Signal Path + The Malah: 20 February 2010 – Austin, TX

The Malah

With more live music venues than any other city (per capita, hence the nickname “the live music capital of the world”) Austin boasts quite an array of clubs vying for the attention of music fans on a typical Saturday night. A rising star in the Austin club scene is the Parish Room, right in the heart of downtown on world-famous Sixth Street. While not as well known as more classic venues like Stubbs, Momos, La Zona Rosa or The Continental Club, The Parish is gaining a rep as one of the best rooms in the city for both sound and vibe. The club hosts all genres, but is fast becoming known as the go-to venue in Austin for electronic-flavored or improv-oriented bands not yet ready for the larger rooms.

The 450-capacity venue is easy to miss since there’s no sign, save for the lettering on the window above the doorway (look for Bikinis, the sports bar which the Parish sits above). This almost makes the club feel like something of a hidden secret, although the word about the Parish has certainly gotten out. Rising local promoters Dreamtime Productions are putting on the show tonight and going out of their way to establish a kind vibe. As patrons walk in during the lengthy opening set from the Malah, they are immersed in a scene that aspires to be more than just another rock show.

Beautiful psychedelic artwork is for sale in one corner, while live painting takes place in another. The dance floor is spacious and the ceiling is high, providing excellent acoustics. There are no velvet curtains or chandeliers, but the overall vibe is probably as close as Austin has to the venerable Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and it seems that’s the vibe Dreamtime Productions is going for. The formula clearly has an audience, for it is early in the Malah’s set and a decent-sized crowd is already on hand.

The Greenville, South Carolina quartet has an attractive laser-light show going to accompany their groovy sound, which is clearly influenced by rocktronica pioneers Sound Tribe Sector 9. With the trippy synths and minimalist guitar over dance-oriented grooves, the influence is obvious. But as a friend points out, it’s like STS9 circa 2002, before they started using as much sampling in their sound as they do now. Any way you slice it, the band has a talent for what they do and they get the kids dancing. During one jam, guitarist Brandon Maynard seems to tease the signature riff from the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today”, and it’s refreshing to see a little grunge influence popping up in the electronic scene. A big jam brings the 90-minute set to a rousing conclusion, but it’s no standard set break as DJ Thibeault keeps the house rocking. One gal has a glowstick hula-hoop and a crowd gathers around her, as she and Thibeault keep the vibe going. Being right in the heart of Sixth Street means it’s also easy to step outside for a taco, slice of pizza, or whatever one might fancy.

Signal Path bill themselves as “acoustically inspired electronic music from the Western front,” which sounds about right. The duo has been around for almost a decade, although they’ve kept a low profile lately with this being their first show in Austin in five years. Drummer Damon Metzner keeps the beat going, while synth-man Ryan Burnett conjures the electronic psychedelia. The opening jam gets the crowd going, but it’s the second song “Make It Fast Make It Last” – from their new free album Clash – that really shows what the duo can do. The tune features Burnett starting off on synths, where he mixes several different patches to create a swirling psychedelia with a multi-dimensional flavor. He then switches over to guitar to provide a third element that drives the music higher still.

Neither member does any singing, but sampled vocals add some extra flavor here and there throughout the set. Another song that’s introduced as brand new continues the groove fest with a highly danceable beat and cosmic flavor that gets everyone moving. Take note guys – there’s a lot of cute girls in the house and they’re all getting down on the good foot. The set is filled with one dynamic jam after another, with Burnett switching back and forth between synth and guitar, while Metzner keeps the beat flowing. The chemistry between the two is clearly of a high caliber.

Later, Burnett introduces a song that he says is going to try mixing bluegrass with electronic music. A sampled female bluegrass vocal is the seed that Burnett and Metzner build off, and it leads to another swaggering psychedelic groove that keeps everyone dancing and smiling. The song clearly demonstrates how Signal Path is still searching for new sonic ground. These guys could easily hit cruise-control and keep the party going, but such a unique experiment reveals them as artists who are still boldly seeking unexplored territory.

The set is billed for a mere 75 minutes, but by the time Signal Path are wrapping it up, it’s become a full 90. The encore features some “Abracadabra” teases from the Steve Miller Band classic, creating one last peak moment. It’s a fitting nod to the groove magic that has filled The Parish tonight.