Adventures in Stereo / Waxwings / Chamber Strings

by Ben Varkentine

18 September 2000


Adventures In Stereo, the Beach Boys influenced pop group from the UK, stopped in Seattle near the end of the month-long “Bobsled Tour,” featuring artists from that label. Besides AIS founders Jim Beattie and Judith Boyle and their back-up band, the artists were the Waxwings and The Chamber Strings.

The show cannot be called a success. Under attended, with a problematic sound system (all three bands were seen to fiddle with it during their sets-didn’t help, apparently), it didn’t feature any of the bands to best advantage, something they must have been aware of.

Adventures in Stereo / Waxwings / Chamber Strings

19 Sep 2000: Graceland — Seattle, Washington

Beattie, in particular, seemed most distressed, which led him to a rather odd show closer. At the end of the last song, he took off his guitar and placed it close enough to one of the amplifiers to create a continuous squeal of high-pitched feedback, loud enough to make some audience members cover their ears, and he and Boyle left the stage without so much as a thank-you or goodnight, followed by most of the rest of the band but for the bass player and drummer who played a last few bars alone. I have no idea what, if anything, Beattie was trying to signify (or even if he doesn’t do this at all concerts) but it seemed to this writer an act of spite after a show he was unhappy with. I can sympathize-it’s got to be demoralizing to come across the sea to play to less than 20 people (I counted) in a club where the sound system reduces your pop compositions to loud and fast, Ramones-like numbers. But don’t those people who did come and pay to see you deserve a little something better?

Only a third or so of the short set came from the recent album Monomania (which I reviewed for PopMatters), the others presumably came from the previous. “We Will Stand” and “Birds” were okay, but the chorus of “Running” was especially lost in the cacophony of sound. Are you beginning to get the feeling that Graceland is not a great place to see live music? Me, too.

Of the opening and middle acts, though the Chamber Strings have a couple of good guitarists working, their material seems to me not to have shaken off their influences enough to make something truly original. Time after time I’d hear something that just started to sound like a song I recognized from another group and they’d change the notes before it became too familiar. Sometimes, admittedly, I suspect this was intentional, as when they threw in a few bars of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the conclusion of their set.

Though at times a little monotonous, the Waxwings’ material was on the whole much stronger, better sung (to be fair, the Strings lead singer had a cold) with a better sense of pop craft. I wish I could have understood the lyrics—I think one of the songs was rather hilariously pornographic.

Ironically, seeing Adventures In Stereo live under bad conditions has made me appreciate Monomania all the more. It has a simplicity that only comes from paying close attention to all the details with a control they cannot have in most live situations.

In stereo, they may have adventures, but when it comes to touring, perhaps they should have stayed home.

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