Prisms: Cheem, Bay Faction, Zanders, Standby, Short Month @ The Old American Legion, New Britain, CT
Full disclosure: I went to this show, hosted by Couch Yeti Booking, a little booking agency started by Tom Shreve of Carlos Danger, for Bay Faction and Bay Faction alone, and came away surprised and encouraged by the consistency of talent in assembly. The last time I attended a show even passingly similar to this one was probably My Heart to Joy’s second “final” show (a Sandy Hook benefit concert featuring With Honor, who I hadn’t heard of then, and a lot of middle-aged people alarmingly stage-diving from amps), if not the second-to-last Hostage Calm show before they announced their breakup and died on Toad's Place's stage. The last time I really participated in the Connecticut indie rock circuit, both of those bands as well as Snowing, Algernon Cadwalladr, Wolves At Bay, and Call It Arson were active or just broken-up and warmly missed. I’ve been out of that loop for a while and into another, attending shows consisting mostly of beatdown hardcore; and while I’ve never had a bad time in that sphere, it was refreshing to dip back into the indie stuff for a night.
Short Month opened the show with exactly the sort of pensive indie rock that used to draw me out to these shows. I can’t say I didn’t get a little caught up in nostalgia. Most members of the band, if not every one of then, appear to be teenagers, but that’s never precluded a band from making great music: alternatively vulnerable and nervously extroverted, Short Month have a great command of their sound and are very comfortable with their range. On top of that, they seem like genuinely cool people. In the interval between the second and third songs on their set, their vocalist/guitarist had to quickly retune his guitar. Their second guitarist leaned into his microphone and teased him for saying clip-tuners “sucked” in the past; he, of course, had a clip-tuner on his guitar, and didn’t need to retune at any point that night.
Standby were a prog-rock band and the most left-field inclusion on the setlist, relatively speaking; but I’m all for mixed bills, and they wound up an even bigger surprise than Short Month. My experience with prog is fairly (kind of laughably) limited, but I can say that I was reminded of bands like Coheed and Cambria, Oceansize, Thumpermonkey, and even Son of Aurelius (nope, can’t go four bands without lapsing into metal for musical reference), which I think is pretty illustrative of their sound nonetheless. I was a little further back in the crowd for their set, which had filled in since Short Month, and so I missed at what moment the vocalist snuck in a trumpet and was blindsided when he took a couple of steps back and blasted it directly into the mic. It was jarring at first, but the texture it provided to their energetic, ever-shifting prog won me over, and I found myself really enjoying what I heard.
Early into their set, Alex (the one I went with) made a comparison between Zanders and Slingshot Dakota, another band I had caught a couple of times in the past, that I haven’t been able to shake and that may forever color my opinion of them. It’s not a bad comparison. I thought they were fun and distinct from the rest of the bill, and was reminded at times of The Dresden Dolls in their mix of vigorous keyboard and characterful vocals. It was very much Alex’s (their vocalist/keyboardist) show; I may be wrong or missing the full context of an exchange that took place between members of the band partway through, but at several points, they seemed to be improvising key- and time-changes as dictated by her playing. Shows should not, or at least don’t have to be, note-perfect renditions of past recordings; I admire bands unafraid to experiment and to tweak or improve their music in front of a live audience, and so,although I have to admit that their music was not entirely my thing, I was engaged throughout their set and was glad to have discovered yet another promising Connecticut band.
Funny, again, that I was really there for the one out-of-state band on the bill. They did not disappoint. Bay Faction formed somewhere in the South Shore area of Massachusetts, if I’m not mistaken, but recently transplanted themselves to New York, where I think their novel blend of blues rock, indie, and R&B will flourish into something even more unique and mysterious - judging by their recent-ish singles “Pendulum,” “Nineteen,” and “Are You in the Mood,” it may even have already happened. The difference between these songs and their demo and self-titled (which, as I gushed to the band after their set, has become an all-time favorite) is the way the moody reservedness of “Sasquatch .22” and “Beach Book” has become their de facto mode. The band jokingly refer to their genre as “post coital” on Facebook, but I think they’ve actually grown to fit that evocation quite nicely.
They dimmed the overhead lights and let the sparse illumination of the Christmas lights separating the stage-floor from the regular floor set the mood; they took advantage of their instrument tune-ups to lay down a pretty, languorous introduction of sparse hi-hats and rolling bass riffs, which gradually transfigured into an equally pretty and languorous interpretation of “Cutter.” It may have been hard to sing along with some of the altered vocal patterns, but I was more interested in the richness of this slower, more sensual version of a song I’d thought was perfectly compact.
Back to back, “Are You in the Mood?” and “Sasquatch .22” illustrated the tonal evolution between Bay Faction and whatever the new record will be: the new single is, for lack of a better term, really sexy, full of deep bass grooves and apathetic yearning; it’s the sound of desire trying not to sound like desire, a tension that’s both the inverse and equal of “Sasquatch .22,” whose quiet despair is communicated with the sort of blunt provocation that “Are You in the Mood?” only side-eyes. “I started catching feelings / for the girl / that I’m currently having sex with, / so it’s safe to say that we don’t talk anymore,” is, apart from being some of the best opening lyrics to any song I’ve ever heard, essentially what the chorus of the other song avoids saying: “Are you in the mood? / If so, how long, and for who? / ’Cause I’ve been looking straight at you / I’ve been talking straight for you.” They closed with “Bloody Nose” and “Beach Book,” both as untouched as “Sasquatch .22” and clear favorites of the crowd - there was a group of girls next to Alex and I who were all but screaming the lyrics - and then it was over. Although I would have liked to have heard “Casting Couch,” “Jasper Wildlife Assoc.,” and “Pendulum,” I was content with what I’d heard and in a great mood as Cheem took the floor.
Somewhere between Short Month and Standby, I learned that Cheem is one of the most popular bands in Connecticut, and that, according to Caleb (still in Metal Lifestyle, guys) they are like “Dance Gavin Dance without the rapcore,” which was all the reason I needed to stick around. “Take a step to the right,” said one guitarist/co-vocalist, addressing the crowd as the band set up. “Now take a step to the left. Just a little step. Wiggle your arms. All right, that’s called dancing. Let’s see some dancing.” I don’t know what rock I’d been living under that I’d never heard of Cheem, but they made a fan of me in just a couple of songs. Caleb’s description captures their energy, fluidity, and knack for melody. Vocal duties alternate between two vocalists whose voices are similar enough to keep them tonally consistent and different enough to keep their palette broad and varied, a difficult balance to pull off, but with which Cheem are almost unfairly gifted. They’re intrinsically infectious. It wasn’t quite the dance-a-thon in the crowd that their music probably deserves, but the crowd was responsive, and the riffs were lively, unpredictable, and most definitely danceable - in all, a good time cut short by time restrictions set by the venue, but a good time all the same.
Bay Faction was the draw and the very best part of the night for me (their first Connecticut show should not be their last!), but as I mentioned, I came away encouraged by the state of the indie scene around here, insofar as this single show represents the whole. There is a lot of talent and some really excellent songwriting I’ve evidently overlooked in my own state, and now that I have a better understanding of what’s happening and a few more names to recognize, it’s not unlikely I’ll be dipping my feet back in this circuit. Keep an eye on future Couch Yeti Booking shows and watch for Short Month, Standby, Zander, and Cheem: they’re all relatively young bands with only a couple of releases apiece, if that, and with promising futures. If you’ve neglected this scene, or fallen out of it, I can assure you that these are some of the bands keeping it relevant.
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