Lovers, A Severe Joy, Tree Streets
The Oak and the Ax
June 4, 2011
My brother and I drove down to Biddeford last Saturday night to see a show at The Oak and the Ax, the small indie venue formerly known as Hog Farm Studios. Neither of us had been there before, and we weren’t familiar with Biddeford, so after leaving Route 1 we got a little turned around. Once we found 140 Main St., we walked down a hallway, across a porch, and through a dark door to find ourselves right in the thick of the action. The entrance is about a foot from the stage, so upon stepping inside my brother and I found ourselves inside a light show.
Former Spouse frontman José Ayerve had taken the stage under the moniker A Severe Joy (an anagram of his name), and launched into a full-on diva set: one man channeling Robyn, Swedish electronica duo the Knife (ala his masquerade mask and eye make-up) and Bono, simultaneously. Ayerve sang over a pre-recorded backing track, funneling some sexy electro-glam-pop while wielding hand-held strobe lights. His expressive dance moves were choreographed to the music, which captivated the audience to no end. And as if the visual spectacle was not enough, lyrics like “I wanna sext you all night” made the set truly spectacular.
The next act, Tree Streets, played a jangley type of rockabilly – they call it “garage twang.” The Bangor band sounded like a five-piece Violent Femmes with Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) as the lead singer. Guitarists Matthew Cassidy and Chris Dodd brought the twang, while Adam Goode’s loose bass filled in the rhythm section and drummer Ryan Tipping-Spitz provided some tight breaks. Kat Johnson’s sweet Americana vocals softened the edges of the fierce tone the band flashed at times. Tree Streets is a countrified garage-rock act that lays back but knows how to cook.
The headliners were a three-piece from the other Portland called Lovers. Their sound had a tinny, ’90s pop vibe, courtesy of a sequencer and the audio filter applied to Emily Kingan’s drumbeats. Kerby Ferris’ hypnotic synth lines snaked their way through the layers of juiced electro-jams.
The real powerhouse of this trio is lead singer Carolyn Berk. She delivered an emotive performance that came off seeming quite natural, as if the love-addled lyrics were being written and sung spontaneously. Kingan and Ferris added gorgeous tandem backing vocals.
Lovers’ synth-pop grooves forced even the older members of the audience to move their shoulders and nod their heads. The trio proves that the chillwave genre pioneered by acts like Washed Out and Toro Y Moi can accommodate fully formed, accessible lyrics and be catchy even while it veers from straightforward dance hooks. This is excellent news indeed.
— Anders Nielsen