Wikipedia talks about The Anniversary in the past tense. And I guess that's true. However, every year or two I get a message from frontman Josh Berwanger alerting me to another reunion show. And every time, I circle that date on my calendar in red. Why the band reunites when it does is a mystery to me. I'm sure it has to do with schedules and travel and the money to allow the scheduling of travel. But not always. Sometimes it's just a word-of-mouth gig in the basement of a small hometown bar. Those are the best times.
If I had done any research, I'd have known the four-piece set up on the floor of Eighth Street Taproom was Hyperspherian – a band formed by Panel Donor's Brandon Aikin as that band was winding down in 1996 or 1997. While not active for years, the pandemic brought the band back from hibernation and to the Taproom. With help from vocalist Emily Parker, guitarist Jeremy Sidener, and drummer Adam Seitz, the band is back for another go around. But I didn't know any of that at the time.
The quartet began its set skirting the electronic edges of darkwave. Parker wore a Bauhaus t-shirt under her overalls, but the band never got that somber. Instead, it was post-punk and danceable – somewhere near early New Order. At least it was until everything got experimental and odd. At that point the keyboard bleeps and bloops were turned up and they began a battle with the rapid-fire electronic drums on one front, and against Sidener's distorted guitar on another. The warring instruments were hard to decode, and the lyrical battle between Aikin and Parker was just as confusing. The duo set up microphone-to-microphone, barking and yelping their lyrics at the other in duets that Parker's flailing arms made seem like an argument, but Aikin's broad smile contradicted. At the end of the band's 40-minute set I had not broken the code, but was sure I wanted to give it another try.
There are certain benefits to seeing The Anniversary in a basement rather than on the festival stages they often reunite on, but stage lighting is not one of them. The venue's dim red fairy lights made photography tricky. The basement's sightlines made it next to impossible. In an attempt to rectify the first, Christian Jankowski added two cannon lights to illuminate his translucent drum kit. Fixing the second wasn't possible, so on with the show.
It began unassumingly – Josh Berwanger gave a cursory welcome to the audience, and then his guitar tore into "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." This is The Anniversary that I saw countless times and the one that draws me back for each reunion. "The Heart…" was one of four songs played from 2000's Designing a Nervous Breakdown; the set would also pull six from 2002's Your Majesty. The band sounded good – way better than they should have in a room with no monitors and only vocal microphones. Later a band member explained the quartet spent an hour sound checking to get the mix just right. That explains why Adrianne Verhoeven's keyboards settled so nicely between Berwanger's and Ricky Salthouse's guitars, and why James David's bass locked in perfectly with the drums of Christian Jankowski, but how did they get the harmonies in "The Siren Song" so spot on? Other highlights included solid versions of "Sweet Marie" and "The Death of the King." Both were pulled from Your Majesty – an album I ignored when it came out, but now I suspect that it's one that I should revisit.
This reunion gig was expectedly low-key: There was no grandiose banter, instead Berwanger merely repeated "This is fun" during breaks. And aside from Jankowski's headband, the players appeared to have taken the stage wearing their street clothes. I couldn't be sure though as catching site of the band was difficult in the packed room. It only takes 60 people to pack the basement of The Taproom, but moving from the stairway entrance to the bar in back requires squeezing by 45 of them: "Ope, sorry. Ope, sorry. Ope, sorry." The crowd was remarkably homogenous – nearly all white, nearly all elder millennials. Some of them stood up front and mouthed every word to every song. A few sat in back scrolling through dog photos on their phones. Others had their own reunions stumbling into old friends not seen for years. A lot of the audience don't get out as much as they used to, back when The Anniversary was playing The Bottleneck every month.
I slid my way to the side of the stage to get a better view of Verhoeven and the Wakeman-esque keyboard configuration she had surrounded herself with just as the band began its final song. Turns out "The D in Detroit" is the perfect song to watch Verhoeven work as she not only carries lead vocals in the bridge, but also plays a delightful Keith Emerson-worthy glissando that's so much fun. While I was geeking on synths, the rest of the audience was singing along to the biggest of emo choruses: "I kept your picture just behind the eye / Those weeks when our distance grew / Drove north where I found you waiting in Des Moines / Thank god I'm not losing you." I can only hope that feeling lasts until the next time Josh Berwanger alerts me that the stars have aligned again.