Cymbals Eat Guitars played the Hi-Dive a year and a half ago. At the time, I was amazed by their stage energy compared their album, Why There Are Mountains. Now they're making the rounds again after their latest release, Lenses Alien. Their touring support act, Hooray For Earth was a good fit with CEG's live sound. Local openers, A Mouthful of Thunder had a more mainstream indie rock sound, but they certainly did their part to warm up the crowd.
A Mouthful of ThunderA Mouthful of Thunder's indie rock set led off with an earnest, poppy sound. Stephen Till worked hard to show how invested he is in his lyrics, keeping his focus turned inward. The band was tight, sticking together through all song shifts. In particular, their dynamic changes were a treat as they could create a stripped down sound to fit the earnest mood of the vocals; then they could slowly build that up into a thick, more aggressive vibe.
The bass player's harmony vocals filled out the vocal range and balanced well with some of Till's plaintive singing. I wish I knew his name, because he brought a great attitude to the stage. While all of the guys were very competent musicians, the bass player's spontaneous smiles and engagement injected some much needed personality to the act.
Till did a fine job of singing, often bringing a dreamy quality to the songs. I also liked their guitar player. He had a stiff, awkward stage presence, looking a bit like Clark Kent, but his solos and fills were precise and interesting.
The most interesting song of the set was centered on percussion. The guitar player took over the keys and the keyboard player switched to a standing tom. He and the drummer set up a call and response that anchored the song. Trading rhythmic lines and paradiddles, their foundation supported a folky indie rock groove with moody keys and then propelled the song into a more intense space.
Hooray For EarthKicking off with a synth driven electro pop sound, Hooray for Earth quickly added enough grind to sabotage any thoughts of dreamy bounce. Instead, the sound thickened with heavy overtones that bordered on mind control.
Just like the synth pop start that seemed like a feint, the group's appearance was deceiving, too. A typical indie rock line up: guitar and drums and one guy pulling double duty on bass and keys. But the sound was anything but typical. First of all, the guitar was much more synth-like, using an octaver, harmonizer, and sampling to build brain burrowing synth textures. The vocals are also heavily processed with the harmonizer. Together, they show a lot of Adrian Belew influence, especially some of the heavier King Crimson work.
This was tempered by Peter Gabriel style world-beat drumming. Emphasizing the kick drum over toms or snare, the beats melded with the ringing musical noise to create a hypnotic trance effect. With synth melting into looped guitar feedback or octaved guitar adding its own bass, Hooray for Earth had a surprisingly huge sound for a mere three piece band.
Despite the volume that treated my ear plugs with contempt, the effect of all this loud noise was not a cacophony. Instead, it channeled a cathartic intensity like an effective rolfing session. At the end of the set, I was drained, but satisfied.
Cymbals Eat GuitarsCymbals Eat Guitars started off the set with Indiana from Why There Are Mountains. Where the album version builds an anticipatory cloud of sound to launch the dreamy vocal start, the live version developed more slowly. A scattering of opening guitar notes was overcome by a wave of discordant keyboard angst. Swells of sound rose and fell for a good minute and a half before Joe D'Agostino started the vocals, letting the mood fully permeate. The texture of sound and longing in those first words touched me just like Trail of Dead.
They followed this up with an emotionally raw version of Plainclothes. D'Agostino's face locked tight as he forced the vocals out. Where Hooray for Earth built a thick wall of sound, CEG laid out a shimmery curtain of sparkling elements. Subtle tones resonated and echoed, acting as a conduit to transfer the band's intensity to the audience.
It was easy to focus on D'Agostino as he twisted and spastically jerked, then held himself tight to squeeze out more lyrics. But the rest of the band each contribute their necessary elements, whether it's Matt Whipple's melodic bass work, Brian Hamilton's noise manipulation behind the keys, or Matthew Miller's tight dynamic control on drums. D'Agostino and his songs are the centerpiece, but they wouldn't work without the well organized work of the the others.
As noisy and overwhelming that CEG's sound could get, it was always a controlled chaos. Mission critical to the songs and the mood, the band would demonstrate this when they dropped the dynamics to give focus to a particular section or lyric. That intensity is like splicing high tension wires. After a full hour's set, Cymbals Eat Guitars left the stage, drained but triumphant.
More photos on my Flickr.