Do you remember the summer your childhood innocence wilted away like so many leaves autumning into fall? So often, it seems, such moments are difficult, if not impossible, to understand as they happen and it is only in retrospect that we can look back with pining nostalgia.
Among all art forms, music is perhaps best suited to convey the beauty of loss and longing, and at their September 26th Muse Music show, Provo band Adding Machines managed to perform what might best be described as an experience of exquisite melancholy; their music was deeply rooted in the nostalgic past and the beauty of its absence, yet still emotionally exuberant.
Adding Machines began their six song set with “I Ain’t Changing,” followed by “Drifting Away.” Both songs (which also open the band’s recent EP Sweet Dreams) are relatively upbeat, but rely on their instrumentation and lead singer Jake Haws’ rough-around-the-edges voice to convey a sense of romance and longing rarely seen in local music (or not-local music for that matter). The beginning of the show revealed a band performing songs about joy and pain, which resulted in an immeasurably more pleasurable listening experience than if the songs had been only “happy” or “sad.”
The band followed their emotionally complex openers with the crowd favorite, “The Showdown.” It was by far the most rock-oriented song of the set and proved the band could entertain visually as well as musically (Haws actually broke his guitar strap on this song swaggering back and forth across the stage). Next came “Eye of the Storm,” which involved all the band members switching instruments and Haws singing, drumming and playing guitar all at once. The song was also my personal favorite due largely to the fact that Melissa Haws, usually on bass and organ, textured the song with long, rich trumpeting. The final two numbers, “New Girl” and “The Final Word,” rounded out the emotional arc of a deliciously nostalgic and beautifully melancholic performance.
Adding Machines’ describes their genre as “folk rock/alt-country,” though that description doesn’t quite do justice to their live show. Indeed, the show demonstrated that the band knows how to take the best from their influences, which subsequently lifts them above the many mediocre bands that similarly describe themselves. More intriguing still are the wider influences the band incorporates. For example, Melissa’s vocals bring a distinct jazz influence and her trumpeting evokes a sultry wailing more often found in Latin genres. As the front-man of the trio, Jake emphasizes the “rock” in “folk rock” through his vocals and stage presence, proving that Adding Machines isn’t just another touchy-feely sob fest. Ultimately, each member of the band (including the versatile Dan Smock) demonstrated facility of their instruments and rare on-stage grace.
If I left the Adding Machines’ show wanting more of anything (other than to go home and listen to their CD), it was more vocals from Melissa. Jake has a powerful and affective voice, but Melissa gave me goose bumps every time she sang. She led “New Girl,” and a number of the songs featured duets between the two Haws, but I’d have been interested in hearing more. Still, the set was evocative and I wouldn’t have wanted less from Jake, so the solution may simply be to go see the band again and hope they play more songs with Melissa on vocals.
Adding Machines put on one of the best shows I’ve been to recently in Provo and anyone who manages to catch a show will be doing themselves a favor. The set was sorrowful, exuberant and exquisitely melancholic all at once, which is a rare thing indeed.
Jim Dalrymple is a popular culture correspondent for Rhombus and apparently doesn’t appreciate “touchy-feely sob fests.” You can follow him on Twitter @jimmycdii.
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