Concert Review: Glass Mansions and others at Syc House

Our DJ Tim Rueda went to a show on the 12th at Syc House here in Fayetteville to see Glass Mansions with Francis & The Foundation and Witchsister. Tim also did an interview with the  band live on air that we'll post soon. -Ed.

At its core, I believe that a concert review is about an experience. Sure, there’s the music and the band members, but what really makes a concert special is the social nature of live music: its spontaneity. The atmospheric context makes a difference, so let me tell you about a night of music at the Syc House.

The Syc House is a large home venue operated by Chelsea Ware, and she starts off her greeting with a tour of the house at large. The upstairs is a comfortable space dimly lit by white Christmas lights, sofas, a mixture of memorabilia from alt-culture staples like Wayne’s World and V for Vendetta, and (my favorite) a giant painting of a cat in the living room.

It is apparent that she’s put some effort into making her basement suitable to host bands for house shows.  There are signs posted indicating the bathrooms, an even balance of seating and standing space for the hall itself, and side rooms which add up to a sizeable  venue space. There is a very strong punk rock aesthetic, which is mostly driven by wall graffiti and a sense of DIY customization. Many of the people present seemed at home, which is something encouraged from the front door.  While I did pick up on the sense that I was a scene outsider, I still felt welcome, even before patrons grew concerns over why I had a clip board. I secretly beamed thinking of myself as a cultural anthropologist, and then realized I was the biggest nerd in the house.

The show was delayed due to the night’s headliner, Glass Mansions, having car trouble on their way from St. Louis. They were the only group traveling with microphones of their own…so we waited. During my wandering, I encountered Sam, the lead singer and bassist for the night’s opening act, Frances & the Foundation.  I talked with her about the music scene in Nashville, the transitions of Sam’s band over time, and the influence of mental health on art. It was a good talk that ended as Glass Mansions made it with their gear, and the microphones Sam and her band needed to finish setting up.

When Frances & the Foundation finally made it to the stage they had a very pure rock sound. It filled me with a sense crossing Ursa Major era Third Eye Blind (a much underrated period), The Lonesome Crowded West -Modest Mouse, and Songs for the Deaf… - Queens of the Stone Age. Frances & the Foundation were very technical in their playing and structure, which was something I appreciated a lot. It was clear that Sam had scored great additions with bandmates Nathan Zumwait and Wes Cramer. Lyrically reflective of herself and the direction characters in her songs should go with their lives, Samantha Frances’ delivery was a potent mixture of blunted serenading and yearning shouts. As a whole their sound was balanced and well-paced; offering periods of grooving and rocking.

It seemed much of the crowd had shown up for the second act, the local band, Witchsister. I’d heard of them, but this was my first time actually hearing the band. Witchsister is a true to their namesake. They often have a slow drudging sound that evokes a Halloween atmosphere. It seems to be pulled from the realms of Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Doors, Bratmobile, and the bass heaviness of early Bleach Nirvana.  The heavy bass is the signature feature of Witchsister’s sound, at times risking over reliance on it. Their faster paced punk songs, such as “Birthright” allows the guitar to shine in surprising fashion, and are when I personally feel Witchsister is at their best. Witchsister borrows from several bands with great sounds, but come off lost in the mix at times due to harsh or uncoordinated tempo transitions. The skilled drumming of Kelsey Petet is enough to keep their songs together, but they still suffer from the blend of genres. Their music has a lot of potential, but the right ratio of style is still waiting. Stephanie Petet is a charismatic frontwoman, her long ethereal vocals can soothe or shriek. Lyrically the songs miss the mark for someone like me. The words come off too impersonal and disjointed to tell a significant story, but Witchsister’s strength is in their energetic live show, and they capitalize on that.

Following a moderate intermission Glass Mansions took the stage. It’s noteworthy that Glass Mansions goes above and beyond to create atmosphere. The band puts a ton of effort in their live shows. Keyboardist and rhythm guitarist, Blake Arambula, also managed lighting effects and a smoke machine through their performance. He was constantly moving in a calculated frenzy to keep everything on cue. It was an impressive sight. Lead singer Jayna Doyle had crafted a backdrop featuring the band’s name in cursive neon-esque lighting.  It really helped move the energy to the next level. I was compelled to dance my heart out, but I resigned to acting cool with my clipboard.

The first song of the Glass Mansions set was the song “Matches”. A fitting song to warm up with, it centers on a lover burning through romance after romance until there’s nothing left. This theme is highlighted in the lyrics “you burn out in the end, you burn out what use”. The single version is one of my favorite songs of theirs. It is a great example of Glass Mansion’s pop-punk rock in its most direct form. A comparison to bands like Paramore or Muse would be easy but unfair because Glass Mansions craft their sound in a way that is truly their own. The songs are coherent and synergistic in a way that copycat attempts would fall short in achieving. In regards to the live show, I wish they would have waited. It’s such an energetic song, that I feel something was lost with the baseline start of being the first track.

The second song was the somewhat more electronic infused “New Blood”.  An anthemic roar of liveliness and seizing chances, the song is also reflective of questioning your motivations when you’re supercharged with momentum. Jayna’s subtle additions of cerebral necessity in the song are part of what add substance to songs like “New Blood” that would otherwise just be likable for being catchy. This song is when the energy of the show started picking up steam, but the band still performed slightly mechanical and distant. I attribute this to interruptions from shouting by the crowd between songs more than anything else. In most cases I would say it’s okay, but the band was noticeably distracted by it.

Rolling on the gradually building momentum, the band played the first of two songs I hadn’t heard, “Landmines”. During the song, the lead guitarist Patrick Beardsley had a special moment just bending riffs on his wah pedal and after that the chains holding the band back blew away (pun intended). It  opened up the band to deliver an enthusiastic version of the song “Crushed”. Jayna’s vocals gained  attitude and sass that really made the song on point. Blake and Patrick responded in kind and the three of them seemed to really hit full stride.

Then the band made an interesting choice. They played the song “72”, a song about emotional distress in a sexual relationship. The lyrics beg “let me out” because the protagonist lacks the willpower to leave on their own.  It’s a slower paced song, which was a little counterintuitive to me, but somehow it worked out and the band didn’t miss a beat as they moved into their song “Nightswimming”.

“Nightswimming” is a prime example of what Glass Mansions is capable of.  It starts with a gradually building electronic intro, blends in guitar distortion perfectly, and as Jayna’s clear and dream-like vocals hit, then the beat transitions to a jazzy-jam riff backed verse, it picks up energy with the chorus, and variates on that format. The production and structure of the song are top notch all around. All of the elements flow so well, and is a big part of why I look forward to how the band continues to develop their sound. At their best Glass Mansions meld smooth electronic ambience, build on it with just the right amount of rock inspired pop, and attitude driven lyrics. I was super excited when they played this track, and they raised the bar again with an unannounced song that rocked my socks off.

I never got the name of the song that played next. It will hopefully be released soon as Glass Mansions has stated that they will be more focused on releasing singles rather than full length albums for a while.  By the end of the song, I was running on all cylinders; I think everyone in the crowd was, but the band had called it would be their last. Being the unsatisfied, rabid crowd that we had become we were gifted an encore cover of “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Jayna channeled her inner Karen O by utilizing a hook from the ceiling to hang her microphone. It was a fun way to end the show

The echo slowly faded and the amps clicked off. I made my way toward the back and congratulated Patrick on the way out. The concert as a whole made up for a day full of disappointments, making it end up surprisingly well. I left energized by the atmosphere and the company I had. The house billed the show as “Sunday Funday”, and it really was.

Concert Review: Adam Torres

DJ Tim Rueda wrote a lovely review of Adam Torres' concert on February 11. This is his first article for KXUA, and hopefully there will be more to come. -Ed. 

When I walked into Stage 18, I was greeted by the white walls covered with hanging art and the powerful purple backdrop being used for the upcoming concert that I had shown up for. The display called back to this month’s first Thursday and the venue’s grand opening. The purple lights splashed across the walls and acoustic guitar strumming echoed. Adam Torres was in the middle of his sound check, and after a moment he resolved to lower the guitar’s mic. He decided that it sounded more even. I told the bouncer who I was and sat down in the back row with my notepad, biding my time for the show.

The room was characterized by the near clinical arrangement of a gallery, which was tempered by the casual element of its bar. Apparently I had shown up very, very early. I lamented this fact, but used the time to take notes. About an hour later the show started with Adam’s song, “High Lonesome”. Most of the set consisted of songs off his most recent full length album, Pearls to Swine. In many ways the album felt like a concept album to me. Musically there is a consistent American west feel to the songs. Much of the album hovers in the realm of being hauntingly soothing; a trait that is enhanced by Adam’s ghost-like vocal delivery throughout this album in particular. It’s not something he’s always done. Many songs by Adam Torres paint intimate and personal pictures lyrically, but the signature feature of Pearls to Swine is definitely the consistency of all its elements.

“High Lonesome” was a great opener for the set. I consider it to be at the intersection of all the elements listed above, a good representation of the set as a whole, and easy to follow in whichever direction Adam would want to go. As Torres sang about being laid to rest in a shallow grave the white walls gained an air of coldness and the purple lights complimented the music, like a comfortable bruise.

The second song of the set caused me to shout out an enthusiastic cheer. I had told Adam that my favorite song was “Outlands” before he stepped on stage. Its picking and thumping rhythm is unmistakable and I was really happy with the direction he decided to go for the evening. The hypnotic pacing of the song cemented the atmosphere he started with “High Lonesome”. Further exploring the lonely imagery of quietly moving in the dead of night and the intimacy of shedding no tears upon being discovered; it elicited a sense of vulnerability with other people that made it a sensible follow up song.

The third song of the night was actually the first of the album, “Juniper Arms”; a sweetly reflective song full of symbolism using trees and protective distance. Many songs on Pearls to Swine consist of acoustic guitar, violin, drums, and vocals. “Juniper Arms” is one of the songs that benefit the most from violin which was sadly absent during the live performance; however Torres was able to throw in what can best be described as xylophone tones, present toward the latter part of the song. He accomplished it with a stretched out stomp to trigger the effect. It playfully offset the statuesque stillness of Adam on his stool.

Torres wasted no time slipping into “Some Beast Will Find You by Name”. The song starts with the powerful opening lines, “I want to live before I die. Free the skies thunder inside my chest. Now and again I wonder why. Can I escape from under the weight of my regret”. The sequence of choices Adam Torres made for his set struck me for their interesting flow. I appreciated the way that each song so far had supported the one before and after. As a D.J., I consider it a skill and an art form in its own right to arrange songs well. I knew this was true of both the Pearls to Swine album itself, but I was impressed he could do it so well playing songs out of order.

Once “Beast” was over, Adam brought the audience a sense of life and Spring with a light spirited song from Pearls called “Rain Song”. Again the violin was sorely missed, but the song maintained a rejuvenating effect. I noticed others tapping and swaying along. The floor space of Stage 18 had filled up to the door and I took a moment to look around smiling at the people standing next to me. Apparently I’m easily influenced by cheery music.

From there Adam continued with the upbeat musical (not lyrical) vibe with the song “Hatchet” from the, I came to sing the song EP. With it his voice relaxed from the higher registers as he sang about his heart being cut. I think the song also serves as a good explanation for Torres’ generally somber music as he confesses “I go to places in my head that I can’t explain” in the song.

Adam Torres spoke up after the song with a soft voice consistent with his gentle demeanor. He spoke about his partly Hispanic heritage and disappointment for current times in which people are compelled to push others away by building actual and metaphorical walls between us. After saying “Keeping people apart with walls is one of the dumbest things I can think of”, he nudged the soapbox his foot rested on and chuckled as he said he would get off of it.

This led into the song “Dreamers in America” that Torres wrote as part of collaborative album project Our First Hundred Days. This was a song I hadn’t heard before, but it was easy to follow. Torres said that he wrote it as a form of peaceful protest. Rather than anger, it centered on hope and cooperation for people looking to take care of their families.

Adam returned to Pearls to Swine’s “City Limits” for his final song. It complimented everything up to that point. It’s a song that highlights themes of being pushed away, the coldness of contemporary life, and the desire for change that are most easily evident in the line “watch them tear the city limits down so we could live in this town”.

Thanks to the venue the show had the intimacy of a living room concert, but the energy of the room had so much focus, too, that I was personally left in awe. Adam Torres carries himself in such a gentle mild-mannered way, but the power of his voice is undeniable when he sings. He will be returning to Fayetteville on April 11th.

 

 

 

 

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