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  SHARKS AND MINNOWS W/ American Dream and Ashen  
  The Earl  
  East Atlanta, GA  
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Superchunk's music publishing company is called "All the Songs Sound the Same," which is a shame, because it's a title more suited for Ashen. O.K., maybe that's a little harsh, but it was certainly my first thought upon seeing this local band. Upon first impression, their music seemed like standard angular indie pop that is inevitably called "emo", with dueling power chorded guitars, strong (and loud drums), and a melody-carrying bass. The main difference that I can hear comes from the vocals, which seemed to be of the generic female variety, at least on this evening. Personally, I couldn't discern anything of the lyrics, as the vocals were lost in the wash, although PostLibyan thought they were mixed too high.

Still they were entertaining and energetic, and it's very rare to find a relatively new band which has their entire act together. Furthermore, considering the sound issues at The Earl on this particularly evening, it's really hard to judge this band. I suspect that under the wash of guitars there's something interesting and different. But, this was not an evening to hear such nuances; in fact, trying to get the gist of the music at all was somewhat difficult, as was evidenced by the problems facing the next band, American Dream.

Setting up between two loud indie pop groups, this five piece (including both cello and harp) presented a challenge to both mic and mix. Unfortunately the results weren't particularly impressive, which was disappointing to Minions hearing American Dream for the first time. "It was like glass breaking," Brillo explained to me the next day. And to some extent, I could see her point: although much of the music sounded like so much sonic mud, there were occasional mismatched sounds that would distract from the flow of the songs. Furthermore, the quicksand of the mix somehow lost the cello (I could see her playing, really...) and left me grasping at straws, forcing me to recall concerts past in order to determine which songs they were playing.

I can't say that American Dream were at fault - from where I stood, I could see they were all playing together tightly. The new drummer, Eric Young, caught all the cues and carried things along without a hitch. David Railey and Kat Gass (guitar/vocals and bass/sax, respectively) interacted off one another, just as I've seen them do previously. In short, there weren't any overt flubs like the ones you might expect if it were just a band's off night. Rather, the sound issue originally evident during Ashen's set threw a monkey wrench into the dark, tintyped music of American Dream and to some extent negated a solid performance.

Based on the challenges faced by the previous two bands, I really had little hope for the headliner, Sharks And Minnows. So I was surprised when they took the stage, and their sound was absolutely wonderful - good vocal mix, crisp instrumentation - nothing over (or under) mixed. Of course, this leads me to surmise that these guys got a better soundcheck than the other two bands, but ... eh ... stuff like that happens, right?

Still, this gave me a chance to really evaluate Sharks And Minnows, who I'd only seen as an early opener on previous evenings. I rather like them - they're clearly good musicians who are maturing as songwriters. But they're a young band in that their influences are still too clearly written upon the music. It's way too easy to hear a song and think, "this is the song that's like Superchunk" or "this is awfully similar to Modest Mouse." Admittedly, this factor seems to have decreased since the last time I saw them, so it seems likely that, as their experience as a band grows, their ability to find something unique within their own music will increase. And that's a good thing.

Furthermore, Sharks And Minnows provided the highlight of the evening. After playing a short set, they agreed to do one encore, and launched into a slowed down, power ballad-y type song. I found it vaguely familiar, but couldn't quite place it until both Brillo and PostLibyan pointed out that they were playing Hysteria by Def Leppard. Any band that plays a Def Leppard cover cannot be taking themselves too seriously. It was a great way to end the evening, somewhat erasing the problems from earlier and leaving me happy, thinking that all in all it was a fun evening.

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