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  THE WHITE LIGHTS w/ Tijuana Hercules and American Dream  
  The Earl  
  East Atlanta, GA  
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Over the course of the weekend, I had already seen 8 bands - some good and some bad -- under the framework of The Atlantis Music Conference. But I had grown tired of that type of music and decided to go walk up the street to see one of my current favorite bands, American Dream, open for two others - one of which I had seen before (White Lights) and one of which I had never heard (Tijuana Hercules).

Although I had hurried up to The Earl from The Echo Lounge in order to catch the beginning of the show, there was no music (and a more or less empty room) when I walked to back venue room. In fact, in spite of The Earl's declared "everything starts around 10:30" policy, things didn't really start rolling until nearly 11:15. With three bands to go, the start time promised a very late ending. But I didn't really care - I was looking forward to the show.

And I wasn't disappointed at all. For once, the sound of The Earl was balanced and mixed perfectly for American Dream. It was easy to hear the nuances of the different instruments; I could easily distinguish the cello from the bass. This sharpness pointed out a newfound expansion of American Dream's music. Previously, I had often heard the lo-fi ethic of Will Oldham and Bill Callahan blended with darker overtones of a band like the Handsome Family (or maybe Lambchop), all of which is overlaid by a layer of the reverb which seems to pervade Atlanta.

While that sound still describes American Dream to some extent, the band has allowed the sound to become more complicated; instead of providing mere accompaniment to the guitar and vocals, the other instruments now provide countermelodies and the like. In some ways, this band has grown to remind me of the Karl Hendricks Trio. Both have their own sense of beautiful melancholy in their lyrical narratives and musical delivery. And with each passing performance American Dream reaches a new level of consistency in their performances, which is why they've quickly become one of my favorite local bands.

After this first band finished and loaded off the stage, the next band (Tijuana Hercules, who were completely unfamiliar to me) started to bring their own instruments on their stage. First they brought out this antique-y looking, stripped down drum kit. Then someone else brought out a beat-up, old amp and plugged in a guitar. Finally, one last guy came on, carrying a trombone and a music stand with cans hanging along the bottom (and topped with a cowbell and tambourine).

"Wait a minute," I said to myself as I watched this. "They've got cans."

In my experience, when you see a band with homemade instrumentation, it can be either really good or really bad. As I had never heard of these folks before, I wasn't particularly encouraged. Shockingly, when the band started to play, it turned out that their music was this raunchy, intensely fuzzed out pseudo-rockabilly (reminiscent of Gene Vincent or Ronnie Dawson). At one point I turned to Zythos (who has wandered up from The Echo as well) and said, "You know, I'm stone cold sober and heaven help me, I like it." But, it was good: the band was tight, all the musicians were throwing themselves into the performance, and, oddly enough, those darn cans worked perfectly as backup percussion. And I was sort of sad when they stopped after a rather short 30 minute set.

Luckily, I didn't have long to wait before the headliners took the stage. I had seen The White Lights before and had mixed reactions -- some times they were good, other times they were bad. But it had been a while, and I really want to like this band, so I was willing to chance them again.

It turns out that I made a good decision; on this evening, with excellent sound, the White Lights were very impressive. Like American Dream, I could hear each instruments, from the vibraphone to the violin to the baritone guitar. And although the vocals were clear, they didn't dominate the mix but remained instead part of the overall effect. I realize that the songs themselves, as well as the female vocalist's delivery, reflect the influence of the Velvet Underground in general (and Lou Reed in particular). But with so many instruments (some seven in total), the White Lights' live performance reminds me of some ghostly early-1960s dance taking place in a dark basement. It's hard to describe why this is so: maybe it's the reverb; maybe it's the dueling guitars. As PostLibyan would say, I dunno. Still, that's certainly the visual image wrought by the music. And I rather like it (and, true to form, it does make me want to dance).

The only complaint I would make about their set was simply that it was too short - perhaps an hour or so. However, since most of their songs last maybe three minutes at most, The White Lights were able to run through most of their extant material in that time. And I suppose that wanting to hear more by the band is a sign that it was a good show. In the end, I was certainly thinking how pleased I was when all of the music ended, and I drifted out the door, back into the 21st century, and out of the retro mood that pervaded the evening.

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