I go to a lot of rock shows. My calendar tells me that in October alone, I plan to attend no less than 15 concerts. With the exception of overlapping events, I believe I see every band that I'm interested in – and a good many that I'm merely curious about. So when I get an email from a friend asking if I'd like to go to a show that I hadn't planned to attend, and on a night that I have free, I always say yes. As long as I keep "reliable taste in music" as a prerequisite for friendship, I can't really go wrong.
Before we dig into the heart of the show, I'd like to take a moment to disparage the Jackpot Saloon & Music Hall. In 2012, the venue has still not figured out how to share the start time or ticket price of any of its shows. The Jackpot has a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account (at least one) but the information is nowhere to be found. After pestering every contact I could find for a week, I eventually received a direct message from a Jackpot Twitter account the afternoon of the show revealing that the bands would start at 9:00. When I responded incredulously, the unknown spokesperson replied with "maybe a bit later than that." Infuriating. Without knowing how to interpret the tweeted advice, Chip and I arrived at the club at 9:15 – the same time as the night's first band.
By 9:45 the opening band had completed its robust soundcheck, apologising to the audience for being late, and noting a flat tire was the culprit. Still, though, there was no urgency. After soundcheck, the band set down its instruments, and walked off the stage, not returning until after 10pm to begin its set. "A little later than that" indeed.
Brooklyn's DIIV began life as Dive – a bedroom project of Beach Fossil's Zachary Cole Smith. As the band began to take shape, and others began to take notice, Smith changed the name to DIIV (pronounced identically) to avoid confusion with other bands with the same name. Since then, the line up has grown to include not only Smith on vocals and guitar, but additional guitarist Andrew Bailey, bassist Devin Ruben Perez, and drummer Colby Hewitt. The foursome are currently on tour promoting the band's sparkling debut album, Oshin (Captured Tracks, 2012).
The album melds the wiry insistence of post-punk, the lush textures of shoe gaze, and an effervescent danceable disco rhythm section that places the band somewhere near the end of Joy Division and the beginning of New Order. While the neighbourhood around this sound is currently a crowded one, DIIV is able to distinguish itself from the pack with a live show that brims with energy. This was a wonderful development that I would not have guessed at when the four sleepy players took the stage.
In truth, the quartet looked more than drowsy – they looked like they had been doing shots of Robitussin in the van during the entire drive from Denver to Lawrence. This was particularly true of Smith who took the stage in an enormously oversized Micky Mouse t-shirt that recalled the nightshirts my little sister slept in, worn capri pants with holes curiously offset from his knees, a vintage stocking cap, and soft shoes that I can only describe as booties. But when the set began, this young blond urchin was in constant motion, hopping back and forth as he coaxed bright and bouncing leads from his guitar. At the beginning of each track, he bent down to a small keyboard on the floor, set a rhythm, melody, or colouring background chord into motion, captured it with pedals, and then left it to its own devices for the rest of the song. His vocals, when there were vocals, were heavily processed, resonating as if from a half-remembered dream. Bailey was an even more animated performer, skipping, dancing and spinning at the centre of the small stage, allowing his loafers to slide about reckless as his guitar kept up with the lively pace set by Smith. Hewitt's drumming was kept simple, eschewing fills, but heavy on arm-swinging cymbal work. Perez, however, stood in contrast to the motion around him. He remained bent over his Gibson Explorer bass, allowing his long black curly hair to obscure everything but the tail of his own long shirt, a pair of very skinny black jeans, and black boots.
DIIV played a well-received, thirty-minute set, including a re-imagined Nirvana cover (Smith is an enormous Nirvana fan though identifying the actualizations of his wildly divergent stated influences is impossible). The young, larger-than-expected audience, however, turned out to be more languid than the band, as Smith's directed banter went largely ignored, leaving band members to scratch their heads in confusion – particularly when no one in the audience admitted to making the local pilgrimage to the final home of William S. Burroughs.
The clock ticked past 11:00, but the club was still filling up. Soon the crowd was packed tightly around both exposed sides of the stage in anticipation for the headliner. Simply moving about the small club was difficult, and staring at the wall of anticipatory fans, I knew my photographic opportunities would be limited. But where is all the love for this by-the-numbers dream pop revival band coming from?
Like DIIV, Wild Nothing started off as the project of one man (in this case, Virginia Tech student Jack Tatum), but grew to include the necessary members for live performances and tours. While Tatum is still the band's sole songwriter, Wild Nothing now includes Nathan Goodman on guitar, bassist Jeff Haley, drummer Jeremiah Johnson, and keyboardist Kevin Knight – the latter hobbled slightly by a sling on his left arm, restricting the movement of bones broken while skateboarding on tour days before. Together, the quintet produces the sort of easy alternative rock championed during the early years of MTV's "120 Minutes" – music built on warm shimmering washes, layers of guitar, strong melodies, and simple pop song structures.
While the band played, I was able to watch the songs develop, beginning with Tatum's guitar, which was then doubled by either Goodman's own guitar, or by Knight's keyboards. These new instruments often mimicked the melody of the previous one, or slid just above it to provide lifting harmonies or delightfully full choruses. The rhythm section remained mostly out of the way, allowing the waves of sound to carefully wash in and out. Tatum's live vocals were not nearly as soft nor airy as they are recorded in the studio, but they still floated weightlessly in the band's compositions. This is music to fly kites to.
Between songs Tatum focused intently on tuning and other administrative tasks, becoming noticeably shy and awkward when forced to interact with the audience. He was flustered when fans would shout up questions – even softball ones like "Where are you from?" Thankfully, the band's ever-changing light show provided enough visual interest that no one noticed its inert stage show. Instead, this very friendly audience sang along throughout the set, lauding praise upon tracks culled the band's short career, and even dancing as the set approached its finale. While I hadn't remembered it at the time, the band had recently completed three weeks on the road opening for the similarly-minded Beach House – including a stop in Lawrence. This, I assume, accounted for the big turnout at the Jackpot.
The band's hour-long set included eight songs from the new album (Nocturne, Captured Tracks, 2012), six from the first album, as well as "Golden Haze" from the EP of the same name. Skipping the pretence of an encore (and the hassle of a perfunctory exit and return to the stage), the band merely played its final number (the band's debut 2009 single, "Summer Holiday") and left the stage.
Had Chip opened my eyes to new bands? Actually, no, both bands had already been played on my podcast, and I had consciously made the decision not to attend the show. However, both put on good performances that illustrated why the renewed interest in shoegaze and dream pop is warranted. While I remember the progenitor waves more fondly, I have a luxury that the mostly twenty-something audience does not. That said, the music of our formative years is always the most revered, and for those coming into their own during the summer of 2012, the memories of the DIIV and Wild Nothing show that a friend invited them to may be with them forever.