walking  away, you picture the apartment of luxury, the images land and become a part of your own mental landscape. Sun Ghost closed with another new number a fitting calliope end to their crazy callipe opener–”La Di Da” is a brilliant track to be featured on their coming release later this year and for more more of this song, be sure to check out the live video for HERE on their website. It was the perfect way to end the perfect evening of a multitude of sounds. Most I know walked away, shaking their heads, stunned by all they had heard and seen. Can you ask for anything more from a free show on a Friday night in Tempe?

(Be sure to check out the full review of Sun Ghost’s Love, Hurt & Paradox, in the June issue of JAVA!)