What Laura Says TALK Release Party-Icehouse 05/20/2011

Photo by Bill Goodman

Leave it to What Laura Says to throw what was possibly the greatest party of the summer, before summer even technically began. Having had a couple months to fully digest their new four song EP, TALK (Read the full review here), I had been looking forward to the release party for quite some time. I was not, however, prepared for just what a mindblowing event it would be. First of all, they chose what is possibly the greatest venue to hold this event, both aesthetically and sonically speaking, The Icehouse in downtown Phoenix. Secondly, the lineup for the evening couldn’t have been better–with each act taking the stage in the Cathedral Room or on the main stage in the Silver Room, it became more and unbelievable how much talent was crammed into one crazy event. Most people just spent their time in awe, shaking their heads in wonder as they wandered from one room to another awaiting what was sure to be another startling performance from any of the seven acts featured that evening. The only thing missing was a cash bar, but the music was so amazing it didn’t matter.

Brian Lopez (Photo by Bill Goodman)

Unfortunately, I missed out on Monster Couch–I honestly didn’t think the show would actually start on time (what gig in Phoenix starts on time? Apparently, when Sundawg Records and What Laura Says put on a show, when they say a show starts at 7:30, they mean it. I arrived just at the beginning of Brian Lopez‘ (Mostly Bears) amazing set in the open air Cathedral Room, as I walked to the venue I could hear his voice carrying into the night sky and I was confused, because honestly from a distance it sounded like Chris Martin was playing inside. Lopez’ voice is unearthly, on the verge of Jeff Buckley at times, with a hint of Chris Martin–it was probably the most amazing instrument in his awesome band and that’s saying something for this incredibly gifted crew, because the musicianship was magnificent. They closed their set with a cover of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon”–now I’ve seen Echo & The Bunnymen play that song twice and lead singer Ian McCulloch  perform it solo and it never gave me shivers the way Lopez’ rendition of this alternative classic did that evening.

Mergence (Photo by Joel Ekdahl)

When Mergence took the stage in the adjacent Silver Room, only scant seconds after Brian Lopez left us stunned, it sounded like a small sun had exploded in the room next door. I have seen Mergence  too many times to count at this point and two things occurred to me–they NEVER put on a bad show and they never sounded better than rocking the hell out of that room with their magnificent sound literally blasting off the walls. This, it turns out, is how Mergence is supposed to be experienced live, with their sound rushing through you from all directions. Their set was short, powerful and magnificent. They started with the brilliant, finale from Those Vibrant Young People Are Dead, the timebending “At The Salt” which set the mood in an ambient, near psychedelic way, almost as if they were testing the room. The room had been tested and the results were good, they then debuted a brand new song for the first time live. “Wintertime” is a boot stomping rocker that is only a few gigs away from being a crowd favorite, the kind that people will start shouting for on a frequent basis. “That’s kind of the ‘Dynamite & Kerosene’ of the next album,” Brandon Shupe commented later, and by all accounts it certainly sounded like it should be. Straight ahead hook heavy rock and a song I can’t wait to hear it again, though I must admit, we were all spoiled by hearing it in THAT room for the first time. “The Road” quickly followed and again in the  Silver Room, the blues to that tune were louder, darker, grungier and just overall more satisfying, you felt them crawl around your soul and send you in to a sense of the deep and dirty. What followed was the best performance of “Me &  My Family Vs. The Robots” I’ve ever witnessed, but this time it wasn’t just the room, it was also the enormous crowd singing along to every word and pumping their fists in the air as they collectively shouted “Fuck You Robots!” Adam Bruce put down the guitar and sat down in front of the keys–which usually holds some of my favorite Mergence moments and this was no exception as they launched into the dynamic centerpiece suite of the album “Girl.Fear.God./Eulogy 29″, the former a power-pop meets blues number paired with the latter an ambient funereal piece that just fed off the magic in the room. Mergence tried to leave the stage, but the crowd wouldn’t have it, an encore was demanded. Bruce asked the crowd, “My Prayer or Dynamite & Kerosene.” It was a close voted but the set ended with the encore of “Dynamite &  Kerosene” and really I’m not sure it could have ended any other way. It was poetic the way the set began with the last song and ended with the first from the album–and everything inbetween was sheer magic.

This event, it seems, was planned perfectly–the bands playing in the Silver Room amplified their power exponentially, while the bands in the Cathedral Room seemed perfectly suited for a roof of stars, the dim lighting and shadows dancing on the wall. These bands drew their power from the mystical flow of the night sky and the shadow play. There, sadly, seems to be no photographic evidence of the band that followed next, in that sky covered cathedral, but Wooden Indian took the floor and absolutely owned the space they were in. All I could think as I shook my head in wonder was that this was unreal, psychedelic, tribal hippie indie-rock. This was my first time catching Wooden Indian and I was absolutely blown away. I didn’t catch the song titles (did they mention them?), I wasn’t sure where I was or what was going on, but I knew what was happening was fantastic. I got lost completely in their orchestrated perussion driven madness, I couldn’t even take notes, I just had to keep watching every move. Check out their songs at the Wooden Indian website and begin to love their uniquely hazy shade of deeply summer music and see why they fit so well with the likes of What Laura Says. They are a bit like our own local version of Animal Collective, just listen to “Expensive Fur” or “Finally Older” and tell me otherwise. They have their musical shit together and like nearly everyone else here in Phoenix, they may sound like other bands, but their better and they’re right in our backyard. Another highlight in our own personal undiscovered country of indie rock. Brilliant.

Black Carl (Photos by Joel Ekdahl)

Black Carl was the next band up that got to draw amazing power from the reverberation available in the Silver Room and their brand of funky, rhythm & blues soul review was made for walls in a space like this. Emme Pew’s growling vocals never sounded larger, John Krause’s drums were never pounding harder, the dual guitar work of Chad Leonard and Matthew Noakes guitar work shimmered off of every surface and Ian Woodward played his bass like a lead instrument and owned the whole damn thing. It was amazing to see them in this space after countless times of catching them at the Yucca or the Sail Inn–this venue brought a whole new dimension to their sound and their sound, one has to admit, is a bit darker these days and they are all the better for it. When Pew belted out “I Am The Apocalypse” you could pretty much believe it. There set was a perfectly balanced mix of songs, old and new, “The Wolf/The Sheep” seemed right at home alongside “Calendar Man.” The new songs are already becoming fan favorites and I have to say, though, new numbers like “Sillhouette Of Evil” from their forthcoming 7″ The Chariot are beginning to take on such ferocious live form that they are blowing their old numbers out of the water. Perhaps it is because they are so excited about their new record club, as well they should be:  four 7″ releases across the summer are sure to reveal a lot of the new territory this band has been discovering. Be sure to join up at blackcarl.com and put your hard earned money toward a good cause–it will be worth it. The set had us all shaking, swaying, dancing and sweating, leaving us in a heap as they left the stage–the way good R&B drenched soul music should. Each show from them, with the releases of their new records on the horizon, will be a fantastic adventure.

Wizards Of Time (Photo by Bill Goodman)

It was back to the Cathedral for the Wizards Of Time, which seemed incredibly appropriate as lead singer Andrew Hiller sang and strummed with a hood over his head for most of the set, commanding the crowd like a mad monk bent on converting his cult on the spot to believe the gospel he preached. It seemed that while the local luminaries who played in the other room were able to show their power at full tilt, the bands in the Cathedral room got to practice their amazing mysticism that would defy nearly all description. Again I found myself beneath a starry sky having my mind blown by a performance I could neither tear my eyes or ears away from for any reason. Wizards Of Time are amazing, I had seen them once before, but this was the time, the place and the mindset in which to ACTUALLY see them, at it was a truly soul expansive event. Hiller’s vocal histrionics and brilliant presence mesmerized the audience through songs like “Plate Techtonics,” “Second Son” and “Above The Everglades,” while the band played an ethereally arranged chaos to match his every move. Every bit of this set was brilliant and another headshaking moment, where more than one person commented upon their exit something along the lines, “I don’t know what I just saw, but that was fucking great.” And it was. I’m not even sure anyone, anywhere, ever has treaded upon the territory Wizards Of Time are treading upon…perhaps I could break it down  mathematically to influences across the ages, but I don’t want to–this is just pure independent thought made into a three dimensional holocaust that comes off as some of the most melodic chaos to ever enchant your ears. I know this, if this show was any indication of how their debut album Will The Soft Curse Plague On? sounds, it will assuredly be one of my favorite albums of the year and my ears are just waiting to digest that kind of aural ecstasy, my brain tripping on every rhythm shift, hanging on every moment of lyrical madness. This live indocrination was a preview of genius.

What Laura Says (Photos by Joel Ekdahl)

It was finally time for the icing on the cake of this absolutely stellar evening. What Laura Says has released their debut for Sundawg Records, the EP TALK, which is available for download at iTunes and Amazon as well as in a lovely vinyl format (where you know it is going to sound infinitely better) at whatlaurasays.com and this was what the evening was all about. First and foremost, it must be said–every release from What Laura Says has shown their progression as a talented band that is summoning the resources of the last fifty years of rock, blues, psychedelia and even a touch of folk to present something new and wonderful, something that actually surprises the ear around every turn. The more you think you know about their sound, the more you realize how little you know–because every song that emerges surprises, whether they are incorporating more blues into their sun-drenched stylings or stepping up and presenting themselves even stronger in songs yet released. They are becoming a musical force to be reckoned with and make no mistake about it, the crowds are responding in kind, they like where this is going and half the adventure is being there to watch it happen.

Fans are fervent in their adoration of the band and it’s not difficult to see why. Sure they’ve never played “Grocery List” (my favorite song by them ever) any time I’ve ever seen them (which is dozens of times) and yet it doesn’t matter, because what they do play, the way the create the set  list for the evening just right is almost poetry in and of itself.  I’ve been there when  they’ve put it together and it is not a random process, it’s actually quite impressive while they determine what should precede and follow “Keep Running Shoes Special” or whether to start with a cover, it’s an experience I noted at just how professional these guys were. It was clear the setlist that night was just as clearly and cleverly calculated–they know what songs work together, which will flow into the other perfectly, they design the soundscape with the evening in mind and seemingly they never fail.

There set, was in my estimation, suprisingly short, but in its brevity, it expressed everything What Laura Says 2011 had to say, with recognition for past recordings and absolute delight in the new productions. “On The Fence” started the set and the mood of the entire Bloom Cheek album ensconced the first half of the gig asking the knowing question, “Where do we go from here?” and knowing full well where we would end up, everyone anticipating the new songs from TALK to soon be played. The vibe was continued with more songs from that album, blowing through exquisite performances of “Keep Running Shoes Special” or the instrumental bliss of “Roll Some Coin” to the wayback in their short but brilliant history with ”Wish I Could Fly” and it was all, it seemed, just set up for the absolute bliss that was to come, and it was.

TALK was played in its entirety from beginning to end and every moment of it was brilliant and possibly sounded better live in The Icehouse amidst the dancing and the sweat and the cheering and the magic  of the Silver Room. “Girl Not Gonna’ Leave” exploded from the set like wildfire dancing in the night and the difference between this and their previous material was physically palpable. Sexy, steamy, the  way to describe it, something that is nearly trance inducing, with a blues base that seduces the soul and you can do nothing but sway your hips to the sound and smile all the while. For grooves sake, “Porch Indiana” will stick with you for weeks and the live performance of it will reclaim what willingness you thought you had about dance in only a short while–this song is an utter groove through and through and you will not be able to deny it, and iff you do, days later you will realize this is the song stuck in your head. “Sun Is” brings you into the deep groove world where  they are heading fast, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing…”you’re feet aren’t getting through that door”…every line of it is brilliant. I can  only turn  to my review of it in JAVA Magazine that describes it perfectly: “It is on this song that it becomes apparent that What Laura Says has created something entirely new, and there is an entirely new dimension to their sound on the record, but also, they’ve created an entirely new sound for all dimensions and that, in fact, is the greater achievement.  This song is sweaty and sexy and powerful, in perfectly understated glory.” Enough said. Finally, they concluded the TALK set with the secret single “Oh, My Neighbor”, which in contrast and comparison sounds like a brilliant outtake from Bloom Cheek. It is however, a reminder of where they’ve been, where they are and the beauty they still possess–never worry about the harder blues tinged sound they seem to garner,  they will always finish off with hypnotic, harmonic beauty in the end.

As with any great show, the crowd demanded more, in  much the same way they held Mergence hostage for one more song, an encore was demanded of the headlining act and so in due dilligence an encore was delivered. My  notes are of course completely obscured by drinks, poor handwriting and a total lack of professionalism in light of being an off the wall What Laura Says fan. I can’t read a damn thing in my notebook for the encore, though I clearly loved it. Except for the last song, which I loved so much I had to ask Mitch Freedom about. “If I Cannot See Your Eyes” is the set closer of all set closers–that is to say it’s a song I can see What Laurs Says closing a show with long after they’ve left these shores, when they are touring from coast to coast, because it will eventually turn out that a nation loves them as much as we do.  I’ve heard it a few times around town and every time it blows me away, but this time, it blew me completely away, like it left an echo in my soul.

That was the finale of the live music for the evening, but it didn’t really end there. Henri Bernard of the Dry River Yacht Club began a DJ set in the White Column Room. The room is  worth mentioning, that was the merch room for the entire evening and it also must be noted that it was a gallery for Mergence bassist Brandon  Shupe’s fascinating collage art–and I mean fascinating, seriously, if I had thousands of dollars I’d buy every damned one for something to study for days on end. It even included the work from which the Mergence album artwork was derived. In that very  same room it was possibly to buy t-shirts, cds, 7″ singles and simply pick up flyers or stickers for what bands chose to represent themselves.

Danny Godbold (Painting By Deon Doughty)

A final note on what went on that evening, there must be props given to Deon Doughty who painted a portrait of Danny Godbold during the performance that pretty much stunned us all  as we watched it transform from blank golden canvas to the amazing image above.  This was done live, by this amazing artist in his “Rocking The Blocks Gold Series.” It is absolutely brilliant and it was amazing to watch him, literally, paint it live. Overall, the props must be given to everyone involved: Sundawg Records, What Laura Says, Wizards Of Time, Black Carl, Wooden Indian, Mergence, Brian Lopez, Monster  Couch and everyone that came out for this amazing  show  and  supported it in anyway. It was, beyond all imagining, a magical evening and I’m not sure it can be topped all summer long. Brilliant, from end to  end.