While it was not entirely clandestine, on the morning of the show I did have to email someone to find the venue's unpublished address. I've read that this is how house shows work now, and it worried me a bit. Lemuria was originally scheduled to perform at The Met, a part of the rock & roll establishment in Providence, where I would arrive unnoticed. But at a house show, I'd be the old guy that no one knows – the one treated with suspicion when he walks in cautiously, and studied intently when he begins to photograph everyone. I'm over 40; I worry about these things now.
As usual, my fears were unfounded. The Firehouse is a collective operating out of an old inner city firehouse, not an intimate punk house. Externally the building is worn, blending into its block of large unkempt houses, weedy sidewalks, and collapsing fences, but once you step around to the side of the building, you're surprised by a luxurious deck secluded by mature trees. While I was anxious to see the inside of the building, I couldn't resist sitting on the deck to people watch over the top of my open book. When the mosquitos got too bad, I paid my $8, moved indoors, found a seat on a couch that, dollars-to-donuts, once sat in someone's parent's basement, and continued my distracted reading.
The nonsensical 7:30 start time published on the website, was ignored until 8:30 when local openers Pillow Man began its set. The band is a three-piece led by guitarist/vocalist Pete Camerato, bassist Sean Camerato, and, on this night at least, drummer Jamie Buckmaster. Initially I listened analytically, trying to pick out time signatures or chord formations that would give me some clue to the band's taxonomy, but after three or four songs, it was clear that genres and labels are outdated when discussing a polyglot like Pillow Man. Songs were big – rock band big – but each contained blasts of power that couldn't come from anywhere but a steady diet of punk. Soon the band made my work easier by playing a Minutemen cover. Then I knew where I was, and where all of this was headed.
First and foremost, Pete Camerato isn't ashamed to take a solo. In fact, he made his way up the neck of this instrument several times in each song, delivering masturbatory guitar lines punctuated by the recognizable pained face favoured by guitarists really stretching a string. When compositions were too short to allow multiple solos, the band solved this issue by turning the entire song over to his notey exhibition. Backing vocals were a rarity, though several songs in the band's twenty-minute set traded Pete Camerato's screamed vocals for the flat, dry delivery of Sean Camerato. Neither vocalist was noteworthy, but Sean Camerato's aggressive, picked bass lines did challenge the guitar for the spotlight on occasion. And it must be noted that although Buckmaster was only filling in for the night, his busy drumming fit the band's combative style perfectly.
Between bands, I took the opportunity to study the room. The wonderfully high ceilings with decorative, well-stained beam work were beautiful. And the curved stairway with worn wooden steps and surprisingly solid bannister had me so excited that I felt guilty for coveting my neighbour's restoration. Large windows (surely no less than fifteen feet high) allowed final light of the evening into the room, sending paned shadows onto floor that served as the stage. The sound was good, surprisingly good, considering how these spaces usually operate. The lighting was spotty but acceptable, however the sight lines were horrible if you weren't one of the persistent few that stood encircling the bands. Even a low stage would do wonders for the view.
It was a bit after 9 o'clock when The Hotel Year began its set. This Massachusetts four-piece is unabashedly emo, recalling the mid '90s tipping point where emo's post-hardcore roots were whitewashed by a pop sheen. Fans of The Get Up Kids and Piebald (especially Piebald) are sure to love The Hotel Year's earnest delivery, heartfelt lyrics, and dynamic compositions. And despite all my smug musical pretence, I fell in love with the band. As is always the case, this resulted in few photos, and even fewer studied observations about the band's performance. Here's what I do know: Bassist and vocalist Christian Holden led the band, flanked by guitarist and backing vocalist Chris Hoffman, second guitarist Cody Millet, and backed by drummer Sam Frederick. Holden's vocals showed no restraint, often ricocheting between spoken delivery and a shriek within the same song. Holden was not a particularly engaging frontman, and, like the rest of his band, preferred to face away from the audience whenever possible. Even worse, Holden seemed to resent the time Millet spent tuning his guitar between songs, as it highlighted just how awkward Holden was in front of the audience. Without banter, each tuned string broke up the short 25-minute set, ensuring the band would never establish a flow or rhythm. Still, any sins were quickly forgiven when the band closed its set with "An Ode to the Nite Ratz Club" from its 2011 self-released album It Never Goes Out. The song floored me, inspiring me to buy the album from the band's Bandcamp site as soon as I got back to my hotel. I'm told that I should expect a new album in 2013, and I'm already excited about it despite my self.
After a 25-minute break, the like-minded Boston five-piece Save Ends began its set. The band is defined by the vocals and rhythm guitar of tiny Christine Atturio alongside the vocals of keyboardist Brendan Cahill. That focus is aided by the strong guitar leads of Tom Ciesluk, and the surging rhythm section of bassist Sam Nashawaty and drummer Burton Wright. The two vocalists traded songs throughout the band's 30-minute set, with each backing the other, or joining forces to provide overlapping vocals. This collaboration worked well despite the lack of monitors – a feat that speaks to just how tight the band has become during its past three months in the recoding studio. Although the house PA met its match during Save Ends' set, allowing the galloping rhythms, churning guitar, and organic guitar solos to overwhelm Cahill's piano parts, the result was a pleasing, more muscular retelling of the band. Without its studio emo pop sheen, Save Ends brought to mind Elizabeth Elmore and Sarge, resulting in a very happy me.
The cadre of girls that dominated the front rows for Save Ends were quickly displaced as the entirety of the 150-person audience pushed forward to see Buffalo's Lemuria. Guitarist and vocalist Sheena Ozzella commands this three piece, providing both the band's direction as well as all of its interaction with the audience. Co-founder Alex Kerns provides contrasting vocals, as well as skittering drum lines that seldom rest. Max Gregor (the newest member of the band) is a workman bassist, that seems happy to leave the vocals and spotlight to his bandmates. Still, his energy – something common to all members of the band – easily trumped the preceding acts.
While the band has spent most of its nine-year existence entrenched the DIY movement, releasing 7" records, and playing unofficial show venues, the trio now seems ready to embrace a larger audience. The band's recent appearance on NPR's "All Songs Considered" couldn't be a more obvious step in that direction. But when a booking snafu at The Met left the band with an open date, Lemuria quickly returned to its base who booked this underground show. At The Firehouse the trio was welcomed with open arms by a crowd that sang along, danced, and even mobbed the microphone during fan-favourite "Pants" from 2008's Get Better (Asian Man Records). In fact, the band's 40-minute, fourteen-song set list rewarded its longtime fans with a smattering of early singles, as well as drawing heavily from both Get Better and Pebble (Bridge Nine, 2011). Conspicuously, the set omitted the NPR-endorsed "Oahu, Hawaii" leaving me to wonder what schism the band might be contemplating as the June 18th release date for The Distance Is So Big (Bridge Nine) approaches. It wasn't until the band ended the night with two songs from that forthcoming album that its commitment to the new material was made clear. By depriving the audience of a big, familiar, finale, the band effectively drew a line in the sand, announced its new course, and challenged its ardently independent fanbase to follow them forward.
Having no history with Lemuria, I has happy to be along for the ride, but even those that could claim to be with the band since the punk rock beginning seemed content with setlist. I heard only good things as I made my way past the line at the merch table, through the clusters of chattering friends on the darkened deck, around the freshly planted garden, and to the street. As I unlocked my rental car I thought that Lemuria and I were a lot a like – both of us having grown up in the all-ages scene, effectively moved on, but both still hoping we'll be welcomed home whenever we need it. My advice to Lemuria is this: As long as you don't mind feeling a little creepy, and you're true to your beliefs, the scene will always be there for you.