Friday, June 18, 2010

Concert Review: Wakey! Wakey!, The Spring Standards at DC9

Wakey! Wakey! with The Spring Standards and Chris Cubeta
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In the interest of full disclosure:
So, I missed the opening band. I hate doing so, and from what I’ve heard of their music and this particular performance, Chris Cubeta and the Liars Club, fronted by Cubeta, long time friend and producer of Wakey!Wakey!, this especially was not a show to miss. Roommate bonding trips to Ikea take far longer than one might expect, especially when one of said roommates leaves the brilliant blue stoneware set—the one that matches the kitchen perfectly—on a bench outside the shore. So that took a while. Mea culpa.

The Spring Standards’ setup and soundcheck took a bit longer, I think, than any of the 50-75some crowd expected. Heather Robb, the Standards’ ebullient leading lady—adorning the bluest of dresses and even brighter, bluer leggings—arranged with exacting care no less than seven instruments in front and around herself, carving a mini-niche at the center of the DC9 stage. James Cleare, with shaggy hair and the coolest of Batman tshirts, strummed and riffed anxiously on two or three of the five guitars lined on the edge of the stage. James Smith bounced on and off the stage, checking mics and his own cache of instruments, arranging a snare, tom, guitar, bass, mic and two cymbals in front of his stage left corner.
A listener new to the Spring Standards wouldn’t quite know what to expect. The glockenspiel, tom, synth, organ, keys, computer and electric feel emanating from Heather’s spot would presuppose the bouncy, edgy spunk of a Ra Ra Rasputin show; indeed Ken Quam of Ra Ra was in the audience. But as the Spring Standards launched into their opening few songs, especially
Skyline, scenic with clanging cymbals, suspended vocals and patient dynamics, the Standards established their unique sound—as if She & Him and the Swell Season invited the cautiously obliging White Stripes to afternoon tea.

The Spring Standards pulled about half the songs of their new album Would Things Be Different for the show, and they arranged highs and lows much as they did on the album, with smart care and dynamic.
With no dedicated drummer, the Spring Standards actually achieve more—vocals and guitar pulse with driving force as each band member hammers out straight, unwavering percussion, unfettering whatever energy was not released vocally. They closed out the set with a dynamic pair off the new album—a fortunate (and unplanned) contrast as the band learns they have time for an extra song. Eerie, aggressive trumpet and vocals surged through the room on "Not Again," just before an impassioned, enveloping "Unravel Unwind" closes out the set. The Spring Standards promise an eclectic folk rock that fills in the current scene nicely and quite irreplaceably. It’s going to be interesting to see the role they play as they join the Swell Season, Josh Ritter, M Ward and others in representing this launching scene. Plus, James can talk at length about LCROSS and LRO, which is unbearably cool.
Wakey!Wakey! took the stage with purpose and poise, to the extent that frontman Mike Grubbs’s jovial, at-home demeanor would allow. Concurrently, the band had something to prove—launching unabashedly into a solid, driven set—and didn’t—the band exuded a consistent, comfortable awareness that their music speaks for itself, allowing them the freedom to explore it. Plus, in the small crowd with whom Mike shared conversation throughout the night from just across a bright red keyboard, who knew all the lyrics and who took videos to share with him and each other after the show, we were all friends anyway. Their sound was impossibly tight, led by reverberant bass lines (I spoke to spunky, ultimately cool bassist Anne Lieberwirth after the show; she said “You want to speak to Mike, I’m just the bassist.” She was far from the truth.). Mike’s left hand and synths from Tanya Buziak drove the lows further with a forceful foghorn consistency ("The Oh Song" q.e.d).
It was a night of firsts for the group and their DC faithful alike, and the show took on a celebratory air. It was the first night of the tour (and Mike “already [had] tour hair!”); it was drummer Max Tucker’s first live show with the group, a fact deceived by his spot-on precision and full effect. Indeed, it was the first DC show to which Mike could afford to bring the entire Brooklyn-based group, as the crowd dwarfed the 5-10 he would draw at prior District shows. His elation to this end—exemplified as he took and tweeted a video of the receptive (though perhaps histrionically so, for purposes of the video) crowd between songs—characterized the genuineness of his music and persona. As the tour continues and the band looks forward to popular reception of Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said the Last Time I Saw You, it’s likely Wakey!Wakey! can expect the response their faithful have been hoping, cheering, and waiting for.

-- Henry Fingerhut

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