On Tuesday, October 5th, The Bijou Theatre was the venue equivalent of Wal Mart, offering the best bang for your live concert buck.
Billed on the same ticket, neither Rogue Wave nor Midlake seemed like the headliner. You basically have two great indie bands that, while miles apart stylistically, offer the same amount of critical acclaim and top-billing status. Bottom line: I would pay money to see either of these bands individually, as I assume a great number of individuals would.
Maybe it was the odd stylistic pairing. Maybe it was just a case of the Tuesday doldrums. For whatever reason, the Bijou Theatre was surprisingly far from sold-out. In reality, the regal, ornate venue was, from an audience member’s perspective, borderline half-empty. The crowd suffered an identity crisis: a mixture of college-aged girls who’d probably heard a couple Rogue Wave songs in car commercials and prime-time dramas, over-the-hill hipsters, and indie rock geeks. As I scan the crowd, I spot at least three other journalists scribbling notes. For the majority of the show, the audience sat; many scanned their iPhones; the yappy girls behind thought it would be an appropriate time to have a loud discussion about their Spring Break plans. Half of the time, it felt like us journalists were the only ones there.
With two bands of such high star power, they pretty much didn’t need an opener, but Peter Wolf Crier, a raw, drums and guitar duo from Minneapolis, wowed the audience (or at least, those who were paying attention) with a powerful dose of high-impact, emotional rock and roll. Their two-man lineup packed a huge live sound with frontman Peter Pisano’s earnest blues howls and angelic cries floating over his own hugely distorted guitar riffs and the deafening thud of Brian Moen’s Bonham-with-subtlety drumming. At times, Moen’s thunderous toms sounded like tympani rolls. Pisano also strummed so passionately that it seemed like his guitar might quake under the pressure. They closed with an amazing cover of Nick Drake’s previously insular acoustic track “Place to Be”, which was transformed into a towering post-rock anthem.
Midlake were up next, as the crowd gradually filled in some of the awkward front section gaps. Guitarist/vocalist Tim Smith (who, with his long mane of 1970s hair, resembled Jesus if he had lived for awhile in a hippie commune), fronted the gigantic seven-man line-up (rounded out by three other guitarists, two of which occasionally played flute). Playing to a huge backdrop of the cover for 2010 album The Courage of Others, they played a set leaning almost entirely from their recent work with a few crowd-pleasers from their 2006 album The Trials of Van Occupanther slipped in. On record, tracks from The Courage of Others simmered with prog/folk intensity, layering minor-key acoustic guitars and flutes over skilled jazz drums and bass, all anchored by the gorgeously harmonized vocals. These tracks only sounded more massive and heavy in a live setting—the drums given a boost of in-person sweat, the guitars stretched out and cranked up. The flute/recorder choir that opens “Small Mountain” might have made them look like a dorky college jazz band, but there was no denying the haunting beauty of their ghostly tones. Midlake are pretty much allergic to major keys, playing with ancient reverence and a wealth of technical dexterity that breathed life into the somber tunes.
The segway into Rogue Wave’s set of lively power-pop was, needless to say, jarring, but it somehow managed to hang together, despite the anxious crowd (some of whom had already departed as it approached midnight). After demanding the crowd rise to its feet, the band launched into with a handful of tunes from this year’s polished, danceable Good Morning album. The band, led by vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Zach Rogue, proceeded to work its way through their version of a “Greatest Hits” show, highlighting their most well-known tracks like “Harmonium” and “Eyes”, the latter of which was radically altered, replacing the intimate fingerpicked acoustics and bouncy progression of the album version with a full band. “Bird on a Wire”, from 2005’s Descended Like Vultures, was a trademark highlight, but nothing stood to top their chaotic, hilarious performance of “Lake Michigan” (arguably their signature track). The drum intro was extended into an orgy of maniacal percussion, each member clanging on a piece of a drum kit for a solid minute or two of animalistic awe (Peter Wolf Crier even helped out, with Pisano struggling to keep time on a floor tom). During the song’s anthemic chorus, the crowd suddenly snapped out of it, adding their own percussive choir of handclaps.
It was a rousing highlight from an evening of many strong performances. The bands all brought their A-game—it’s too bad, however, that the crowd didn’t always bring theirs.