Tuesday, March 4th, 2008
The Evening Descends
Photo by Frank Yang
So while I was excited about the debut Toronto show for Champaign, Illinois’ Headlights this past Sunday evening, it appeared that I was one of the only ones. There were maybe a few dozen people in attendance when the quintet took the stage and while that’s a disappointing turnout, it’s not an unexpected one. Their debut Kill Them With Kindness was well-received from those with a taste for sweet, fuzzy indie pop (like myself) but didn’t exactly set the world ablaze and their newly-released Some Racing, Some Stopping, while evidencing the sort of growth you like to see in a sophomore effort, probably isn’t on a much different trajectory.
But there’s nothing wrong with dedicating oneself to writing sharp, unpretentious pop songs, particularly when you’re as good at it as Headlights are. They drew the opening slot straw of this co-headlining tour with Okies Evangelicals and served up a sweet but too-short set drawing largely from the new album (which I haven’t spent enough time with) and a few older numbers, all while fighting off feedback issues and vocals which were buried too far into the mix.
What impressed me most were the little touches the band applied to their live arrangements, more subtle and effective than I’d expect from your typical indie-pop band. Manipulating their effects pedals to actually sculpt the static coming out of their amps and not just make random squelches, inviting the Evangelicals out for one number to man multiple floor toms on “So Much For The Afternoon” and just generally doing the little things that you might think would get lost in the mix but really do make a difference. They’re playing what seems to be a millions shows at SxSW next week – I’m hoping to catch at least one of them.
I’d seen Evangelicals a few years back in support of their debut So Gone and they didn’t do much to shake the “Flaming Lips Jr” tag that they’d been saddled with, earned as much for their noisy psych-pop as their shared home state though Evangelicals seemed to draw on inspiration several shades darker than Wayne Coyne ever has. Their new one The Evening Descends is more refined than the debut, less frantic, but it was in the live show that the band has grown the most. They’re still not much for stage lights and favour a spooky, Halowe’en-y atmosphere but frontman Josh Jones is now demonstrating a fey, Kevin Barnes-like charisma which suits them quite well. His sense of vocal pitch could still use some work – singing swoopy-style around the correct note just doesn’t cut it – but the songs, which are considerably rockier (in a classic and glammy sense) live than on record, are certainly there and so is the stage show. They’ve got the strobes, black lights and smoke machines and everything.
Photos: Evangelicals, Headlights @ The El Mocambo – March 2, 2008
MP3: Evangelicals – “Skeleton Man”
MP3: Headlights – “Skeleton Man”
MP3: Headlights – “Cherry Tulips”
MP3: Headlights – “Market Girl”
Video: Headlights – “Cherry Tulips”
So did you catch Wilco on Saturday Night Live? If not, this is what you missed – two of my less favoured songs from Sky Blue Sky nonetheless delivered with such aplomb that you can’t help but think, “damn these guys are tight”. The Des Moines Register talks to bassist John Stirratt. Update: Denied! Damn you, NBC. Update 2: In your face, NBC! Thanks, Karl.
Josh Ritter, who’s at the Phoenix tonight, has conversations with The Grand Rapids Press and The Winnipeg Sun. Congratulations to Matt, Tualla, Derek, Eddie and different Matt who won the Ritter contest last week.
Nina Persson of The Cardigans tells the BBC that the release of their Best Of compilation doesn’t mean the band’s done. Nor does the fact that she’s releasing her second A Camp solo record this year, with the title Here There Are Many Wild Animals.
Some upcoming concert announcements – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin will be in town at the El Mocambo on April 18 to offer their thoughts on the election of Medvedev as President of Russia and play some songs from their new album Pershing, due out April 8. Via Audio will be along for the ride, Pitchfork has full dates.
Welsh kiddies Los Campesinos! are hitting the road in support of debut full-length Hold On Now, Youngster… and stop in at Lee’s Palace in Toronto on May 23. Neu! has an interview with Ollie from the band.