Tuesday July 15th, 2003 at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA
Kimone, The Life and Times, Placer, & The Forms

Kimone The Life and Times Placer The Forms [more]

Scooter trouble again. I was sure I would be late. I was sure I’d miss it entirely. Friends, coming in from Kansas City on their first tour as a new band put me on the guest list, and I was going to miss it because of carburetor issues? I put the air filter back on, choked the hell out of it, kept it revved high, prayed to a vintage Italian god I wouldn’t do any permanent damage, and reentered the traffic lane. Ten tense minutes later I sped onto the sidewalk in front of The Middle East.

After a shoddy lock job, I pushed through the loiterers outside and past the hurrying waitresses inside, and nearly threw my ID at the doorman in an effort to save face. The moment he fastened the bright orange bracelet onto my wrist (and arm hair), I recoiled in a single Matrix-like motion that allowed me to simultaneously remove my camera from its bag and swing the door to the club open. I was ready to shoot. In reality, once the door was open I discovered the club was still mostly quiet, and mostly empty. There were only a few dozen people milling about the room to the nondescript sounds of the house PA, and bands were still setting up their merch. I was definitely not late.

Brooklyn’s The Forms walked onto the stage at their allotted time and simply stood around. I assumed they were waiting for the house music to be turned down, or the sound guy to get ready, or something else I just couldn’t see. Naturally, I was terribly confused when the band launched into its opening number with seemingly no warning or cue. Later I realized the house music wasn’t house music at all, but merely musical interludes controlled by the drummer, used to pass time while the band tuned. I’ve seen it done well; this time, however, it merely distracted and confused me. Am I that dim?

The band didn’t seem particularly friendly. In fact, among math-rockers, anti-social behavior is a fairly common. It’s even possible (if not likely) that the members of The Forms hate their audience. Not only do they pummel the audience with relentless percussive music, but they also place numerous stops in nearly every song for the sole purpose of confusing and embarrassing the audience. You know how it goes: the band stops, the audience applauds, the band launches back into the song, the audience blushes, the band stops again, the audience won’t be fooled by clapping again, the band quips something like, “okay then,” and then the audience sheepishly claps. It’s awkward I tell you, awkward!

If The Form doesn’t hate its audience, it may simply have too high an opinion of them. Songs are alternately very long or very short without any noticeable melody or focal point. Two guitars are beaten to the same rhythm that drives the bass and drums – a rhythm seemingly given a tour through every time signature possible. While math-masters Don Caballero has always kept its sound thin, clean and tight, The Forms have chosen to muddy the waters as much as possible. Distortion and buzz are the modus operandi of the band, and even the stops occur more as a lazy death of rhythm. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that the band’s debut CD was produced by Steve Alibini.

The audience reaction was somewhat divided. While most fell into one or more of three categories (overwhelmed, confused, or disinterested) a few fans seemed to truly connect with the music. A sandaled white-hat shook and shimmied like a rolling Deadhead with lawn seats. Although he wasn’t alone in his enthusiasm, he was definitely the minority.

The band’s final song was a long, building piece that slowly gained tempo as it headed towards its collapse – fairly standard fair for the evening. After a pause, however, the band picked up the theme and reapplied it a slow, tight, sludgy dirge. The shift made all the difference, and soon the audience was a sea of bobbing heads. The tight, near-groove may not be the band’s usual vision, but it was something the audience could comprehend.

A quick set change brought Boston’s Placer to the stage so they might fuss with a bad guitar cord in front of a live audience. I, as I am want to do, took the opportunity to study the shoes of the band members – mostly boots, as was the general theme of the night. Throughout the evening there was a strong leaning towards the white trash side of fashion, with a few fully embracing the new indie rock glam (read “trucker fashion”). The most road-haggard of them all had to be Araby’s Cliff Rawson, who had joined Placer on stage as a temporary replacement for that band’s steel guitarist (currently on tour with The Blueman Group). His stiff, billed cap, infrequently trimmed moustache, and Yes belt-buckle (even if only affixed to his guitar strap) made him look like a skinny version of the big-rig driving uncle you mention in only selected company. I assumed pages torn from Penthouse Magazine lined his guitar case, but I just couldn’t get a good view to confirm my assumptions. Thankfully, the faulty guitar cord was replaced before I made a fool of myself by climbing onstage.

Placer is, amazingly, very similar to openers The Form, yet they sit on the other side of the cafeteria entirely. While everything The Form did seemed calculated and devised, everything Placer did was from the gut. The band’s music was loud and cascaded into the audience, enveloping everyone in blanket of distorted guitar and a duo of anguished voices (courtesy of guitarist Andrew Schneider and bassist Tom Korkidis). There was heart to Placer’s music, as opposed to The Forms’ stops and math-rock pretenses, but the two bands shared a similarly urgent aggression. Bands like Traindodge, Houston, Ring Cicada and (once) Shiner, all dial into this same stirring energy. It has the power to rock audiences live, but lull them when heard on headphones. Placer is still honing this, but its future seems bright.

The club continued to fill throughout Placer’s set, reaching its peak for the Boston debut of Kansas City’s The Life and Times. While the band is merely months old, it is on a major tour supporting its debut release on trendy label 54º40’ or Fight! How? It’s a matter of pedigree. The band is fronted by vocalist/guitarist Allen Epley, formerly of Shiner, and supported by drummer Mike Meyers (The String and Return) and bassist/guitarist John Meredith (Someday I). Is all the attention lavished upon Epley’s new venture justified? That’s what the masses came to find out.

The band brought warm light cannons onto the side of the stage and pointed them inward. Satisfied with crossing yellow beams, Epley then asked that the house lights be turned off. Afterwards, he quickly thanked the crowd, and the band lunged forward. Those expecting Shiner II are likely to be immediately surprised by the drumming of Mike Meyer – his choices are all over the place and his style is one that is simultaneously reserved and prominent. He’s likely to steal the sonic focus of the band and certainly that of the audience. Other changes are subtler – after all, the voice of Shiner is the voice of The Life and Times. However, today Epley’s easy delivery is arranged differently and serves as a constant companion to his strummed guitar. The two travel well together, but not in any way a singer/songwriter might arrange his two instruments: instead of trading lines to create a complete song structure, his guitar and vocals mesh to create a single, incomplete line. Meredith is then left to fill in the gaps with either his guitar or bass. When playing guitar the band’s sound is terribly thick and driving. On bass, he climbs nimbly to the base of the neck, providing both competing interest and foundational notes to be flourished by Epley’s guitar. Incredulously, Epley is often not the focal point of songs, but merely the glue that holds his rhythm section together.

Other differences are still more organic and speak to the evolution of Shiner. The long, open pieces of Shiner’s The Egg are revisited (in spirit) in The Life and Times’ music, but instead of a obeying a preordained math-rock complication, the songs are allowed to build and develop simply. There are still angularisms in Epley’s choice of chords and their progressions, but with The Life and Times the songs are more open. This is actually a double-edged sword. While the songs flow honestly instead of seeming contrived, they also meander without goals or visions. There are no boxes to contain songs, nor are there confines to guide them. Fortunately, Epley has generally shown constraint, and thus the majority of the songs are successful in their current state.

As it approached midnight on a Tuesday night, the audience began to sneak out. To replace them, lurkers who had once held their ground against the back wall of the club now came forward, particularly the gals who were seemingly unimpressed with the crashing machismo that peaked early in the evening. When Boston’s Kimone looked out upon the sparse audience, I imagine it was comprised entirely of the familiar faces of willing disciples. While that may not be ideal for CD sales, it is certainly a shot of confidence.

Kimone is a band easy to identify with and difficult to pigeonhole. Its songs are long and flowing with momental bursts of energy and distortion. Often they are sculpted from perfectly blended instrumentation and accented with the billowy voice of bassist/guitarist Tim Den. Comparisons to Radiohead are inevitable, and the band wears its influences boldly. While the band’s CDs may feature a wealth of instruments to create interest, the live ensemble consisting of two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboard served to focus the band’s material. Possibly more rock and less expansive, the music inspired the drowsy audience to nod (and sometimes slowly shake their heads from side to side) appreciatively.

While there is a time and a place for the beautiful artistry of Kimone, standing on tired, sweating feet in worn converse after midnight on a Tuesday night is obviously not it. When the band played their final number, I clapped wildly, promised I’d procure the CD some day, waved to my friends, and got the hell out of the club while I still had my eyes open. After all, I figured I should save my energy in case I needed to push a two hundred and fifty pound Vespa back to Allston’s Union Square.