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  KNIFE IN THE WATER w/ Western Keys and Clemente  
  The EARL  
  East Atlanta, GA  
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I like Peekaboo Records; I think that they are consistently one of the best Indie labels out there. Knife in the Water released an amazingly good EP on Peekaboo last year, which I picked up due to the label name alone. However, most of those Texas bands never make this far east, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Knife in the Water were coming, and I excitedly tried to drum up Minion support for the show.

Not surprisingly (especially ‘cause it was a Wednesday night), it ended up being PostLibyan and I who trodded on down to The EARL. We got there early and had a beer while we waited for Clemente to take the stage. And I was very very surprised when they did. You see, the last time I saw Clemente (Admittedly a long time ago), they were a solid 4 piece that people described as “swamp pop.” Instead on this evening, there were only two band members: the main singer/songwriter who played an acoustic guitar accompanied by another man on slide guitar. Knowing PostLibyan’s intense dislike of the slide guitar, I winced a little when Clemente began to play and all you heard was the loudness of the slide.

However, once The EARL’s new sound guy (whose name I don’t know, but who seems to be the first EARL soundman who understands how to mix in that rather difficult venue) straightened out that issue, I continued to wince because now I could actually hear the singer. You see, he is one of those people who needs lots of echo and reverb and distortion to mask the fact that he really can’t carry a tune. Unfortunately, since this limited lineup really emphasized the quality of his vocals (and not just the loudness), you could hear every little break, waver, and squeak. It was single-handedly one of the most painful performances I’ve ever heard. I can only guess/hope that Clemente hasn’t changed into this type of duo, and that part of the trauma for them of the evening was having to play whilst down members. Either way, I was glad when they left the stage after a short 20 minute or so set.

After the Clemente debacle, I figured things could only improve. Still, I was taken aback when Western Keys took the stage. You see, I was expecting a band, not just a guy with a boombox and a guitar. Most of the time the guy would play his guitar and sing. However, at the beginning of certain songs, he would walk over to the boombox, press play, and some nice pre-recorded drums parts would begin, to which he would then play and sing along. The only problem that I had with the arrangement was that, to my ears, the pieces which incorporated the boombox were exponentially better than the songs he played alone. In fact, during the drum songs you could hear how the sound of a full band would broaden the songs and turn what sounded like semi-mopey emo-folk into nice little Texas Indie Pop music. Still, Western Keys were far better than the first band and did not deserve the rapidly growing emptiness of the bar (apparently the little crowd that was at this show were there to see Clemente).

After Western Keys left, it was easy to see that we were batting 0 for 2, and I was about to beg forgiveness from PostLibyan for dragging him out on a cold January evening. In fact, the primary thing we had going for us was simply the fact that the first two bands had played quickly, so it was only a little after midnight when Knife in the Water took the stage. And, although there were only 11 people in the audience as the show began, the band as a whole didn’t seem to notice this slight. Instead they managed to produce some of the prettiest music I’ve heard this side of The Potomac Accord.

How to describe Knife in the Water? In their EP reviews, I’ve seen them described as a twangy Velvet Underground or a cross between Calexico and Spaceman 3. However, I’d suggest that such comparisons exhibit the inevitable cliché that all bands with a slide guitar must be described as in one way or another. Rather, as I sat in a comfy low chair in The EARL, my offhand comparison was to Galaxie 500. Furthermore, it also struck me that the pedal steel player used his instrument in the same manner as a traditional guitar, so that it only added a richness to the overall texture sound instead of producing the stereotypical whine of a country pedal steel player.

This experience really came together when they launched into Exploding Seagulls my favorite song off their Crosspross Bells EP. The EP version of this song is quite magnificent, with a catchy nasal vocal line backed up by slightly chilly instrumentation, most particularly a driving drumbeat. Live, this song came across particularly well, the fullness of Knife in the Water’s sound seemed to echo and dance off the walls of The EARL. After that climax, I wasn’t sure that the band could add anything else to my enjoyment, so shortly thereafter we stumbled, tired and still stunned by the music, into the night.

Definitely, a night that had the sense to end wondrously.

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