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The Appleseed Cast + Chin Up Chin Up

(25 May 2005: The Highdive — Champaign, IL)


The Appleseed Cast
Chin Up Chin Up


Left downtrodden after leaving one label for another, only to see the second take an indefinite hiatus, our band the Appleseed Cast has certainly faced turmoil. They’ve almost broken up but made amends through side projects and their own hiatus, through breathing room. Now, the Appleseed Cast is touring the country as their own courier, simultaneously performing shows and delivering demos to labels across the lower 48. What next, you ask?


No one knows, of course.


But this distinctly modern moment, nail biting as it is, might be the most interesting time to dissect the Appleseed Cast—a moment of moving on or going home. Realizing the story of this band is like realizing all the downfalls of the music industry. The fact that this band has no label is tragic, and what’s more, losing a band like ASC to musical oblivion would only be to contextualize what some describe as a crumbling industry.


If the Appleseed Cast’s live display is any indication of the virility left in the band’s creative stock, though, someone better pick these boys up soon. They’re bursting. On record, the band’s music has evolved into a thick, rich sound ambient in its product and complex in its delivery. Listening to 2001-2002’s two-part Low Level Owl, individual instruments are difficult to pick out; the sound is thick and ethereal, a proverbial swamp of heavenly sounds, a true conglomeration of noise somehow tamed to become enormous, energetic harmony.


Thus came the true test: to watch this band pull off a sound thought impossible to recreate live; to find a four-member band on stage with guitars and drums bringing to lively fruition the brilliant melange of Kraut-rock ambience and post-rock angularity, all stemming from a band once described as “emo” (and, listening to the Appleseed Cast’s first record, you might actually agree, though it’s no statement to what they’ve become).


And pull it off they do. The guitar play between Christopher Crisci and Aaron Pillar is astonishing, neither of them taking the spotlight but rather opting to co-exist in colorful, melodic harmony. Drummer Nathan Richardson, the newest addition to the band (though an old friend and drummer in Crisci’s folksy side project the Old Canes) roared through the band’s catalog as if he created it, his rhythmic role perhaps the most important in the band’s destruction of structure. Crisci’s vocals play a more prominent role in the live setting, straying from the intimate whispers and murmurs of the record and allowing the band’s roots to show.


Everything congeals. Everything sounds perfect. And perfect is such a strong, strong word.


By the end of the set, after riding the waves of atmospheric rises and falls, you realize the Appleseed Cast is an experience. The Appleseed Cast is musical evolution; is the creation of structure only to destroy it; is canvas burned instead of covered.


Now, in an attempt to disallow my smittenness with the Appleseed Cast to overshadow Chin Up Chin Up’s set, let’s just say that if we expected ASC to be fantastic, CUCU was the great surprise. Channeling the frantic pop of Talking Heads with an upbeat indie charge, CUCU’s energy is unbridled live, the band’s sound slightly more brash and less atmospheric than on record, creating a distance from that recorded sound. The result is brilliant all the same, the danceable rhythms gaining fans left and right.


It would take a trailer and two stages to provide the equipment necessary to recreate CUCU’s recorded sound but what they lacked in the non-traditional inventive instrumentation of some of their best studio songs (unfortunately their banjo didn’t make it to the stage), CUCU made up in strength of performance, and keyboardist Greg Sharp and with a herniated disk, no less! CUCU was straightforward about their business, however; taking the stage, kicking out the jams and sitting down to watch The Appleseed Cast on the last night of their tour together. Chin Up Chin Up, having constantly been on the road since at least last October, now finally gets some time off.


Rounding off the night, pop phenoms Headlights (who launch their own tour of the Midwest and the South starting in mid-June) opening this hometown show. Though gaining comparisons to acts as various as Bjork, Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, and Death Cab For Cutie, these assertions are merely writerly drivel, an attempt to contextualize and validate a truly great young pop band. As with any comparisons, there are valid and invalid alike, but the end result is a blissful surge of electronics layered over pristine beats and an unparalleled mixture of guitars and keys.


The 30-minute peek of an opening set displayed the trio’s unruly ear for soothingly great and original pop. Last fall’s The Enemies EP was just the beginning, just a taste of what’s to come. With their new songs (and new arrangements of old ones), Headlights are progressing into something more solid and less by-the-book than we could have expected. The sound is full without losing any of the sublime quality, and it’s simply great. Keep an eye out for bigger and better things from them.


With these three bands, this night of music was unpredictable. On one hand, you expect a triumvirate of bands who have enough quality output to put on a great show. You also can’t figure out exactly how they’ll pull it off. Whether through experimentation, alterations to fit the live environment, or simply filling the sound to the brim, all three bands came to deliver and did just that. Together these bands make a near-perfect bill. Separately, they’re all simply solid.

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