Too Much Rock
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Tuesday September 25th, 2012 at Riot Room in Kansas City, MO
Maps & Atlases, White Arrows, & Not a Planet
Related Coverage:
Maps & Atlases 9/21/09

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Sometimes life gets awfully busy, and something is bound to get short shrift. That time is now, and the write up of this show is that thing. All apologies, but this is going to have to be short.

The local threesome of Not A Planet began its set just after 9pm. Immediately I realized that the band's by-the-book groove-oriented rock relies on solid performances more than adventurous compositions. While I found this lack of vision a tad dull, the mostly-female audience remained hyperaware and embarrassingly vociferous through the band's short seven-song, twenty-minute set. Maybe they were merely cheering on their friends and coworkers, or maybe they were fans of the impressive mop of curls worn by frontman Nathen Corsi, or maybe it was his oversized classic rock vibrato that dominated the well-defined gang choruses that set the audience alight. Regardless, my disinterest was certainly in the minority. Throughout the set I waited for a jagged edge, a punch to the gut, or a slap to the face, but that's not the band's style. Instead, Not A Planet prefers rhythms that are steady, progressions that are expected, and round, soft tones. In this case, Corsi's large hollow-body electric guitar, augmented by a host of effects pedals, was more than up for the task. Similarly, the fingered bass work of Bill Sturges produced dulcet tones without so much as a hint of pop or snap. And despite the active drumming of Liam Sumnict, who pounded away on his small kit, the band's toothless set could best be described as capable.

There was a long break as the five members of Los Angeles' White Arrows set up their instruments, projector, and custom lighting. It was made longer by a soundman who insisted on correcting the tones of frontman Mickey Church's guitar by explaining what differences in the pre-gain vs. post-gain distortion he wanted Church to make. Was this show being recorded for the guy's masters thesis or something?

All this fine tuning quickly proved to be unnecessary when the band immediately hit the audience with a wall of noise. The overarching entirety of the band's sound is a bit difficult to get at, so maybe it's best if we start with the pieces. The band deals in psychedelic-tinged shoe-gaze steeped in noise, but still harbouring hints of breezy LA pop. There are post-Vampire Weekend polyrhythms provided by drummer Henry Church (who paid particular attention to his bouncing snare and high hat, and his positively tribal floor tom) and keyboardist/loopsman Andrew Naeve. Steven Vernet's bass boomed large in the mix, urging patrons to dance. The chiming guitars of Church and J.P. Caballero (aka "Juice") colour the band's compositions with heavily processed and effected lines, but seldom demand the attention that the soundman afforded them during the earlier soundcheck. Instead, it's Church's nasal vocals that play a major role in the band's tightly-structured songs.

Visually the band was a glowing (thanks to the projector) white light of Hawaiian shirts, tie dye, and shaggy hair. Caballero had the curious distinction of having both tape on the neck of his guitar to allow him to locate frets quickly, and wearing wireless equipment to allow him greater mobility. Seldom do the two coexist. While I had prejudiced myself to discount the band as genre-chasing hipsters, I was quickly converted by Church's humble and direct banter, the band's partnership with the Invisible Children charity, and an inventive but heartfelt cover of Springsteen's "I'm on Fire." The rest of the audience remained unsure, with the majority of the club retreating to the deck or the far reaches of the club. Only fifteen audience members watched the band's 35-minute set from the same room. Only one dancer heeded the call of Vernet's bass.

In the half hour between sets, an anticipatory audience packed the area in front of the stage. Maps & Atlases's fans mirror the band's music, with no discernible scene or sub culture appearing dominant, just as the band's blending of indie, math, folk, and progressive rock never devolves to one particular genre. Juxtaposition was everywhere; extraordinarily bearded guitarist Dave Davison looked like a lumberjack, sang in sweet folky tones, and was as soft-spoken a frontman as has ever existed. And while the band's recordings are rich in vocal harmonies, its live show jettisoned those niceties for pure propulsive energy.

Joined on guitar by Erin Elders, the duo played ever-shifting guitar lines that built melodies and rhythms from both simple and complex chords, picked leads, and an abundance of finger tapping. Shiraz Dada's bass sat foremost in the very loud mix, joining the percussion of Chris Halney to create undulating rhythms that were more maddening than danceable. Elder's additional work on synthesiser added electronics to the rhythms, eking the band dangerously close to dubstep – particularly on a live reworking of "Silver Self" from the band's latest album, Beware And Be Grateful (Barsuk, 2012).

Throughout the band's generous, 70-minute, encore-less set, audience members swayed and jerked to spasmodic beats, mouthed the words to songs favourited in quieter moments, and self-consciously tapped their own guitar leads when they thought themselves out of view. Maps & Atlases fans do more than mirror the band, they identify with them.