BLEACHED AND THE PALMETTES, WILL'S PUB, OCT. 25
On record, sister-fronted Los Angeles band Bleached are evolving almost as fast as they're rising. Musically, they're settling into a nice, more distinguished groove that's already looking beyond basic punk. And they're doing it with a keener sense of heritage, recalling the underground pulse of the 1970s Sunset Strip before it got hilariously stupid.
But even though they're showing sharper intent on record, their live presence still beams with all the purity, economy and joy that's made them burst like total liberation all along to a full house like this.
Opening was Orlando's the Palmettes, a doo-wopping garage-pop group that was likable but embryonic last time I saw them. There's since been some significant lineup change. Though their sweet and scrappy recipe is essentially the same, the singing – which was then their biggest liability – is now one of their best assets, thanks mostly to the ladies.
But that last show I saw was almost three years ago. And today they remain pretty rough. They are, however, an unconditional charm with a lot of intrinsic virtues that could be something if they dared to cultivate them.
GRAILS, JASON LOEWENSTEIN AND WHITE SANDS, BACKBOOTH, OCT. 24
Between both touring acts and an unearthed surprise guest with the local opener, this recent downtown show was all about emergence from hibernation.
Portland headliner Grails arrive on their first album in six years (Chalice Hymnal). Over their considerable career, these instrumental-rock champions have ranged so far and wide that practically the only thing they won't do is sing. That their music is deeply conceived is inarguable. But without the aggressive dynamics and sheer sonic size of peers like Pelican or Russian Circles, their music can sometimes play a little cerebral and meditative. And though being among the most proggy of their class can sometimes mean sounding like the Mannheim Steamroller of the lot next to their heavier contemporaries, Grails' polished, cinematic music is an undeniable voyage.
Also featured was indie-rock icon Jason Loewenstein, he of Sebadoh, Fiery Furnaces and a solo career so intermittent as to barely be a thing unto itself. Still, although they appear on two albums that are 15 years apart, those solo glimpses have been solid. And this happens to be a rare "on" year for him with an album released this summer (Spooky Action) on Joyful Noise Recordings.
Loewenstein came solo but his show was electric, full of rugged soul and in the moment. Showing plenty of the same lo-fi DNA as Sebadoh, his own music rides rough, brawny guitars through melodic slants and skids. On his own, the frays were more prominent, leaving a footprint of grit, gut and character. Even without the horsepower of a band, his execution had burn. With both performance and personality, he warmed up a room that was reserved, and not necessarily there for him, considerably. It was raw and intimate, an ideal way to experience a hero, however unsung.
Orlando opener White Sands is the ambient solo vehicle of noted local experimentalist Steven Head, whose associations include Acoqui and Moon Jelly. Last time I saw this project almost two years ago, it was after sunset under the trees in the back parking lot of the Guesthouse and was set to the warped live-mixed video of Broken Machine Films. It's hard to match that kind of situational magic.
But this time the rabbit in Head's hat was a special guest collaborator: David Levesque. Under the moniker Levek, this notable product of the fertile Gainesville art scene was on the national radar with his 2012 album (Look a Little Closer) on Lefse Records and a backup band that would spin off to become Hundred Waters. Levesque has been quiet since but, for the occasion, Head re-enlisted him and designed a synth rig for his improvisation. It was a clever maneuver, and the combination of that presence, interplay and use of projected visuals again completed what otherwise would've been a headphone experience.