There is a lot of backstory here about travel and parking and forgetting my camera bag and travelling across town to borrow one and not being on the guest list and, well, no one wants to read that so let's just give you the heart of the matter.
Northampton's And the Kids took the stage around 9:20. The trio is helmed by Hannah Mohan, whose feral vocals and deconstructionist guitar (not to mention her rather unique electric ukulele) are anchored by the constant pounding drums of Rebecca Lasaponaro and Megan Miller's synthesizer (and Glockenspiel). You know the old joke "How many bass players does it take to screw in a light bulb? – None, the keyboard player can do it with her left hand." Well with her left hand Miller repeats bouncing but tight low-end patterns, while her right hand added the necessary chords to fill in the holes left by Mohan. If there is such a genre as post-art-punk, this trio fits the bill with an art school image, a ferocious punk rock attitude, danceable rhythms, and heady compositions rife with noise and sharp edges. During one new song those disco beats not only had Mohan dancing, but half the audience as well. Let's hope that track find its way to the band's debut album expected February 17th, 2015. I made a point to download the band's two previous EPs to help span that gap.
The Kids' 40-minute set was followed by a quick change that made way for Crooked Fingers. While that act occasionally swells its membership, the project is essentially the solo project of Eric Bachmann (ex-Archers of Loaf). Bachman played a short set of quiet and warm songs – many of which he described as new and unfinished. With some self-deprecating wit, he asked the audience to provide feedback on those songs to help him decide each composition's future. His performance was divided into three segments: the first found Bachmann behind his keyboard, the second playing tumbling finger- picked acoustic guitar, and the final, growing bolder on electric guitar. Having not kept up with Bachmann's solo career, the only song I recognized was a subdued cover of Archers' "All Hail the Black Market," but as with everything Bachmann touches, each song was a gem that felt immediately familiar. Maybe one of you kind readers can provide me with a "best of" primer?
During the next set change I made small talk with the fans around me, leading me to the conclusions that college kids are younger than they used to be, and that Boston shows run later than they used to. I was now able to count the hours of sleep I was going to get on one hand. I hoped this would be worth all of the night's effort.
At 11:15, fans lined the stage three-deep to greet Sallie Ford and her band. The demographic was curiously split between middle-aged men and college-aged women, with virtually no middle ground. The crowd in the back of the bar was noisy, and I worried how that might affect the band. I forgot that Sallie Ford can be as noisy and nasty as any bar crowd out there. Game on.
The four-piece began its set with the buoyant "Hey Girl" from its new album Slap Back (Vanguard, 2014) and continued through a set built mostly from that album. Ford's strong yet nuanced voice carries a good deal of weight in the band, with guitar making up most of the balance. She's not a shredder, but she's certainly not afraid of a slick solo or a cacophonous breakdown either. Bassist Anita Lee Elliot, drummer Amanda Spring, and keyboardist Cristina Cano have been backing Ford for the last few tours, and their familiarity with the songs and each other now seems easy and natural. Newest member Cano even worked the audience (insisting that she wanted to see some ass shaking and pleading with the Boston crowd to trump the Northampton audience of the previous night), meshing with Ford's own goofy yet bold demeanor.
Although Ford did revisit several tracks from her earlier Sallie Ford and the Outsiders project, including "They Told Me," "Lips and Hips," the brazen "Fuck That," and the truly early cut "I Swear," this current band was built to play the new poppier songs, not the R&B influenced burners of that earlier era.
An hour into the performance Ford looked at the seventeen-song set list by her feet, saw the audience had dwindled to less than twenty, and called an audible, cutting a song or three. From there it was a quick game of musical chairs as Ford took over bass duties for a song or two, then moved on to keyboards for the final number. Although time was an issue, Ford and her band still returned for an encore that resurrected the pop of the set's opener – a cloying, harmony-rich cover of The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Here Ford's vocals were oddly sweet, skewing the band toward the sugary indie pop of Best Coast, and miles away from current ballsy single "Coulda Been" or the new album's mod stomper "Dive In." A fair amount of noise (particularly from Ford) let the audience know that this wasn't a different band, but rather one of the many flavors Ford playfully experiments with.
It was after 12:15 when Sallie Ford wrapped up her set to only a dozen dedicated fans. The rest of the bar, however, showed no sign of stopping. Dodging the revelers, I made my way past the merch table and out the exit. I thought about stopping for an And the Kids shirt or patch or pin, but knew I should get the borrowed camera back as quickly as possible, and then start the drive back to the Maine border. Besides, I decided hours ago that I'd see the same three-band bill when the tour rolls into Kansas City on the 21st.