Many many moons ago, I saw a band at the late, lamented Echo Lounge that changed the way I listened to music. I've always been fond of the lingering rhythm sections, the jangly guitars, and of course the echoed vocals which characterize the bands I love. So, it was very surprising when I was totally entranced that first time I ever saw Austin's The Octopus Project. Playing as a four piece, there were no vocals, a driving but dance-inducing rhythm section, and of course a blistering melodic combination of guitars, electronics, and the occasional theremin. It was a moment that opened up my musical tastes, and I've retained my fondness for The Octopus Project over time. So, suffice to say, when I heard they were returning to Atlanta, I was determined to go, even though I was recovering from significant surgery at the time.
Luckily, this was a Sunday night show, which means that bands go on early, as the venue must wrap things up around 11 PM or so, due to Atlanta's somewhat archaic liquor laws. Well fortified with sushi and painkillers (in my case), I, PostLibyan, and other Evil Sponge minions and associates arrived at the EARL around 8:30 or so to find the first band already on stage. This was a two piece Atlanta band called So So Death (get the pun?), and they were rather interesting. Musically, they had a frenetically frantic drummer, who seemed destined to beat his kit into near-oblivion, and a bassist/vocalist, who played intricate melodies whilst showing off his somewhat moody, deep voice. Taken together, needless to say, they were definitely heavy and low-end centric. In some ways, they reminded me of one of the incarnations of The Immortal Lee County Killers, albeit without the twang and more of a modern metal influence.
So So Death were hard to photograph.
It's hard to capture "head banging fury" with a camera....
However (and this is a very BIG however), the sound mix at The EARL on this evening was absolutely atrocious. The sound was at least 75% louder than it ought to be, which left So So Death sounding very muddy (especially through my necessary earplugs). As an example, looking at the bassist, I could tell he was playing some intricate melodies, yet I couldn't hear it through the sonic mess which echoed through the mostly empty venue. That was very disappointing, but clearly not the band's fault. In fact, I'd like to see them again at decent volumes just to hear what I missed on this first go around.
So So Death finished up, and quickly loaded themselves out. Then, there was a really slow, languid set up from the next band, Carnivores (who were apparently previously known as Chainestereo). I understand that sometimes it takes a while to get all the gear on stage and sounding appropriate; however, this band looked to be a fairly standard guitar/bass/keys/drum act, so I wasn't sure why things were taking so long. Moreover, since it was a Sunday, The EARL was on a tight timeline, and every moment Carnivores meandered through their set up took time away from the headliners. So, by the time this four piece began to play, I was definitely ready for them to get on with it.
Carnivores perform. FINALLY. Sheesh.
Unfortunately, though, on this evening, Carnivores were…well…unfortunate. As with the previous band, the sound mix was an act of assault against my ears. Everything blended into a higher-pitched squeal of reverb, thudding drums, and the occasional screech. And for a band that wanted to harmonize, these issues were disastrous. It seemed like everything was off-key, the pacing was off-kilter and when the female keyboardist took the microphone, I thought my eardrums were going to bleed.
This all sounds like a slam against Carnivores, but yet, even through the sonic mayhem, there were things that I thought had potential. In fact, on one song, which had layers of reverb and the repeated refrain of something about (I think – as I said I couldn't really hear all that well) "favorite song", sounded a bit like a combination of Saturday Looks Good to Me and The Rock*a*Teens. But, overall things didn't come off well for Carnivores. Still, I'm not sure how much of my impression was due to the band and their quirkiness and how much was due to the wretched mix.
Finally, after another extended delay (Hey! The Octopus Project does have a lot of electronics to set up!), The Octopus Project began to play. And all was well with the world. Well, maybe not all. The sound issues continued unabated, with the overall volume up too loud and parts of the set came across as downright sharp. Therefore, the still necessary earplugs drowned out much of the musical intricacies. Then again, if you'd made it this far, you were expecting these comments by now, right?
The Octopus Project got spooky new amp covers for their fall tour.
Anyway, I think I've previously described The Octopus Project's live sound as being organic electronic Indie Rock, and I think that the characterization still fits. The music all blends together seamlessly, building on each component part to create a musical waterfall of the various instruments and sounds. It's entrancing, especially as you watch the various musicians slide effortlessly between the instruments, with equal skill no matter which was in play during a particular interlude. When you add in their visuals (which range from live action to animation), The Octopus Project goes beyond a band to become a true multi-media experience that draws the listener/viewer in and brings them along with the band's journey.
A multimedia experience, with drums!
Closeup of the drummer, in intense drumming action.
For me at least, this is all enhanced by the sheer joy and happiness with the band projects from the stage, even as they seemed a little surprised that so many folks would show up on a Sunday night in Atlanta to see them. I think that's one of the reasons why I think they're one of the best live acts around these days.
Of course, due to the timeline, The Octopus Project didn't get to play as long as I would have wished. But by the time they did end, I was well satisfied. I have to admit that they were almost enough in and or themselves to salvage the entire evening. Yet, the sound problems which plagued the entire evening took so much away from the experience that this show overall was, in the end, a disappointment.
Tracers fails to mention that The Octopus Project are blessed wiht a photogenic (and talented) keybaordist and theremin virtuoso in Yvonne Lambert. The rest of the band members run around like maniacs, so she is really the only one i can phtoograph. Her husband Josh is also in the band, and i don't want him to think i am stalking his wife through my camera! Seriously -- she is the only one i can photograph, she just happens to look good while doing so... Anyway, here are some pics.
Ms. Lambert wonders what the heck the drummer is doing!
It takes intense stillness to play the theremin correctly.
No, really -- this is Ms. Lambert in action!