[4 November 2008]
In some circles, Matt and Bubba Kadane are considered to be legends. If the indie rock scene has “elder statesmen,” the Kadanes deserve to be at the top of the list, as they have been a consistent and inspiring part of the musical landscape since 1991. After the breakup of their severely underappreciated band Bedhead in 1998, they formed the band known as The New Year. Appearances by the group are sporadic at best. The members are scattered across the country and come together every few years to record an album and then head out on a short tour—thus bringing them to Johnny Brenda’s on a crisp October evening to support their new self-titled release.
Tre Orsi, a three-piece band from Denton, Texas, began the evening on an unexpectedly impressive note. Like the Kadanes, all three members of Tre Orsi are veterans of the indie music scene, as they’ve been members of bands like Shearwater, Okkervil River, South San Gabriel, and Little Grizzly. With a tour only EP produced by Bubba Kadane, and an album to hopefully follow next year (fingers crossed), if their amazingly solid set is any indication of things to come the band will be one to watch in 2009. Their sound is reminiscent of bands like Codeine, Jawbox, as well as the New Year. Lead singer Matthew Barnhart and bassist Howard Draper share vocal duties that resonate with Kadane-style delivery. Each song slowly built, with tension-filled undertones and heavy layers of guitar and big bass lines, before exploding outward in waves of blistering sound.
Brooklyn-based Dirty on Purpose were the next to take the stage. The band has definitely taken a page from the book of shoegaze: Ethereal vocals? Check. Delicate chiming melodies skewered with fuzzy feedback? Check. Anthemic, sweeping songs anchored with layered guitars and crashing drums that create a wall of sound? Check. The combination of all these elements can often be powerful and intoxicating in the right hands, but somehow, the band did not quite handle the elements correctly. Their set was filled with pretty sounds, yes, but pretty and interesting are two entirely different things. Sadly, Dirty on Purpose felt flat in comparison with the dynamic opening set by Tre Orsi.
And then—finally—it was time for the New Year. Over the next hour and a half, the band covered the majority of the new album, as well as old favorites such as “Gasoline”, “Plan B”, and “The End’s Not Near”. The set began with “Folios”, the first track from the new album. The song’s extended, quiet opening slowly transformed as each instrument was introduced—first a delicately strummed guitar line, then the drums, then bass. This ended as the song burst into a loud and triumphant barrage of guitars, and the effect was both beautiful and jarring—albeit in the best sort of way.
As someone who attends a good number of live shows, I often expect a band’s live set to be rough around the edges in comparison to the album format. This, however, was not the case for the New Year. Each song the band played was better than the one before, and the energy they created on stage without even trying was almost palpable. Performing in a darkened room, the focus of the crowd was on the music, not on a flashy stage show. The band themselves seemed mostly stoic and effortlessly cool; every movement they made felt deliberate and almost utilitarian. However, the sounds they created betrayed them—interlocking layers of loud, ferocious guitars anchored by simple melodies and whispery vocals by both Bubba and Matt.
The New Year’s new album finds them taking a small step out into the light. The arrangements are more varied and blatantly catchier than on their previous two albums, and this was readily apparent live. Tracks like “X Off Days” and “The Door Opens” were concise and aggressive—breathtakingly blustery and loud and full of swagger. Balanced out by the quiet resignation of “MMV” and “Wages of Sleep”, the overall effect was powerful and touching, and it showed in the hushed reverence and adoration of the crowd.
It’s too far and in between that the music world gets a contribution from the Kadane brothers, which made the evening an incredibly special one. Although there tends to be such a long lapse between albums, rare nights like this make it all worth the wait.