I don’t have any Deadhead days in my past, so my history of seeing the same band multiple nights in a row in different cities is limited to DeSoto Records acts: the Dismemberment Plan (11/11/99 in Chicago, 11/12/99 in Champaign), Juno (8/23/01 in Champaign, 8/24 in St. Louis, both with Ted Leo), and Shiner (10/19/01 in Chicago, 10/20/01 in Champaign). This weekend I added a fourth former DeSoto group to the list when I caught The Life and Times at O’Brien’s Pub in Allston, MA, on Friday and The Loft in Poughkeepsie, NY, on Saturday. They were finishing up a week-long East Coast tour in advance of their 2012 LP No One Loves You Like I Do.
The lineup for the Allston show started with Tired Old Bones, a local four-piece who make distorted garage rock with alt-country and blues overtones. Vocalist/organist Bridget Nault supplies the make-or-break elements in her emphatic delivery and rangy Hammond leads, and for the most part, I leaned “make” over “break.” (Never drifting into Doors territory helped their case.) They have one 7” under their belts—the exquisitely packaged “Country Circus” b/w “Do Not Disturb”—and hearing those songs on BandCamp offers the differentiation between the guitar and bass parts that wasn’t always present in the live mix.
Mirroring the excellent 2009 billing that first introduced me to the group, Deleted Scenes hit the stage before The Life and Times. The DC band’s DNA features both the post-punk of the Dismemberment Plan and Medications and a healthy dose of lush indie pop. The difference between their recorded material and their live performances has been the balance of these sides. Last time the absorbing performances of Birdseed Shirt material like “Mortal Sin” and “Turn to Sand” made their recorded counterparts sound muted. The recently released Young People’s Church of the Air is a superior album that uses its production tricks to amplify what’s going on in the songs rather than deflect their effects. They still turn up the DC knob with more immediate live renditions of “Baltika 9” (video), “What an Awesome Backhanded Compliment,” and personal favorite “English as a Second Language” (live video), but the gap between record and stage is less of a pale imitation and more of a complementary experience. I’ll say more about Young People’s Church of the Air sometime soon; ordering your own copy will allow you to play along at home when I do.
Skipping ahead to cover the other acts on the Poughkeepsie bill, I got there in time to catch local trio Winterlong, who are apparently unaware of the Swedish power metal group of the same name or not afraid of them. The Poughkeepsie version is a mix of heavy rock, ’90s emo (the Mineral kind, not the Get-Up Kids variety), and math-rock with dual vocals, heavy guitars, and extended jams. Their heart’s in the right place, but everything needs to be tightened up: shorter jams, clearer vocal melodies, etc. Worth keeping in mind for when their record eventually comes out. You can hear a few songs: "Queen Elizabeth III" and "Fishnet."
Fellow locals Take One Car closed out the Poughkeepsie show, bringing a blend of atmospheric post-hardcore that brought to mind At the Drive-In playing a set with Mars Volta’s pedal boards. Sure enough, Take One Car did a cover set of At the Drive-In songs last year. I did appreciate the balance between screamo vocals and digital delayed instrumental passages—they never drifted too long or wore out their energy.
These two shows marked the ninth and tenth times I’ve seen The Life and Times live, putting me one away from matching the times I caught Shiner. When I think back to those Shiner sets, my favorite were in the spring and summer of 2001 when they debuted material from the forthcoming The Egg. Nothing against the recorded versions of “The Egg” and “The Simple Truth,” but getting to know those songs live through Shiner’s militant touring schedule was a true treat. The Life and Times’ upcoming third LP, No One Loves You Like I Do, is due 1/17/2012 on SlimStyle, a new music imprint from Comedy Central, and these two shows made those months even harder to endure.
In addition to cuts from Tragic Boogie (“Let It Eat,” “Old Souls,” and an impressive rendition of “Pain Don’t Hurt”), The Magician EP (“The Sound of the Ground” in Allston), and Suburban Hymns (“My Last Hostage,” “Running Redlights”), The Life and Times trotted out at least four new songs over the course of the two shows. “Day IX” (live video) was my favorite, driven by Eric Abert’s nasty bass line and a strong vocal melody from Allen Epley. “Day II” (live video), which appeared on the group’s 7” from earlier this year, stretches out live and gains considerable muscle mass. “Day I” (live video) might be most melodic of the batch, at least until it hits its spiraling conclusion. They played one more new song at the Allston show, “Day XII.”
Key changes in The Life and Times since Tragic Boogie help structure and color the new material. Rob Smith of Traindodge and Roma 79 joined up on keyboards and second guitar, a move that adds depth to the songs and also frees up Eric Abert to focus on muscular bass lines instead of multitasking to flesh out the mix. Epley and Abert are now located in Chicago, which means that No One Loves You Like I Do was written and recorded during trips down to Matt Talbott’s Earth Analog studio rather than in Epley’s old home studio. Judging from these songs, I predict No One Loves You Like I Do will trade some of Tragic Boogie’s painstaking overdubs for more chiseled arrangements. If “Day IX” is any indication, I am all for this new direction.
One thing I haven’t stressed is how impossibly loud The Life and Times were at O’Brien’s Pub on Friday. I’m used to having butterflies in my stomach from those Shiner shows, but I can’t recall a set where ear plugs were no match for the wall of sound coming at me. If you want to clear out your sinuses, see a normally loud band on the pocket-shaped stage of O’Brien’s.
The Life and Times will tour again next year once No One Loves You Like I Do, and I’m waiting with bated breath for both the album and a fresh set of east coast dates. They only have two booked at the moment: an opening slot for Hum’s sold-out reunion show in Kansas City in October and a killer bill with J. Robbins’ Office of Future Plans in Chicago in December, so if you’re in, near, or aware of those cities (and can shiv someone for tickets to the Hum gig), go see them. In the meantime, remember to grab “Day II” b/w “Day III” and a copy of Deleted Scenes’ excellent Young People’s Church of the Air.