Monday, December 10, 2012

Seven Saturdays, Western Lows, Auditorium at The Satellite (12/5/12)

I have seen the future, and it is Seven Saturdays. Seeing them at The Satellite last Wednesday night (Dec. 5), at the BuzzbandsLA show, was like witnessing the birth of a whole new band, complete with womb-like lighting by Rebecca Balin that bathed the whole affair in a bluish, embryonic haze that complimented the music perfectly. Like spending time in a birth canal.

First imagined as musical odysseys from the fevered imagination of Jonathan Haskell, they have had a steady, loyal fan base and when I first saw them two years ago at the Bootleg they impressed me as one of the better ambient, space-age orchestra/band ensembles I'd ever seen. As I was already a big fan of the bands that create sweeping cinematic landscapes like Explosions in the Sky and The Album Leaf, I was a soft target.

But back to this show. I made sure to get there in time to see Auditorium (above), who were the first band of the night. Since I first saw them last March at the Bootleg (at the instigation of Kathryn Pinto who was already a fan), they have become a favorite of mine too. Absolutely flawless and precise vocal harmonies brought to life some fascinating songwriting that covered subjects from the weird to the inspirational, made vivid by sharp, expert pop melodies. Every element is in place and there is no excess fat.

At this performance, Auditorium delivered a robust set that was sonically dynamic, but sacrificed a bit of their vocal precision. The sound mix was marred by a persistent alien screech that cropped up occasionally and Spencer Berger's voice was miked a little toward the overpowering side which diminished the other voices. Don't get me wrong, I go to hear Spencer sing, but one of the beauties of this band is hearing the intricate layering of the harmonies. Maybe I was just standing in the wrong place, but it did emphasize just how important the proper sound balance is to a vocal band, particularly this one.

Even with that it was still an impressive set that was certainly enjoyed by the crowd, many of whom had never seen Auditorium before. Tearing through favorites like "Sex Offender", "Girls Will Like Your Lips", "Rabbit Rabbit" even the beautiful "New York Sky", along with a brand new song, the set was brisk with barely time to breathe between songs. And again, I'm impressed at the ingratiating stage presence of each member of the band. Their shared joy comes through, loud and clear and I'm excited they're working on a new recording.

Jack Burnside, formerly of Mezzanine Owls, has a recent project called Western Lows (at  right)      which brings together Julien Bellin from Polls on drums and Michael Orendy of Frankel on bass and vocals. As the next band, they produced a "shimmering" (Bronson's word), "jangly" (my word) shoe gaze that grew more and more hypnotic and involving as it went along. I fell into their trance.

Sober, droning vocals rested atop a virtual ocean of varied guitar music/noise. I don't know if I've ever seen Michael play bass, but he added a steady gravity to the music and contributed vocal harmonies when needed. I would like to see them again and hear where they're going with this.

I was engaged in conversation at the other end of The Satellite when the club slowly began to fill up with blue fog, emanating from the stage. As a big fan of fog effects (the more fog, the better) it was an auspicious beginning for what was about to begin. The familiar drone that I remembered from the last time I saw them, introduced this new, different Seven Saturdays.

Emerging from the fog, Vanessa Fernandez (above) stepped into the hazy light and her voice sinuously threaded it's way into the musical miasma going on around her. A striking presence, she seems to be swimming in the air as she adds a solid foundation and point of reference for the audience, who otherwise might be overcome by all the gorgeous swirling sound.

As all the material was new, I was happy that the addition of lead vocals provided an accessible point of entry into this other-world, haunting and strange as it is. After a few songs Vanessa relinquished vocal duties to Jim Evens (above) of Helen Stellar, who has a similar command of the stage and is equally expressive with his powerful voice. Both singers know when to hold back and when to let loose.

I was absolutely transfixed, much like the first time I ever saw Helen Stellar or The Stevenson Ranch Davidians or any of the other hypnotic/psychedelic bands I have come to love. Aided by a hallucinatory light show (by Ms. Balin) and a perfect sound mix (and just the right amount of fog) I felt wrapped up in a cocoon from which I was reluctant to leave.

It all added up to an enchanted evening that left me reeling for days. Jonathan Haskell has taken his band to the next step. And I, for one, intend to follow.


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