a trip’s what i need

“Half-convinced the singer of Vacationer is Kenny from The Starting Line.” I received this text from a friend who was at Spotify House last month during SXSW. It turns out she was totally right. M|H had featured Vacationer last year on the Summer Jams mixtape, completely unaware that it was fronted by Kenny Vasoli. Having been in love with The Starting Line for a number of years, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Vasoli’s new, beachy project when they opened for The Naked and Famous on April 14, 2012 at the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin.

As “the Eastern seaboard’s foremost relaxation specialists”, Vacationer is about more than just the music – it’s about the vibe as well. Vasoli kicked things off by telling the crowd, “this is like a big cuddle in music form.” While the band may have intended for the crowd to chill out, the audience had a different idea. Madisonians are a dance-y people; when we like what we hear, we’re going to move. Remarked Vasoli, “this may be our danciest show yet,” and, “we’re going to pick up the pace because you guys are great dancers and we want to take advantage of that.”

Playing a good portion of their debut album, Gone, singer Vasoli radiated joy throughout. From the bass thump of the earnest “Great Love” to the sweet longing of “Be With You” the message was love, love, love – and dancing. “The window to dance to our music is closing but that’s okay because the next one’s a banger. It’s called ‘Trip’.” While yielding more of a blissed-out sway than a body-shaking dip, it was high point of the band’s set.

For tour dates, a free download, or to book a trip of your own, visit Vacationer’s website.

Click either photo to see more shots from the show.

when you’re gone i know you’re with me

Good bands play a room the same way whether there is one person or ten thousand people. Dreamers of the Ghetto are a good band. Playing to about twenty people at The Frequency in Madison, Wisconsin on February 23rd, 2012, the band easily could have been on stage at a much larger venue. Their songs fill the room and when they relax so does their enthusiasm.

Influenced by the vaguely-gothy 80s, the music and the band members themselves have a somewhat serious front – there’s not a whole lot of movement on stage and one is more likely to step-sway than pogo to show their enjoyment. As the show progressed, though, things loosened up. After having to restart their excellent single “Connection“, keyboard player and vocalist Lauren Jones mimicked the last line of the previous song, an endearing move.

A major strength for Dreamers of the Ghetto is that they’re closer than the average band in their personal lives – Lauren is married to lead singer and bassist Luke Jones, and the guitar player is Luke’s brother, Jonathan. Drummer Marty Sprawls completes the lineup.  The Everly Brothers have had their impeccable harmonies attributed to their being brothers, and a similar situation seems to be at play with DotG. The blend between brothers, in-laws, and husband and wife is lovely. Luke’s voice is raspy and cavernous, Lauren’s strong, Jonathan’s smooth.

The Jones’s vocal compatibility was most prevalent on their best song of the night, “Phone Call“. While a strong cut on the album, it was more remarkable live. Rearranging on stage to crowd in among the keyboards, the members played off each other and relaxed. Dancing and clapping, they gave themselves completely over to the music. Jonathan had a chance to bring his voice to the forefront and it was beautiful and surprising. Luke’s ability to sing soulful high notes is hinted at in the recorded version of the song but live he goes for the gusto with great success. They could easily perform this song five times in a row and it wouldn’t wear thin. While the band’s overall performance could be tweaked here and there, there’s little doubt their continued touring will land them better and better bills.

Click to download “Tether” from their album Enemy/Lover, and click on either photo to see more shots from the show.

we are yearlings

Animal Joy, Shearwater’s latest, has a ragged edge about it – lots of catches and snags that grab your attention. The elevator bassline of “Open Your Houses” is simple, but it digs its heels in. On “Insolence” the chilling guitar and skittering drums raise the hackles on the back of your neck, and lead single “Breaking the Yearlings” is dark and primal – the beating heart that lies beneath.

On February 19, 2012, Shearwater played their new songs for Madison, Wisconsin, at the High Noon Saloon. The songs translate well to a live setting; the sound is thick, every note deliberate. Singer and founding member Jonathan Meiburg’s voice is extremely powerful, nearly taking the house down on its own. While Shearwater’s songs generally have a serious, almost urgent feel, Meiburg and company are affable and clearly happy to be on stage.

Unsurprisingly, the songs that stood out most on the album are the same songs that shone brightest on stage, with the addition of a lovely performance of “I Was a Cloud” off of 2008’s Rook. While a bit of a sleeper on record, it hit a nerve when performed live, harnessing the electricity of the room to feed its quiet intensity.

Animal Joy dropped 02.14.12.
Find tour dates and more at Shearwater’s website.
Click to download “Breaking the Yearlings” and “You As You Were“.
Stream the entire album here.