Ume ::: photo courtesy of Amelia Gyde
Remember when you first got into music and you were just happy to be out of the house and going to shows? You had to hitch a ride because you weren’t old enough to drive or got to the show early because you had an unfair curfew and wanted to catch as much of the show as possible. Music was exciting, new and fun. Before you knew what a hipster was, before you realized that there were politics involved in music, before it was about getting soused at happy hour or surviving until the weekend…
But somewhere along the away, it may have been during high school or sometime after college, you forgot about the opening band. Too many bad experiences with them over the years. Wasting your time while you stand and wait for those who you came to see. Causing you to run up your tab because you didn’t know what else to do. “I’m just here to see my friends’ band,” becomes a casually uttered phrase. You see bands you’ve never heard of listed on the concert billing, you do the math and figure out when those bands will be finished. Tsk. Tsk.
Beware the opening band. Like the Ides of March, they might become the end of you. They have nothing to lose. In most instances they’re carefully placed for disregard instead of an opportunity for exposure. The opening bands’ eyes meet your own as you enter the room and their gaze says “Welcome to the middle of our set, asshole.” You play coy and look for your friends. Tsk. Tsk.
Ume ::: Courtesy of Amelia Gyde
Even though they may disappoint more often than not, every blue moon the opening band will set the bar too high for the rest of the acts to follow. On Wednesday night, Ume (pronounced ooo-may) victimized Dead Confederate and the Meat Puppets at Chop Suey. Tsk. Tsk.
Yes, I was that asshole I was talking about earlier. Admittedly, I may have missed a song or two of Ume’s set but I’m not certain. I’m usually artfully late and I have a reputation to keep in tact. Whatever the case, I entered Chop Suey to find a blue light shining down on a three piece playing music that was as moody as the phosphorescent glow that was upon them. A pleasant sadness. An appropriate feeling for the middle of the work week. The melancholy didn’t last long. After that song ended the fierce rocking began.
Ume are a band you have to see live. Listening to them in the comfort of your bedroom or car will simply not do. I won’t stand for it. You’ve got to see them in order to hear them. You can’t feel the hipness of their riffs through your headphones. If you put their image with their sound, Ume are band that write music like they’re cooler than you. Maybe they are. I saw a description of them reading “New York cool — but from Texas!” I think that’s pretty accurate, if bands from New York were actually cool. Ume front woman Lauren offered pixieish gratitude when the music stopped but was absolutely gargantuan when her fingers were moving all over the fretboard. She was summoning the cosmos behind her Fender guitars. I’m talking J. Mascis-like guitar freak outs. Hair and digital delay in every possible direction. The rhythm section played her foil perfectly. The drums and bass were decidedly low key but played with death and taxes consistency. A flat-line to the unending mania of the guitar. A sturdy foundation was imperative with the way the delay and reverb splattered all over the walls of Chop Suey. With each song the crowd grew bigger in front of the stage, followed by head nods and whispers of approval.
Not that it mattered. This band write songs like they’re cooler than you, remember? The entire set was great but there was one particular highlight for me. “The Means” was fantastic. It started out Arctic and wispy with tumbling toms and vocals that reminded me of Denali’s Maura Davis but raspier. The mood suddenly changes from a quiet cafe conversation to a snarling argument in the streets. The mudslinging subsides, the song soars and then falls out of the sky. Another reminder that the best things are usually short lived.
Dead Confederate::: Photo Courtesy of Amelia Gyde
Dead Confederate didn’t leave much time for yearning. They took to the stage quickly, knowing that they had the daunting task of following Ume, they didn’t disappoint. They started their set at Chop Suey the same way they did at Bumbershoot and then launched into the haunting sloth paced rocker “The Rat.” No objections from the peanut gallery. Out of all the Dead Confederate songs I’ve heard, this is my favorite one. It sounds as if your spine were exiting your back and leaving you somewhere in its wake. You can thank the pedal effects on the lead guitar for that.
Though their performance at Bumbershoot was outstanding, a smaller venue like Chop Suey brings out the best in Dead Confederate’s sound. The guitars are more crushing and suffocating. The keys are more intimidating and the drummer’s larger-than-flying-saucer cymbals are more piercing. When you write songs that could serve as the soundtrack to a desert car chase in which someone dies at the end, it’s important to leave a lasting impression. In fact, I’d be surprised if a Dead Confederate song doesn’t end up being used in a movie scene that involves a gun fight outside a saloon or a desperate wanderer fending off vultures. Besides having the word “dead” in their title, this band conjures up all sorts of images of one meeting their demise or something coming to an end. “Get Out” is reminiscent of watching your ex-lovers house burst into flames by your own hand. The beginning of the song is the removal of all that is sacred from the house, the chorus is the infidelity inspired gasoline dousing and the songs dramatic funeral march is the act of arson. Though they didn’t play it on Wednesday night, your loved ones probably wouldn’t judge you if you got buried to “Wrecking Ball.”
That’s not to say that Dead Confederate is somber all the time. “Start Me Laughing” is seething rock and roll at its finest. Straight ahead, ham and eggs with a killer vocal/guitar hook. The delivery of the line “I know I am so excited” is so anti-climatic it’s priceless. People liken Hardy Morris’ vocals to a southern Kurt Cobain but I have to completely disagree with that. Once upon a time there was this really cool rock band from Alabama called Verbena that had guitarist/vocalist Scott Bondy as the front man. Morris sounds much more like Bondy than Cobain. In fact, during its more gentile moments Dead Confederate sometime sound like Verbena when it was its final years. (Brief side note: If you like Dead Confederate or rock n’ roll in the slightest, you have to get Verbena’s “Souls for Sale” on Merge Records. One of the best albums of the 1990′s.) After about 8 epic songs, Dead Confederate were done for the evening. I wouldn’t have protested against one more song, perhaps a Sonic Youth cover? You know they’ve been known to surprise their audience with those on occasion.
Meat Puppets ::: photo courtesy of Amelia Gyde
After what seemed to be an eternity, the Meat Puppets finally took the stage. By that point I was pretty sleepy and when Guitarist Curt Kirkwood came out donning a pair of comfortable looking pajama pants. I felt almost jealous, I wish he had brought a pair out for me. If you don’t know about the Meat Puppets by now, chances are you’ll never know them. They’ve been a band longer than I’ve been alive and like any band that has stood the test of time, they’ve gone through their musical phases and dealt with their fair share of hardships. Even though the crowd consisted of a decent amount of people wearing Meat Puppets shirts or were obvious Meat Puppets fans, I was shocked when I talked to a couple of people who had no idea who they were. Hello!?!? You don’t even recognize the name from Nirvana’s “Unplugged”!?! Really!?! I haven’t heard a Meat Puppets song in over 10 years, so as someone who is also pretty unfamiliar, everything they played was “brand new” to me. They did play “Oh Me” second just in case your wondering. I didn’t have enough in me to make it through the entire set but I did enjoy what I heard. My only complaint would be crazy amount of treble that was on Curt’s Stratocaster. I might have stuck around until the end but my eardrums were shredded to a pulp after about 7 songs.
More Photos of Ume and Dead Confederate after the jump…