Wednesday December 27th, 2000 at The Melody Inn
in Indianapolis, IN
Saraswati & The Impossible Shapes
Indianapolis has an entirely different scene than the one I left just three years ago. In 1997 there really wasn't an indie scene at all, only a scene built around straight-edge, PETA-sanctioned protests, Krsna-core, Food Not Bombs & crusty hardcore. Today there is a small scene full of young kids with unfamiliar faces, and a couple of low-key venues to support them.
The Melody Inn is a small neighborhood bar which must have run out of locals to cater to and decided to reinvent itself for the new indie scene. For you folks in Kansas City think of the Waldo Bar including the single sad pool table set in the back. Unfortunately this is a twenty-one and over establishment, and only hosts live music several times a week, but it still seems to be a cornerstone of this new local scene.
It took a little under a half hour for my sister and I to make the journey from my parent's south-side home to the bar's location on the near north side of the city. We both paid our $3 cover, she was carded I wasn't, and we went into the club. I quickly found the five familiar faces in the crowd and exchanged awkward hugs. There was too much noise and too much buzz and just altogether too much to attempt any sort of meaningful catch-up dialog, so Jessica and I found an unoccupied booth and began to wait out the first band.
A little after 10:30 a handful of rosy-cheeked boys from Bloomington (and no doubt Indiana University) took the stage. I'm completely unsure of The Impossible Shapes' history though I'd imagine the band has been together for about two years. The band seems to be loosely the vision of vocalist/guitarist Chris Barth who writes the majority of the band's material. He has a somewhat manufactured Syd Barrett persona replete with big floppy afro and far-off gaze. The band's music occasionally follows that same low-fi psychedelic pop road and when keyboards are added in, its nearly uncanny. In fact I'm positive I heard See Emily Play hiding somewhere in the middle of their set.
Although the stripped pop was certainly satisfying (albeit far from cutting edge) the band would occasionally swell to include two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards and produce appropriate amounts of noise. This other, more aggressive band were indie in an early Pavement sort of way what rocked in a most agreeable way.
The band ended their set of almost an hour with a genuine encore demanded by the thirty-five or so people in the bar. One short song later, the band left the stage for the night and nearly a dozen of those fans left with them. Saraswati set up quickly but then left the stage for what bassist/vocalist Matt Chandler described as "the mandatory five minute rock-star break." B-O-R-I-N-G. However after that break the set moved very quickly and the band played nine songs in under forty minutes without taken a break for chitchat or tuning.
The set began with several bouncing and lunging songs sung by Chandler. Although this is nothing new, the band's interesting arrangements and a technical deftness make them a stand out in the noisy indie world. Typically Chandler's bass lines carry the responsibility of holding the songs together which allows guitarist Todd Bracik to ignore melody, rhythm and ultimately music altogether. With guitar in hand he effortlessly creates pure grinding or noodling noise; without guitar he is able to sculpt his feedback through nearly a dozen effects pedals. New drummer Koven Smith (whom you should remember from NYC's Blinder) brings a new jazzy maturity to the band's sound and it's hard to imagine anyone else's drumming ever being appropriate.
It wasn't until the middle of the set that guitarist/vocalist Andrew Greenburg was brought to the spotlight. His vocals are higher and much sharper than Chandler's and cut through the music rather than attempting to overpower it. All this creates an interesting vocal contrast in the band's songs. His guitar lines follow much the same roadmap allowing sharp broken chords to either chip away at a structured song or to prod the movement of sluggish songs along. In many ways it seems that Greenburg holds the music vision for the band even though Chandler is the obvious frontman. It's not quite as defined as Daltrey/Townshend, but it's apparent.
Ultimately Saraswati is a noisy giant, sometimes lumbering, sometimes slashing but always momentous. Whether their music is presented as a structured four minute assassination or a twelve minute siege, their mission is always accomplished. After all, even their musical missteps are not mistakes at all, only new directions for the band to take its fans.
After quick good-byes that seemed to leave half the story untold, I left the stuffy club for a clear cold night. On the drive home I thought about the Indianapolis I grew up to, the after-show meals at the IHOP, and how I might carve back out a space for myself in a whole new scene in a town I once commanded.