Metal Feathers, Brenda, Grand Hotel
Geno’s, February 6, 2009
Last Friday, 50 or so rabid Portlanders shuffled from the cold into the dark, sloping burrow that is Geno’s. The music started about an hour late, apparently due to sound-related issues, but the drinking began right on schedule.
The show opened with the debut performance of the rock quintet Grand Hotel, formerly known around town as Cosades. For a first gig, their set was impressively tight, driven by the sturdy drumming of Aaron Lachance. Sonically, Grand Hotel is a bit overpowered by guitars. One of the three axmen would be doing their sound a favor by switching to keys. Lead vocalist Kyle Gervais sang with a rather frenzied gusto, which at times veered from the course of the rest of the band. But, again, for a debut, Grand Hotel put on a strong performance.
Next on the bill was Brenda, whose live shows seem to get progressively better. Their highly economical alt-pop is equally gripping and catchy. In performance, the songs remain intact structurally, but are hurled at the audience with an ass-kicking vigor.
Josh Loring is an adept electric guitarist. His fast and controlled playing, channeled through a consistently clean tone, kept Brenda’s sound from being unnecessarily distorted or rambunctious. Drummer D.J. Moore is highly adept at the art of keeping tempo. He and bassist Peet Chamberlain make an airtight rhythm section. And as every good trio should, the band aptly divvies up their sound.
Unfortunately, despite Loring’s between-song pleading, the Geno’s sound person could not bring the vocals high enough in the mix. This seemed like an avoidable situation, as Brenda’s sound isn’t tremendous in volume. But Loring compensated by really belting out his melodies — almost as if venting. Chamberlain occasionally complemented Loring’s lead with a whimsical backing falsetto.
“Silver Tower” and “Lines,” both of which appear on their debut EP Let Loose, were the set’s highlights. They illustrated Brenda’s capacity to play really good pop songs in a faithful rock ‘n’ roll design.
By the time Metal Feathers hit the stage, after midnight, the majority of the audience was pretty sauced. People gathered at the front, foaming at the mouth.
David Pence wrote of the soaring caliber of Metal Feathers’ songs in his illuminating Bollard review of their debut. On stage, everything translates. The parts of Metal Feathers’ traditional rock setup — bass, drums, guitar, keys, and three vocals — are each put to excellent use.
The band’s live sound is true to the record, which is nice because their real strength is the songs. I would be anxious of any wild deviations or re-workings. Still, they do take on a looser feel live given the absence of Jay Lobley’s double-tracked vocals and other studio effects. Instrumentally, their sound is broken up into two factions: Jason Rogers’ lightly distorted bass paralleling drummer Althea Pajak’s simple time keeping; and Lobley’s guitar and his brother Derek’s keyboard.
They played “Glass Collecter” and “Frency,” both of which feature rocked-out, anthemic choruses in the vain of Cheap Trick. “All For Blood” sounded like a timid, young, early ’80s punk band violently breaking out of its shell. The audience ate up every note.
In the middle of the album-closer “Roll of the Dice,” people got downright rowdy — there was much giddy, push-and-shove dancing, some beer got thrown around, and a stage monitor got tipped over. The craziness of the scene was amusing; the humble musicians looked a bit confused by all the carousing. Jay Lobley urged everyone, a bit tongue-in-cheek, to calm down or they were out of there.
At the end of their set, people wanted more from Metal Feathers. Jay Lobley said Althea didn’t want to play any more songs, but they still dove into an unlikely rendition of “Born in the U.S.A.” It was an affable nightcap.
As everyone filed out into the cold, I caught a few murmurs of disappointment about the songs Brenda and Metal Feathers didn’t play. It’s a kind of backward appreciation, but hard evidence of the impact this new wave of Portland bands is creating.
— Tyler Jackson