The version of Various Blonde I saw live at Czar in 2011 is very different from the band playing this Thursday at Lawrence Field Day Fest. The 2011 iteration, led by guitarist/vocalist Joshua Allen, moved through a set that dabbled a little in the psychedelic while adhering to a heavier rock and punk-based sound. It was a solid set, though I remember thinking the vocals needed something and the melodies hinted at something more. What exactly? I didn't know.
The release of Summer High a few years later illustrated the elusive what hinted at back at Czar years before. I caught up to a very different live band back in November at Apocalypse Meow, and again last week at The Riot Room.
The only element that remained from the band was Allen. His guitar and vocals were still there, but now different from what I remember. There was a new bassist, EvanJohn McIntosh, a new drummer, Mark Lomas, and the addition of keyboardist Eddie Moore. The three-piece had grown, shifted, and mutated into a very different band creating a very different sound.
There is a seriousness to watching this four-piece perform. Like any professionals at work, it is obvious they enjoy what they do. But, also evident is that they are on stage to work, put on a great show, and hone their craft. A lot of the songs they perform create a serious reflective mood, but they cut that stoicism nicely with soulful grooves and melodies that manage to conjure a very difficult thing: movement. I tried to fight the urge to move along with the tunes, but, damnit, I happily failed.
Joshua Allen can sing. His voice shifts effortlessly from an easy tenor to a smooth falsetto that avoids piercing metal clichés. That he is a solid guitarist is as advantageous as it is necessary to VB's sound. He could easily get away with just singing, moving to the music and fronting the band, but thankfully he doesn't. Without him, songs like "Savage Children" would fall into the trap of being a "jam" song. Which is fine I guess, but I wouldn't know, I've never made it through an entire "jam" song. Allen's guitar and vocals dice tunes like “Savage Children” into succinct, building well-rounded songs. While the vocals help guide on "Savage Children,” they truly shine on the danceable, rocking tune “Indigo Children.” The first time I heard that song was literally a WTF moment. A perfect illustration of the elusive what:familiar, yet totally different and new.
The consistent blues infused groove created by McIntosh is unstoppable. Good luck not moving some part of your body. McIntosh's bass lines lead without overstepping, cyclical but never simple. I've been a fan since his days in Cherokee Rock Rifle and am selfishly happy he's found another outlet for his formidable skill set.
I don't know how long McIntosh and Lomas have been playing together (I'm just that thorough a correspondent) but the sound they produce belies whatever actual time they've spent working together. Their styles align perfectly. Nicely complementing each other as the foundation of the tone and mood of this band. Lomas' playing seems unflashy, until you take a moment and try to keep up with what he's doing. Seeing and hearing this guy live as he holds down patterns and changes that would make a drum machine pass out is mesmerizing. And again, good luck not dancing.
The addition of keyboardist and local jazz standout Moore adds depth and changes things drastically for this group. From a songwriting perspective alone, Moore's instrument and playing allows for a myriad of new directions, from sonic to classical to his specialty, jazz. As a musician, Moore's jazz sensibility and musical intelligence lend themselves perfectly to McIntosh’s and Lomas’ rhythmic foundation. Moore knows how to create his own distinctive musical plots and subplots within the framework of the sound already set in motion by his bandmates; he does so effortlessly, and without overplaying.
Obligatory comparisons? You should make your own... while dancing.
With the excellent full-length Summer High already out, I can't wait to hear what these guys build next. Until then, they play at Lawrence Field Day Fest this Thursday, June 25, at the Replay Lounge before taking a little Summer Hiatus.
The Deli Magazine was born in NYC's Attorney Street in 2004, in the shape of a print issue with a then unknown band on its cover, called Grizzly Bear. Ths NYC blog came in 2005, then the SF one in 2006, and then 9 more in the following years. The Deli is focused on the coverage of emerging bands and solo artists with a 100% local focus - no exceptions!