Written by Chad Taylor / / Photos by Brenna Norman
This week's Scene and Heard is supposed to be about the Love Songs for Lonely Monsters show this past Wednesday, and fear not, we'll get to them in a second. But first, a bit of a rant.
When Cityview scrubbed live show reviews from their weekly schedule, it was on the heels of a review where I lambasted the Vaudeville Mews for poor booking, indifferent show promotion and a laissez faire approach to show start times. I also called out the city in general for being demonstrably unwilling to support most shows that take place in the middle of the week.
But here's the thing. When writing these reviews, I've never considered it my job to keep the critique solely to the performance of the people on stage. Quite the contrary, I've always felt like a show review should talk about the entire experience inherent in actually seeing a particular show. As such, anyone who's been to a love show of any kind can tell you that "a show" is more than just the physical performance. So many other things can factor into a person's enjoyment, including venue quality, the attentiveness of other patrons, sound and lighting issues, even weather. I have long believed--and continue to do so--that all of these things should be taken into consideration when talking about the quality of a live show.
Clearly not all of these things are the responsibility of the band on stage. Most of the outside factors are completely beyond the band's control. But that doesn't mean that they should not be mentioned, or that the people who DO have control over them (most usually the venue itself) shouldn't be called out for lapses. If a band goes on stage and puts on a solid performance, but nobody can hear it because the sound isn't leveled properly, was it a good show? If the lights go out halfway through a band's set, fans may leave upset or even ask for their money back, so why shouldn't that be mentioned in a review of a show as a whole?
All that being said, let's talk about Love Songs For Lonely Monsters at Beaver Tap.
LS4LM is a good band. Amy Badger is one of the most entertaining, charismatic leads in the city, and the band takes a decidedly high-brow approach to song creation that sets them apart from a lot of other acts. The guitar work is idiosyncratic and complex, the lyrics are dense and wryly clever, and it all comes together in a fun way that feels barely constrained.
And their set on Wednesday was ruined by the location.
Beaver Tap should, on the outset, be commended for their willingness to give local music a home. But man, there's just no place for music to happen there. I remember seeing the show in a Facebook event and thinking to myself "Beaver Tap? Are they just going to stick them in a corner somewhere?"
Yes. As I walked into the Tap, I immediately came upon Love Songs bassist Chris Lachky and new guitarist Dan Hutchison, who were setting up the band's equipment in a space no more than 7'x7'. By the door. It was a claustrophobic experience, with Lachky and Hutchison standing nearly shoulder to shoulder while the former straddled one of drummer Brian Gellerman's cymbals, and guitarist Nicklas Parks fighting the in-and-out traffic for elbow room.
The band soldiered on admirably. Hutchison, the long-time Fetal Pig guitarist who came on board with Love Songs this summer, is a good edition. He's experienced enough to be able to make his presence felt on the songs without overpowering anyone else or fundamentally changing what the band is trying to do. The band's other component pieces have grown together well over the years.
Most all of the issues with the set were beyond the band's control. Parks wasn't on his A game early on, but when you've got people bumping into your guitar on their way out the door, it can make playing difficult. Badger was difficult to hear most of the time, but that's been a constant issue for the band, and having no way of adjusting levels on the fly didn't help.
However, it should be noted that the vocals have kind of been a standing issue for Love Songs. Badger has always had to struggle to be heard above the rest of the band, regardless of where they've played. The band's debut CD, released earlier this year and produced by the absolutely magical Kevin Neal, was a revelation exactly because Badger's voice is so clear. When she's able to be heard, the Love Songs front woman has a delightfully nuanced voice, and if you haven't heard the CD yet, I'd certainly urge you to do so. But live, the vocals have always sounded kind of muddy. I've always chalked it up to bad mixing, though the theory was posited to me on Wednesday night that the issue could actually be one of frequency, rather then level.
Love Songs has been playing out more in the past month. Anytime they play, it's a chance for people to find a new favorite band, and I genuinely believe that most people who get a chance to hear them in a proper setting will walk away as fans. But you shouldn't have to actively work against the venue you're at to try and enjoy a set. And Beaver Tap, well intentioned though it may be, is no place for live music.