Friday night at The Hideout was marked by three things: the amiable indie rock of Milwaukee's Maritime, the more angular push of Chicago's Bound Stems, and the still-powerful remnants of Hurricane Ike. The turnout was balanced by each band's ability to draw fans against the downpour of the storm. I split the difference, eschewing the bus, and opting instead to drive to the show. As such I arrived at the door around 9:15 for a show scheduled to being at 10pm. The show would actually begin at 10:30.
The show was opened by the quartet of Maritime. Although the band is not currently on tour, it gladly made the commute down I-94 to play the CD release party of label-mates and friends Bound Stems. During the show, however, singer Davey von Bohlen would lament the reality of the notoriously slow Friday-night rush-hour drive, offering that he could have jogged the distance and arrived saner, if not sooner. This bit of levity was, however, a rarity as this band of journeymen were quite content to step onto the stage, play a set of catchy, yet ingenious indie rock, and step off. Despite von Bohlen's reputation for energetic and emotional performances, his stage presence – like that of his bandmates – was merely staid and professional.
The band's setlist was a mix of old and new songs that fell into one of three broad categories: first, the straightforward and emotionally-tinged numbers that recalled von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier's time in emo powerhouse The Promise Ring; second, the winding and quirky songs featuring jagged bass lines (now played by Justin King but championed by previous bass player Eric Axelson); and third, songs that snap and bristle with the energy of the disco punk scene. Depending on the song, the guitars of Dan Hinz and von Bohlen either hum along in chorus, trading smart riffs with deft interplay, or move in opposite directions allowing Hinz to sculpt sounds from his substantial pedal bank while von Bohlen maintains rhythm. This variation was nice, and the forty-five-minute performance tight and flawless, but there was little excitement, and few memorable moments. But tonight wasn't about Maritime anyway.
At 11:45 the members of Bound Stems began their set surrounded by a friendly audience – often times literally surrounded, as a myriad of guest vocalists and musicians ebbed and flowed from the audience to join the band on stage throughout the evening. This jovial atmosphere guaranteed that this show lived up to its billing as a CD release party.
As a CD release, the band's 14-song setlist relied heavily on tracks from the new album. To my ear, the band's sound has become considerably tighter, more focused, and smoothed out. The arty, mathy, and disjointed compositions have been abandoned for a slicker sound which focuses instead on traditional song writing and melody. Instead of wild shifting time signatures, songs feature subtle synthesised flourishes (played by either bassist Dan Radzicki or roving instrumentalist Janie Porche). While this approach may place the band into direct comparison with a host of commercially minded indie pop/rock bands, the shared, often overlapping, and occasionally competing vocals of Bobby Gallivan and Porche provide a differentiating and lovely complex tension.
Having never seen the band before, I can't say how this night's performance measured up. I did note with some disappointment that as with Maritime, there was little motion, and no urgency in the band's stage show. Fortunately both Gallivan and Porche provided frequent, unrehearsed, and entertaining banter between songs creating a relaxed environment. Nevertheless, I did tire of regular shifts in instrumental assignments as Porche moved from keyboards to guitar to bass, Gallivan switched between acoustic and electric guitar, and Radzicki moved between bass and keyboards. Even guitarist Dan Fleury moved over to The Hideout's piano once if memory serves. Only drummer Evan Sult stayed with the same instrument all night.
The band closed its set with Sugar City Magic, the track that not-coincidently closes its new album. When the music ended, the band was all smiles and celebration. There was no encore, or calls for one – encores are for big rock stars, and this was just a CD release party the band played for and with friends.