If you read this site, you will see that i have reviewed both the latest outing by Mean Red Spiders, Stars and Sons, as well as Akasha, the debut from Isobella. I think that the Mean Red Spiders' new album is pretty good, but i love that Isobella album.
So i was going here to see Isobella, and the Mean Red Spiders being on the bill was merely an added bonus.
That said, let me provide this one line summary of the event:
It was a night of poorly mic-ed female vocalists in long skirts being totally obscured under a wall of guitar sound.
(Well, all except for that first opener, but i'll trash that act when i get to it!) Seriously, what the heck is up with Dottie's sound? Do they intentionally bury the voices? With Isobella, i know that the band was afraid of being "awash in vocals", but much of the subtlety of the Mean Red Spiders' music is based upon the phrasing of their talented vocalist. I could hear the guitars great. Drums were a little buried under the guitars. Voices -- well, the vocalists were moving their mouths, but i wasn't really hearing anything.... This explains the poor sound quality rating.
Except, as i have said, in the case of The Intergalactic Cowboy. How did this guy wind up on the bill? Near as i can tell, the booking folks thought, "Both Mean Red Spiders and Isobella play guitars with pedals. The Intergalactic Cowboy plays his guitar through a pedal -- it's a great fit!" Uh, not really.
Basically, this guy had a schtick, and although it was admittedly clever it got really old after 30 minutes. The schtick is this -- he plays a real quick chord, and then captures it in a loop in a digital delay pedal, and then he plays over top of it. Really cute. An inspired use of digital delay, but after about 10 minutes i was looking around for this guy's wife so i could slap her for buying him that damned delay pedal for Christmas a few years ago!
Anyway, it made for some surreal and annoying minutes. Basically, The Intergalactic Cowboy, complete with Cowboy Boots, Cowboy Hat, and one of those gaudy Cowboy Shirts, would loop a rhythm track, play a little on top, and then sing cheesey lyrics ("Oh give me a gun / and a cellular phone / and i will survive") while the audience looked around akwardly, grinning shyly at the unexpectedness of the performance. What the heck were the booking people thinking?
After the Intergalactic Cowboy played for what seemed to be forever, he left and Isobella began setting up. That took a while -- they have a whole lot of pedals. Plus there were technical difficulties with one of the guitarists' setup. It took almost 30 minutes for them to get ready -- and the previous act was only unplugging one pedal and putting up his guitar!
Which brings me to my main observation on Isobella -- they are young! It really struck me, sitting there drinking beer in the week-long celebration of my 30th birthday (mock me at your own risk), while these young college-students set up. Afterwards, as they sat and drank beer, i thought "You know, i'm not so sure the vocalist should be drinking beer in public -- she doesn't look old enough!" But maybe that's just me being old and bitter.
Aside from their fresh-faced appearance, the other thing that made Isobella look young to me was their performance. Rather than play a balanced set of old and new material (which is a good idea when not in your home town and playing to strangers) Isobella played 30 minutes of brand new material. It sounded great -- all swirling guitars, hushed female vocals, and keyboards -- but you know, i really really really wanted them to play Sun In Her Eyes. Sigh. I guess that this doesn't really make them look young, but it did make them seem inexperienced in terms of crowd pleasing. The fact that everything sounded so nice and that their new stuff really picks up where Akasha left off is great. And i thoroughly enjoyed the set, i just wanted some more familiar tunage. I figure that in time, they will learn these things.
This strikes a marked contrast with the Mean Red Spiders. MRS are rock professionals. They began setting up as soon as Isobella lugged their gear off the stage. They then proceeded to play most of Stars and Sons interspersed with a few tunes off of their earlier album. They gave the crowd what it wanted, and apparently they had all 20 of their Atlanta-based fans crammed into Dottie's energetically clapping and screaming and rocking out!
And it's a shame that they only have 20 fans in Atlanta. On album Mean Red Spiders come across as a pleasant mix of Lush and Sonic Youth -- noise and feedback and chorus and charming female vocals. Live, they lost the Lush element (although that might be due to the fact that the vocals were entirely inaudible) and rocked out in a way that would make Thurston Moore proud!
After seeing MRS, i understand how they mix noise and feedback and chorus in their guitar sound -- they have three guitarists. All three were very competent, the other two continuing to play as one tuned, allowing the wall of guitar noise to fill Dottie's for almost all of the 45 minutes that they played. It was a really nice effect, and in a small crammed venue like Dottie's it made for some interesting distortion as guitar sounds bounced off of the walls and into one another. I enjoyed the cacophany, but other minions (Tracers for example) would have been really annoyed!
Okay, so to sum up:
- Intergalactic Cowboy -- cute schtick, but i'm over it
- Isobella -- talented, but young
- Mean Red Spiders -- they know what the heck they are doing and they do it well!