Saturday Looks Good to MeCity: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Venue: Middle East Upstairs
Ah, the dog days of summer. There's nothing like them, especially when you've been subjected to one of the harshest winters in recent memory. Last April, when I first heard the second full-length release by the band Saturday Looks Good To Me, entitled All Your Summer Songs, I could barely contain my excitement for the coming months. The record was enough to have me humming through the rainy, miserable month of June and imagining somewhat vague scenarios involving me and the gang from Beach Party. All Your Summer Songs is deliriously catchy but, unlike other hook-happy pop records, it's actually got tons of substance underneath the sugar. The thirteen songs are awash with color, alternating between Spector-esque pop nuggets and Merritt-esque ballads. And best of all, the songs all feel alive and remarkably timeless, spanning a range of topics from standard breakup songs to obsessive crushes to just plain butterflies-in-love adoration. The band's principal songwriter is Fred Thomas, who has been involved in the Detroit music scene in various forms -- he's a past/present member of the stylistically diverse His Name is Alive and runs the Michigan-based label Ypsilanti Records. The most obvious distinction about the group is that it's got a revolving number of participants -- at least on record. All Your Summer Songs features contributions from an all-star indie cast that includes Ted Leo, Tara Jane O'Neil, and Jessica Bailiff, among many others. The result is a record that, given the number of varied contributions, is alarmingly cohesive and interesting; in fact, it comes off more like a musical than your typical indie rock record. I wasn't sure what to expect when the band played an opening slot for the Brooklyn-based Mendoza Line a few weeks ago at the Middle East in Boston. When only three people took the stage, I was a little apprehensive. How would a record so rich with different stories and contributors translate when stripped down to just three players? With a bass, guitar, drums, and Farfisa organ while the record featured lush strings and noisy horns and good ole mellotrons... The band opened with one of the album's best songs, the catchy "Alcohol" (originally sung by a female vocalist on record). They played fast, energetic, and sloppy -- which was quite a different approach from the recorded material. Still, the straight ahead pop songs ("Alcohol" and the equally catchy "Underwater Heartbeat") flourished with the speed and intensity that the band provided. The song selection was mostly from the latest record ("The Sun Doesn't Want To Shine", "No Good With Secrets", "All Our Summer Songs"), but they did play a few selections from their four EP/LP catalog, like "I Wish I Could Cry" from their self-titled debut. Thomas clearly had energy but the band seemed somewhat disjointed. It's hard to know if this was because they were new to the material or if it was just an off night, but the less guitar-driven tracks would probably benefit from adding backup vocals to help flesh out their sound. On that subject, the band did play the majority of the slower numbers on All Your Summer Songs, which slowed down the tempo and seemed to bring the crowd to a standstill. A cover of the Mahalia Jackson song "Live The Life" added some interesting flavor to what had become a bit of a dragging show. Saying all of that, I'm quite sure that the live performance couldn't possible measure up to All Your Summer Songs -- no matter how many people were on stage. Of course, this is the struggle for any music fan who becomes wedded to the ideas put down on a record: it's a rare thing for those ideas to always fully or effectively translate to a live setting. It's the kind of gem I would have clutched onto in high school, fitting in right in next to other indulgent escapisms like the Smiths or the Beatles. Which is not say it feels dated or even that it appeals to a younger audience. Rather, it's the kind of record that does wonders when you just need a little something else to get you away from the every day drudges. And when you need to take life a little less seriously. Should you go see the band live? Sure. But buy the record and expect a different egg entirely. I'll be content to listen to this record in my room, perhaps taking the suggestions put forth on the gorgeous "Ambulance", whose female vocalist implores you to: "Sing me a song / Don't let me too think too long / About what I'm trying to say." If you ask me, that's solid advice for all year round.