I guess every few years a hot new "in" instrument has to appear
in any given music scene. For instance, a while back you couldn't
attend any show without running into a horn section or two;
before that it was the cheap synthesizer, and so on. These days,
the new instrument du jour (at least around here) is the cello.
It seems like well over half the bands I see have a cello, which
may in and of itself speak loads about my musical tastes. Anyway,
as a trend, I approve of the cello, except for one thing: the
damn thing is apparently a bitch to mic well. Of the cello-including
concerts I've seen over the past year, most have managed to
lose the subtleties in the musical mix. However, a few weeks
back, PostLibyan and I attended an Alejandro
Escovedo show at The Star Bar, and the sound mix (especially
with regards to the cello) was perfect.
So what does this have to do with this particular show?
Well, all of the bands feature the cello; in fact the show
was advertised as a "CellOrgy." And since this was the location
that seemed to have a handle on how to mix odd instrumentation,
I was happy to wander down to The Star Bar, even if I wasn't
sure of what to expect from the first band, Athens' Martyr and
However, from the first notes, I really liked the ethereal
mood music (with a slight 80s retro feel) this three piece band
produced. The lyrics seemed rather dark, and the cello provided
a mournful undertone. However the light drumming and chorused
guitar kept things moving along, and provided a counterpoint,
so that you couldn't just dismiss this band as a "sort of Goth"
concoction. Instead they reminded me more of Chicago's Handsome
Family, albeit without any of the twang and with a female primary
vocalist. Still, I really enjoyed their set, and look forward
to seeing them again, if only so I can come up with a more apt
The next band, American Dream, has the distinction of being
most reviewed band on EvilSponge in 2001; in short, I've seen
them numerous times over the past twelve months. I've found
their shows consistently enjoyable. Even when they have sound
issues (which isn't too surprising, considering they have both
cello and harp as integral parts of their music), their music
is compelling. In particularly, I always like way that David
Railey's slightly off key distinctive vocals echo over a wall
And without a doubt, from where I was standing, this show was
easily the best mixed concert I've ever heard American Dream
perform. This was one of the few times you could clearly hear
the difference between the cello and bass. Furthermore, the
keyboards and harp weren't overpowering; instead everything
seemed well balanced, which just showed off the solid and focused
performance of the entire band. The high point of their set
was their last song: a jangly pop version of The Beatles' Rain
which got the audience dancing and bopping along.
After that explosion of energy, I knew it would be difficult
for the headliner, Flash To Bang Time, to add anything to the
evening. From what I remember, this band is normally larger,
but on this evening, they came out as a three piece: drums,
bass and cello. This downsizing really affected their overall
sound. Normally, they have two cellos and violin, which gives
a slightly classical feel to their more rocking drums and bass.
However, with only the single cello, the rhythm section really
dominated, and seemed to throw off the balance of their music.
Still in the end it was a very enjoyable evening: Martyr And
Pistol provided a very pleasant surprise while American Dream
gave their usual outstanding performance. For the next-to-last
concert of 2001, this all provided a reaffirmation of why I
like live shows in the first place.