Much like my fellow reviewer PostLibyan, I
discovered Portland band Say Hi to Your Mom in early 2007. Immediately taken by the clever lyrics and poppy tunes, Say Hi (they've dropped the "to Your Mom" moniker) has easily become one of my favorite bands in the last year. And in subsequent
performances, they have never disappointed me in any way. Therefore, when we heard Say Hi were returning to Atlanta, it never occurred to me to not attend, even though the timing conflicted with a particularly busy, pre-SxSW weekend.
When we arrived at The EARL shortly before 10 pm, I was a bit surprised by
the relatively full crowd. I hadn't seen anything in the show listing (Explorers
Club, Say Hi, and The Features) that led me to believe this would be a particularly
big draw. Still, we came in, found a nice place to stand, and waited to see
what would occur with the first act, Explorers Club.
Explorers Club is a 6 piece, young-ish band from Charleston, SC, who apparently
want to invoke memories of sun and beach. From where I stood, however, this
invocation consisted of two primary forms: 70s-esque, semi-maudlin ballads
reminiscent of Jimmy Buffet and 60s-esque re-writes of Beach Boys tunes. Of
course by "Beach Boys" tunes, the band seemed to show a particular fondness
for the likes of Don't Worry Baby and Wouldn't It Be Nice, whose
harmonies and pacing practically haunted most of Explorers Club's set. All
of this would have been well and good (except for the Jimmy Buffet thing) had
Explorers Club showed any really affinity for the material. More specifically,
close harmonies are exceedingly difficult to pull off and maintain, and the
band really never quite nailed them. Likewise, the key modulations which characterized
many of the songs had a side-effect of pitching the tune out of the vocal range
of at least one of their two singers. Even then, I perhaps could have shaken
off these issues had the band seemed more professional instead of coming off
like they were playing at a frat house in front of their 10 friends (Note to
band: if audience participation isn't working, don't push it).
A tender moment in the Explorers Club.
And yet, there was one moment when Explorers Club seemed to pull it together.
On one of the next to last songs, their third guitarist, a rather short guy
who had focused on just doing harmonies before, stepped up and took over the
lead vocals. Ironically, when he sang, the backing vocals improved as his lighter,
higher pitched voice seemed more natural in the band's beach-lite music. It
was the nicest thing in their entire set. Unfortunately, it was undermined
by their last two songs: a maudlin 70s-style ballad. with a different vocalist
and two extra people on stage (think of anything by Captain and Tennille, and
you're in the right territory) followed by a particularly long and drawn out
version of Johnny B. Goode.
After Explorers Club thankfully left the stage, I look around and discovered
that The EARL had indeed filled up. As it was rather crowded, and since we
wanted to hear Say Hi over the talky crowd, we moved up to the side of the
stage, hoping for a better vantage point. This would have worked well, except
for the presence a largish group of rather tall men, who stood on the front
row (they were eager to see the headliner) and had no interest in sharing their
space. Oh well, occasionally in my line of work you have to deal with folks
who don't understand basic concert etiquette (Tip 1: if you're over 6 ft tall,
you should probably think about letting the short people have a sight line.
It's a courtesy thing).
Say Hi took the stage relatively quickly as a two piece. Normally, I've seen
them with lead singer/guitarist Eric Elbogen backed with a female synth player
and a live drummer. Tonight, they were down the synth player, so Elbogen manned
a machine that played loops (including silly handclaps) whilst also maintaining
his guitar/vocal duties.
Say Hi to the two member band.
Still, once they began to play, it was exactly as
catchy and fun as I remembered. They played a fair amount off their newest
album, The Wishes and the Glitch as
well as a scattering of tunes across their catalogue, with a particular emphasis
on the brilliant Impeccable Blahs. The highlights of their
poppy, happy set included a really nice version of Spiders, a speedy
version of Pop Music of the Future, and an intense version of Sweet Sweet
Heartkiller. Through it all, Elbogen reminded me that stage presence
does not necessarily involve dramatic gestures and frenetic physical movement.
Rather, a slightly geeky guy bouncing up and down as if he can't stop himself
can be enough to induce a silly grin and a thought that seeing someone have
so much fun counts for a lot in a live setting. So when the band finished
up with one of my favorites tunes, These Fangs, I was perfectly content
with what I had just seen. And, to give Elbogen and crew credit, they drew
in the somewhat skeptical crowd, so that by the end the whole place was were
bouncing around and smiling.
Eric Elbogan does, in fact, want to suck your blood.
Then the crowd packed in a little more in anticipation of the headliners, Tennessee band The Features. So, we decided to move back in the club, hoping for some ventilation and a little bit more room. Of course, in the process, I had a bit of a run in – literally – with another person who needed a lesson in basic concert etiquette (Tip 2: If you're either drunk or in a hurry, and accidentally hit someone up side the head with your elbow and your large dangling purse/bag, the correct action is to say, "I'm sorry. Are you o.k.?" instead of pretending like you didn't notice. That too is common courtesy). So by the time The Features took the stage, my previous cheery mood was deteriorating rapidly in direct correlation to the increasing soreness in my jaw.
The Features have been around a good long time. In fact, I think the last
time I had seen them in concert was more than a few years back at the Echo
Lounge. In that intervening time, it seems like this band have modified their
sound. Previously, they had recalled an Elephant 6 spin off band, filled with
quirky key changes and lots of jangling instrumentation. However, on this evening,
the music was smoother and more filled out, albeit it a fairly straightforward
way. I believe a few years back they opened for Kings of Leon, and I suspect
that tour both honed their musical talents while giving them a pathway to a
A less jangly Features.
This was in clear evidence on this evening as it seemed like
the capacity crowd knew most of the songs and appreciated the versions The
Features brought forth. I might miss the jangle-pop of the past, but the
easier Indie Rock on display was by no means a disappointment. Think of them
as less like Elf Power and more like The Shins, and you'll get my point. Still
after just a few songs, the long day behind and the long weekend in the future
began to catch up with me, and I was ready to pull myself away from the music
and into my bed.
In retrospect, the highlight of the evening was Say Hi. They put on
a phenomenal show to a crowd who wasn't familiar with them. As I said earlier,
it seemed that they made converts. That in and of itself is the hallmark of
a great band. And when it's a great band that I already love, and they manage
to erase the memory of a not particularly thrilling opener, then clearly their
set was just about perfect.