Reviews

Snowden

Sean Padilla

Now that the "dance-punk" sound has begun to fall out of favor, I was finally about to get beyond the trendiness of Snowden's music, and appreciate them for the excellent songwriters and musicians that they truly are.

Snowden

Snowden

City: Austin, Texas
Venue: Stubb's
Date: 2008-05-29

I took way too long to give Snowden a chance. When the Atlanta, Georgia quartet released its debut album Anti-Anti in 2006, I was skeptical about checking it out (despite the good press it received) because of the bands it was compared to: Joy Division, the Cure, Interpol, etc. At that point, the independent music scene was over-saturated with “dance-punk” bands that laid throaty vocals and gauzy guitars on top of mechanical rhythms. I didn’t want to hear another one, and the few Snowden songs that I had heard failed to sway me. I filed the band away in the back of my mind until Steffani—a friend in Memphis, Tennessee whose musical taste I trust—started singing their praises last year. When she made plans to visit Austin last month, I noticed that Snowden would be playing on the evening of her arrival. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, I asked Steffani to accompany me to the show. That way, she could catch a band that she’d longed to see for a while (despite Memphis’ rich musical history, it is frequently neglected by touring independent bands), and I could reappraise a band whose trendiness may have provoked a premature dismissal. All three bands on that evening’s bill have roots in the mid-South. Opening band Living Better Electrically was based in Mississippi until three of its members relocated to Austin last year; middle band Colour Revolt still calls Mississippi home. I felt like I, not Steffani, should’ve been the one who flew 650 miles to see this show. We got to Stubb’s right before Living Better Electrically played the final song of its set. If that song (“Five Lonely People”) was indicative of the band’s overall sound, we definitely missed out. The bombastic ballad’s pleading vocals and spacey keyboards would satisfy people who wish that Radiohead would make more albums like The Bends. I’m not one of those people, but that didn’t stop me from acknowledging the band’s talent. I hope that Austin treats them well. Colour Revolt’s Gothic blues-rock impressed me even more. Like most bands with three guitarists, they were almost painfully loud, quickly filling the standing area with the sound of distorted chords and queasily bent pentatonic riffs. On songs like “A Siren” and “Swamp”, Sean Kirkpatrick’s ethereal falsetto and Jesse Coppenbarger’s raspy holler formed a sweet-and-sour contrast that mirrored their slashing, staccato guitar interplay. Their lyrics betrayed a hedonism kindled by lifelong exposure to fire-and-brimstone theology (“God knows all about you and me / Lucky I got something to hide”). This was the most intense band I’d seen live in quite some time; because of such, I plan to add their debut album Plunder, Beg and Curse to my CD collection pretty soon. Despite Snowden’s headliner status, they walked on stage to very little fanfare; I began to suspect that most of the audience had actually shown up to see Colour Revolt. However, when drummer Chandler Rentz began playing the drumbeat to Anti-Anti’s opening track “Like Bullets”, it slowly galvanized the audience. When bassist Corinne Lee started playing the distorted riff that undergirds the song, Steffani and I started dancing. It didn’t take much longer for many of the attendees around us to follow our lead. Rentz and Lee were definitely the MVPs of the show. Rentz’ playing was hard and steady enough to make the occasional programmed beats he triggered seem unnecessary. Lee had the strongest stage presence of anyone in the band. She strutted around the stage like she owned it, and strummed her bass with an almost violent intensity, particularly during the coda to “Filler Is Wasted”. Singer/guitarist Jordan Jeffares seemed a bit stiff, shy even, but his singing was more expressive and in tune than it is on record. Although most of Snowden’s set was taken from Anti-Anti, it was also peppered with a number of new songs. Jordan announced them in an almost apologetic tone, intended to preempt the grumbling of any impatient audience members. He didn’t have to, because the new songs were just as good as the Anti-Anti material and the audience responded to them just as favorably. Two years of nonstop touring has turned the band into a well-oiled machine, which should bode well for when they finally record their next album. Now that the “dance-punk” sound has slightly fallen out of favor, I was able to get beyond the hype, and appreciate Snowden for the excellent songwriters and musicians that they are. Their live show erased my initial skepticism, turned doubt into delight, and (albeit slightly belatedly) made a fan out of me.

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