This Little Underground 

Autumn means the stampede of big touringacts, so here goes…

THE BEAT

With magpie indie rock built on little twists and wisps instead of sizzle and bang, Minneapolis’ Tapes ’n Tapes (Oct. 6, the Social) are more about intricacy than grandeur. And they’re one of those true-to-life bands that achieve lots of live fidelity in their recordings. But as good as they were live, perhaps the most interesting part was a local anecdote they shared onstage about an incident at their last Orlando show involving a girl named Lauren who was hula-hooping at the concert. It turns out getting ejected from the club that night was how she met her future husband, Chris Rae, a former employee of the club (and Mumpsy alum). Cool that the band not only fondly remember the incident, but know how it all played out.

Fellow Minneapolitans and openers Howler are a particularly auspicious young band, one with enough promise to attract the instant interest of Rough Trade Records founder Geoff Travis, who’s now releasing their debut EP in the U.K. and Europe. Their tuneful American indie-rock sound blends rugged Replacements-esque soul and punk heart in a sunny, melodic way that’s very current. Once they develop some more chops and really shake their latent swagger loose, they’ll be killer; the songs are there.

I think my time with Kansas indie-poppers Mates of State (Oct. 7, the Social) is done. It takes a certain kind of person to handle this sticky, wide-eyed sweetness all the time. Me? I can only take so much before either my teeth rot out or I’m overcome by the urge to strangle. And they’ve gotten to the point now that their full-throttle spirit is going head-to-head with Matt & Kim. And that is just the most pussy face-off ever.

Oklahoma opener Other Lives, however, was something serious, with far more gravity and substance. Prepared for tons of sonic detail and size, they brought seemingly every device on the road with them in order to fully replicate their deep, ambitious sound. And that sound is a widescreen amalgam of indie folk, symphonic pop and the high drama of a spaghetti western. Live, the mini-rock-orchestra employs lots of strings and horns but anchors them with an earthy, human sensibility. With a scale and sweep fit for the cinema, whole scenes rise in the mind’s eye when they play. It was their first Orlando show and it was as big of a first impression as they come.

On the dance end, Canadian electronic act Junior Boys (Oct. 5, the Social) came and, despite their considerable cred, were notably underwhelming live. Besides warm bodies, they actually offer little in stage appeal. But their music is a bit overrated in the first place. Maybe it’s their subtlety, maybe it’s their chill style, but they too often feel like the house band for a chill-out room. Which is fine if it’s five a.m. and, well, 1995. Although sometimes stylish, their music’s just too unassertive to penetrate. That doesn’t say much for their effect on the pulse or the vitality of their music.

Unfocused, genre-bending opener Theophilus London (Oct. 8, the Social) has been getting some buzz lately. But, at this point, his live performance alone does nothing to suggest that he’s anything special yet.

Breakout British headliner Friendly Fires, however, was absolutely electric. Like LCD Soundsystem, they’re a fully live dance band. Their music, already utterly alive, was powerfully played and moved bodies. Speaking of bodies in furious motion, singer Ed Macfarlane doesn’t half-step anything. Vocally, he was on. And in terms of physical output, he was already down in the middle of the packed crowd on the first song. After only about 20 minutes onstage, he was drenched in sweat and looked like he’d just stepped out of a swimming pool. This is a guy who pours his everything into it. And that’s exactly what we want to see in a performer. Buuuut, during some of his more spirited fits, it’s a little hard not to realize that you’re watching every funny stereotype about white people and dancing unfold in Technicolor right before you. It’s not a consuming distraction to their dazzling, joyful show or anything. But I won’t lie, I did almost spit up beer a couple times. Sorry.

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