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The Impossible Shapes + June Panic

Peter Joseph
The Impossible Shapes + June Panic

The Impossible Shapes + June Panic

City: Arlington, Virginia
Venue: Galaxy Hut
Date: 2003-09-21
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Power outages here in the U.S. have been laying bare our all-out reliance and tenuous hold over technology. It's easy to forget that we don't rule the world until a power line falls somewhere in the Midwest -- or Canada, depending on who's blaming who -- and you find yourselves grilling every piece of meat that was stored in your fridge out on the sidewalk. For the Mid-Atlantic and the South, who smugly watched it all on CNN from the comfort of their air-conditioned dens, Hurricane Isabel reminded us that the only thing worse than living by candlelight is bailing out your flooded basement by candlelight. During these times of disaster we often learn things about people that we might never have expected. Who would have thought New Yorkers would pass up such a good opportunity for looting? And just outside of Washington, D.C., the Impossible Shapes made the best of a bar running on minimum voltage and showed just how versatile they could be. I had expected to show up at the Galaxy Hut and find out that the show was canceled. Instead, while the dim lights flickered overhead, the Shapes were proving their touring mettle and devising a way to perform with the bare minimum. Bassist Jason Groth and guitarist Peter King had plugged in to a miniscule practice amp. Their drummer, Mark Rice, took a night off. Only frontman Chris Barth got a microphone, while Groth and King contented themselves with just raising their voices and calling out the band's rich harmonies. Not ideal working conditions, to be sure, but the band more than pulled it off. Songs from their fourth and most recent release, We Like It Wild, sounded more mellow and far less saccharine. The bass and guitar overloaded the single speaker, lending King's usually high, reverb-heavy leads a dirtier, grungier edge that seriously improved their depth. Foregoing the din of a drumset suddenly revealed the harder, percussive edge of Barth's acoustic guitar. On record, songs such as "She Let Me Run" and "The Perfect Timing" show off the band's taste for Britpop and psychedelia. Shimmering vocals and walls of guitar might be important to both styles, but this night's stripped down performance proved that more important than high production values is the swagger and pomp that underscores it. Their cover of T. Rex's "I Am Friend" might be a case of wearing their heart on their sleeve, but Barth certainly does Marc Bolan justice. The band draws from other influences from this side of the Atlantic, and moments when Michael Kapinus stepped up for banjo veered into bluegrass territory. Secretly Canadian labelmate and opening act June Panic's folk songs translated easily to the pared down sound system. After three prior appearances at the Galaxy Hut over the years, he was more than comfortable chatting with the crowd between songs, not bothering with the pretense of separating performer from audience and requesting them to tell stories about snakes between songs. His voice suggests a younger Neil Young, though he did admit to having a cold, so at another time the comparison might not stand. Songs from his newest album, Baby's Breadth, often seem as if they are only sketches, with a sweep that begs for a larger, more grandiose production. A string section would suit it just as much a single soft guitar. Still, for both June Panic and the Impossible Shapes, their songs' transcendence of styles is their most notable quality.

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