MUSIC: Concert Review: Mudbison, The Devil Whale

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

mudbison

Friday night’s show at Velour showcased the full musical spectrum of the local scene — from the great to the, um, not-so-great, all in one evening on one stage.

The show opened with a spirited performance by now-Los Angeles-based pop-rockers Kid Theodore. I often place this band into a category with Fictionist and the Elizabethan Report — groups whose music I don’t especially connect with on a personal level, but who possess immensely recognizable talent nonetheless. While I may never sit down and pop in a Kid Theodore album for my own personal enjoyment, it is abundantly clear that they do what they do very, very well. If you’re into scruffy, energetic powerpop with lots of multi-part shout-along choruses, you will love these guys. Their Friday set was no different, and they got the crowd moving early and often with a tight set of danceable tunes.

The John Whites have been something of a mystery to me for quite some time — I’d heard about them forever, but had never actually seen or listened to them until they took the stage second on Friday. I was not impressed. I generally found lead singer John White’s (who else?) vocals to be more than a little hard on the ears as he constantly wavered in and out of tune. The songs seemed to lack any sort of discernible structure and seemed to drag on ad nauseum, piling on clumsy guitar solo after clumsy guitar solo to little positive effect.

The band’s cover of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” started rough, but eventually grew to a fairly nice and respectable apex — before being completely ruined by White’s distracting and misplaced dancing. (To be frank, it was just a bit weird.) I’m not really sure what all that means, nor do I know how to make sense of what The John Whites did on-stage last night — but I’m pretty sure Phil Collins wouldn’t have approved. (Not that anyone would bother to ask for his approval in the first place.)

Thankfully, The Devil Whale took the stage third and calmed my very confused soul with their always excellent folk rock. Band leader Brinton Jones’ tightly written songs are delightfully pleasing to listen to in and of themselves, but also add another layer of texture that subtly enhances the overall experience. Forgive me if I can’t muster a legion of words to describe their performance, because only one comes to mind — solid.

Jones and company are undoubtedly one of the tightest bands in the local scene, boasting impeccable musicianship and group cohesion. Sure, they might not always be the most electrifying or exciting band on the bill, but they always play great songs in a professional manner that is consistently enjoyable. Their Friday performance ran the gamut from spare emotional ballads to up-tempo blues rockers, highlighting the musical ability and versatility of this very, very solid local band.

It’s no secret that Mudbison, the night’s headliners, are one of our favorite bands here at Rhombus. No one writes songs that sound quite like Spencer Russell’s experimentally charged brand of eclectic indie-rock. It’s unfortunate the band has been forced to take so much time off as of late, due primarily to Russell’s work on his younger brother Isaac’s major-label debut album. However, if there was any rust building up over the band’s long layoff, it didn’t show on Friday.

Mudbison came out like a band possessed and tore through an excellent set composed of many old favorites and an ample selection of new material. New songs like the gorgeous piano ballad “Joy!” and the haunting rocker “Vampires” (which I am personally submitting for the next Twilight movie soundtrack) showed Russell’s growth and maturation as a songwriter, broadening his musical horizons even further. His acrobatic vocal range and endearing showmanship were on display in older cuts that still felt shiny and new, like the delicate “Time Machine” (which has never sounded better) and up-tempo stomper “Mama Nix.”

Little unexpected twists and instrumental flourishes kept the discerning listener on the edge of his seat for the entire set — a tribute to not only the band’s effortless collective talent, but also Russell’s unique musical vision. It’s these kind of subtleties (the kind also employed to great effect by Brinton Jones and The Devil Whale) that lend greater nuance to a performance and really take it to a higher level. Should Russell ever decide to let his brother go his own way and focus on Mudbison alone for any serious period of time, there’s no telling what this prodigiously talented band could come up with next. Until then, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Steve Pierce is editor and co-founder of Rhombus.

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