At a bit after 7:00, the five members of Ann Arbor's Great Lakes Myth Society climbed onto the stage. I hadn't seen the band before, and immediately I was worried by the band's three-guitar configuration. Three guitars is the equivalent of a five (or more) string bass – no band I'm interested in needs that. I shivered as visions of Collective Soul flashed through my head, but thankfully the Martin acoustic guitar of James Monger quickly melded into the background, providing a constant and unobtrusive, but sturdy, base for the band's music. Additionally, Timothy Monger's Telecaster was set down in favor of a small accordion for a majority of the set. This left only guitarist Gregory McIntosh to play leads. I'm generally not a fan of slide guitar (or Stratocasters), but his playing often provided excellent lyrical melodies that defined the band's songs. Crisis averted.
Timothy Monger ostensibly fronts the band, although brother James Monger has lead vocal duties on just as many songs. All members share backing vocal responsibilities. The band's sound shifts substantially depending on the vocalist (and corresponding composer), but all songs are built around a standard rock aesthetic, flavoured by Midwestern indie rock and emo, with hints of folk and Americana as well. Songs are never too experimental, never too brash, and generally upbeat as dictated by James Monger's strumming. The songs sung by James Monger, and particularly those also featuring Timothy Monger on accordion, recall Pogues-esque sea shanties and drinking songs. The tumbling banjo and violin used in the earlier studio efforts were absent in the band's live set, though the gang vocals and accordion were still able to convey the same tipsy feeling in these compositions. Sadly, the delicate and textured compositions of Timothy Monger, didn't always fare as well live. Many suffered from the lack of strings, horns, and extreme dynamics that were simply not possible for the band to recreate on the small Schubas stage. So, while the band were a pleasure to see live, I think I still prefer to experience the band through the intimacy of headphones where every jingle bell and singular ringing guitar note can be cherished.
Detroit's Mason Proper followed, and like the opener, Mason Proper's live show doesn't come close to replicating the intricacies of its lone studio album. However, Mason Proper's live show reveals a band bristling with twice the energy, urgency, and passion of its studio incarnation.
The band's sound is a unique blending of post-punk, art-punk, and post-hardcore. Songs are explosive with strong dynamics, and feature synthesized noises and keyboards that meld perfectly into the structure of songs rather than simply providing novelty accents. Vocalist Jonathan Visger is a formidable frontman whose edgy vocals twitch with energy. Keyboardist/sound collage artist Matt Thomson also provides highly processed vocals that often sound more like another instrument than a human voice. While the band's contemporaries provide a one-dimensional approach, bassist Zac Fineberg and drummer Garrett Jones provide a myriad of foundations. The kick to it all is the wirey Fender Jazzmaster guitar work of Brian Konicek. Unfortunately, both this assemblage of musicians and its audience seemed timid at the beginning of the set; it wasn't until the band played "The World is Smaller Than You Think" (a version considerably revved up from the recorded version) that everything clicked.
Seeing the band live is a treat. Undeniably, Visger is adorable, and bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Jason Schwartzman. His performance was both quirky and coy. Why he chose to perform with one shoe on, and the other off, is a mystery, as he didn't seem to favour either leg. Later he pulled the socked foot up behind him, held it there, and performed an entire song balanced on the other leg. While Visger began the set with his Telecaster, after breaking a string in the first number, he switched to a partial hollowbody Epiphone. Midway through the set Visger asked his band mates why they hadn't told him this new guitar sounded so much better than his primary guitar. He was right, the warmer tones from this guitar did sound nice against the chiming keys of Thomson. Although Visger never removed the microphone from his stand, he was still incredibly mobile – particularly in the songs that he didn't play guitar in. In the final number Visger and Thomson traded places allowing Thomson to try his hand at guitar, and Visger to fall about the stage until it was necessary for him to pull himself up to play his keyboard lines. Somewhere in this melee of one, Visger had cut his hand, causing spurts of blood to splatter across the synthesizer with every chord pressed. Although, not Iggy Pop, you couldn't really ask for a better performance.
Headlining the evening was Detroit's Saturday Looks Good To Me. The band – lead by its only consistent member Fred Thomas – has gradually shed its wall of sound girl-group past, and embraced a starker, indie aesthetic. The band has cemented that change by leaving its label Polyvinyl Records for a new home at K Records. Following, several very different Saturday Looks Good To Me incarnations played that night. My favourite is the bright band of old featuring a nine-member orchestra, the vocals of Betty Barnes, jangly guitars, and copious amounts of tambourine, cello, glockenspiel, organ, and saxophone. The night also featured dark solo numbers from Thomas where he would loop his guitar and sing softly over the tumbling accompaniment. The majority of the night featured four or five musicians in a largely straightforward indie rock setting. In this configuration, the audience saw Thomas actually shredding away on his Telecaster. Who know he had it in him?
While it is true that the band has been all of these things, the haphazard song selection was evidently the work of fans on the Internet who had voted on what songs should be played live. Whether Saturday Looks Good To Me continues to embrace each of its separate moods is unknown, however when the band chose the sprawling, dark, and textured EP track "Spiderbite" as the featured closer, I think it's obvious where the band has invested it's energies, and what course it has plotted.
After the band had completed its 15-song set list, Thomas sincerely thanked the crowd, and the band left the stage. As he exited, Thomas was nearly tackled by the enthusiastic hug of cellist Anna Steinhoff. Moments later, when the audience recalled the band to the stage, Thomas and his small core of players capped the night with a one-song encore. I had hoped for a big blow out of "Since you Stole My Heart" or "Lift Me Up," but instead the band remained true to its mission, and "only" delivered an upbeat, interesting, and well-arranged rocker.