It’s a typically balmy evening in Austin as this Brooklyn pair of bands rolls into town for some Southern hospitality. The Independent is in East Austin, away from the bright lights of the Sixth Street/Red River district but fast earning a rep as a pretty comfy venue to see a show. The floor area isn’t too cramped and there’s some prime balcony viewing as well.
Opening band Here We Go Magic was in town last month for SXSW when they held court to a packed crowd at Club Deville, where they clearly had a buzz going. The group gets things going here with a hypnotic vibe. Bassist Jennifer Turner and keyboardist Kristina Lieberson harmonize with guitarist/vocalist Luke Temple for a rich enhancement to the band’s psychedelic electro-folk sound. A couple of members from the White Rabbits join the band on additional percussion and it soon becomes clear that there’s a strong mutual appreciation society between these bands.
The second song develops in a more melodic fashion and builds into a sweet jam with a big crescendo that seems to suggest a Velvet Underground influence, a sound that never goes out of style. Turner seems to be setting the tone with her heavy attack, supported deftly by drummer Peter Hale, while Temple and guitarist Michael Bloch intermix their jangly guitars just right. Lieberson seems to be the band’s secret weapon, adding an extra dimension to the sound with her psychedelic keyboards and energetic vibe. She clearly has her own appreciation club. After the epic jam concludes, one fan yells out “I love you Kristina! Marry me!” She’s definitely a comely lass, as they might have said in olden days, but with a talent that makes her more than just a pretty face.
The band’s set walks the line between ambient hypnotica and melodic indie rock for a fairly unique sound. Members of the White Rabbits continue to assist with the extra percussion, adding a cathartic sort of tribal quality to the sound. This eventually prompts drummer Hale to announce that “The White Rabbits are probably the dude-liest dudes we’ve ever toured with.” A peak occurs with “Fangela”, where the jangly guitars, atmospheric keys and understated vocals from Temple recall The Shins in their prime, but with a quirky mix that is all the band’s own. The band goes for broke on their last song, as Lieberson, Temple and Bloch all go for a powerful white noise psyche-out, with Lieberson eventually ditching her keys to add some extra drum pounding. This was definitely a show where you did not want to miss the opening act.
The White Rabbits hit the stage shortly thereafter and instantly conjure an energetic sound. Keyboardist/vocalist Stephen Patterson is positioned at center stage and clearly has a charismatic vibe. With drummer Jamie Levinson accompanied by percussionist Matthew Clark, the band’s sound frequently conjures a tribal stomp. But there’s a focus on a sharp rhythmic attack, such as on “While We Go Dancing”, which sounds quite a bit like Spoon. This is no surprise since Spoon frontman Britt Daniel produced the band’s second and latest album, It’s Frightening. Spoon seems a clear influence, but the White Rabbits sure seem to bring a higher amount of energy to the stage.
“Rudi Fails” features some more dynamic percussion and some ringing guitar chords to accompany Patterson’s vocal urgency. There’s not much in the way of lead guitar with the White Rabbits, but Patterson fills the sonic space with a number of nifty piano runs. Another tune features a high energy jam where Patterson really pounds the keys over a heavy beat. The whole band is tight, but Patterson clearly seems to be the ringleader and star of the show.
The band cranks it way up for “Percussion Gun”, the lead single and first track from the new album. It opens with just the drummers establishing a tribal beat then layers skillfully with Patterson’s vocal, some melodic guitar riffs, then the piano and harmony vocals. The crowd has been attentive all night but gets really into it as the band propels the assembled into an energetic frenzy upfront, with hooting, hollering and bouncing. After the song comes to a rousing conclusion, the band exits to mass applause.
White Rabbits soon return and wind up being joined by every member of Here We Go Magic for a memorable jam that displays the vibrant camaraderie between the two bands. This is heartwarming to see, as the indie rock genre isn’t necessarily known as much for band interplay as the jamrock scene. It’s always a special treat any time you can get two talented bands up on stage at the same time and this jam on “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” does not disappoint. There’s a cool bass/vocal counterpoint thing going on to start the song, which then builds layer by layer. There’s also extra enhancement from the Here We Go Magic members chipping in on percussion, tambourine and harmony vocals, turning the song into quite the festive affair. Patterson even gives up his piano mid-song and just plays frontman while the ladies from Here We Go Magic play his keys on a superb jam that ends the show in style.
Several members from both bands hang out in front of the venue afterward while pondering their next move. White Rabbits bassist Brian Betancourt is overheard to say that you can tell how good a show it was by how many members of Here We Go Magic join them for the finale, and that this was the first show in which all of them did. Austin has done it once again.