ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND 2/7/17
by Chance Viles
After two changes of venue, this show found its home at the Asbestos Farm, which was a blessing in disguise. The Asbestos Farm has always seemed like a dream to me. The interior is decorated with an array of trinkets without much of an obvious pattern, yet somehow it all fits. There were a few dogs around; you’d be standing watching a band or talking and feel something slink past, rubbing your legs. It was like a delightful fever dream the way things were happening all around.
The bands were set in front of a white sheet decorated to look like the moon, with a black light and glowing plastic stars dangling from the ceilings. The ceilings were low, giving an impression of a dark sky above. It created a sort of tunnel vision to the stage, which was the only source of light while the bands played. Maybe it felt like a dream to me because all I could see was art that could have been from Le Petit Prince casually hanging around the band as the crowd looked on.
Hadley two-piece The Flies? played first. They were quiet at the right times, building anticipation for a sort of “drop” where the band would get much louder and demand the attention of the room. Their whole set was like that, a roller coaster of dreamy indie-rock that would excite, then calm. The more interesting part was how the band made their two-piece set up work. Not long ago, The Flies? had a bassist as a third member. Oddly, it would be hard to tell a bass was missing if you couldn’t see the stage. It is something in the chunkiness of the guitar, the singer using his voice as an instrument itself, and how each element worked with the drums that makes the band sound more dimensional than a band normally would without a bassist. There wasn’t that empty bass-less feeling, and the beat remained danceable. The Flies? are a band I am excited to have seen and discovered, and they set the show up with great momentum.
Ada from Maine played an interesting set next. Their stage presence was calm, almost unnoticeable. Their music was somewhere in between experimental, country/folk, indie, and post-rock. The singer reflected the shakiness of a classic country singer’s voice, and between the twangy banjo sounds and the show’s location in a farm-house, the country element worked well. On the downside, a song would start off interestingly but they would drag it on for way too long. Songs would take up to seven or so minutes, which is a very long time to play when you’re in a crowded dark basement in a lineup with three other bands. Not much was lost as the show’s demeanor was calm itself, but instead of the nice dreamy feeling, this act was more like a heavy dose of Nyquil.
Paper Bee picked up where The Flies? left off. Paper Bee was engaging, addressing the crowd and talking with one another. Their music was energetic indie rock that let their drums bang and their strings play up-tempo. There was an obvious comfort with one another as a band in the way they deliberated set-lists and tempos onstage. At the front of it all, the vocalist, Nick Berger, was a demanding and powerful force in the room. Perhaps one of the most talented singers I have seen in the Valley in a long time, they really tied all of the music together. They had a beautifully pitched voice that was clear and crisp. When the music would change tempo, Berger was able to pitch and manipulate their voice around it, providing a dynamic level that brought the music from fun indie-rock to something more unique.
Felix Walworth of Told Slant, NYC, performed solo next. Their music is usually presented with three people, with Walworth, the vocalist, as the drummer, but that wasn’t the case at this show. Walworth performed on their own, playing the guitar in absence of the drum. The songs sounded sort of different because of this. Told Slant is an indie band that focuses on the emotional aspect of a track to engage the listener. Lyrically, the songs are often about missing a loved one, not fitting in one’s own body and environment, and the pain of that combination. Due to their presentation in a solo act, the lyrics were much more pronounced than normal. At a slower speed without anything to detract, the focus for this performance was on the vocals alone. I think this emphasized the lyrics of personal struggle and pain, and made the longing for a loved one more poignant and believable.
Everyone sat down at Walworth’s request, which is pretty common for these types of slow, intimate performances. Functionally, sitting also allowed for everyone to see over one another to the stage, as the view in the back of a low ceilinged basement is never too good. Sitting also upped the feeling of crowd engagement. Everyone was below eye level with Walworth, who was seated on their amp. It felt like story-time prior to a nap in pre-school, between the seated crowd and the starry decorations behind.
The music continued into the night, stopping only when the performers were getting tired. It was a calm Friday night. There wasn’t much noise, there was limited dancing, and people took a seat during the show. That’s not to say it was bad by any means; in fact, it was memorable. For a crowd to be so tame, they must either hate the music, or they are really engaged with the performance. I found the crowd attitude that night to be the latter. The show was exactly what an easy night out should be.