Friday, December 23, 2011

Fair to Midland & Dead Letter Circus at the Varsity Theater

Middle of the week shows are rough for a working stiff like myself, but this was a show that even a 9 hour work day and pneumonia wasn't going to keep me away from. Dead Letter Circus and Fair to Midland were a touring combination that seemed perfect, and seeing as that they were playing the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis (a great venue if you get a chance to go) it made it a no brainer to attend.

The show started off on a real down note, however, with Throw the Fight. They were obviously the odd band out in the lineup and it showed. Their brand of basic, cliched radio-rock just didn’t fit in alongside 3 bands that were quite unique in how they approached music. For most of the set I was, frankly, bored and found myself urged to play Bejeweled on my iPhone instead of watching. It’s not that Throw the Fight are bad… they’re just so completely run-of-the-mill that you can see a band like them at any local college bar for free while out drinking with your crew.

Aficionado was a band I had not heard of before the day of the show. I gave a listen to a couple of the songs they had posted online and thought they were listenable from that quick interaction. Their performance was also very much… listenable. It was all a little too melodramatic for me and ended up reminding me a lot of a post-hardcore/indie, Dear Hunter-esque band complete with a flautist and female vocalist to complement the lead male vocalist. A few songs I really got into, but as I said, it was all a bit too art-school for me.

As much as I love Fair to Midland, I’m not afraid to admit that the band I was most looking forward to seeing was Dead Letter Circus. Their album This Is the Warning was one of my top 10 albums of 2010 and I still revisit it constantly. Their set did not disappoint, although it wasn’t without its minor issues, most of which I don’t think were their problem. For the first couple of songs, the mix didn’t feel quite right—the guitars were really low in the mix, the backup vocal mics were basically inaudible, and the general sound was flat. Eventually things evened out, but it was a rough couple of songs to start.
Dead Letter Circus
What was surprising to me was that they played a number of songs from their debut self-titled EP along with cuts from their full length. It was a real treat for a long time fan such as myself to hear them perform “The Mile” and “Lines,” two songs I instantly latched onto the first time I heard them years ago. Couple that with key tracks from This Is the Warning,such as “One Step,” “Next in Line,” and “Cage,” and they had a setlist that didn’t have a weak moment. The performance was tight, and I was especially impressed with the rhythm section. Listening to their recorded work you get a sense that the rhythm section is important to the band, but in a live environment they steal the show on numerous occasions. I think it comes down to the rapid-fire bass lines which, in a few of their songs, actually give the band the sound by which they're recognized. Despite the odd mixing issues at the beginning of the set, Dead Letter Circus put on a heck of a performance.

Before I even start talking about Fair to Midland’s set, you need to know one thing… they are a ball of crazy when they’re on stage. After the long intro to their set they ripped into “Whiskey and Ritalin,” complete with fuzzed out vocals, overly distorted guitars, and driving drums. The band comes across so much “heavier” live than any of their recorded material would lead you to believe they'd sound. Listening to songs like “Golden Parachutes” on Arrows & Anchors, you get a sense that Fair to Midland are on the heavier side of the rock spectrum, but live they would rival most current “scene” metal bands in terms of outright heaviness and aggression. The riffs in their songs translate perfectly into huge, pummeling, audible fists that attack your ears (and body as well) throughout the show. Now… this having been said… you can only imagine the pandemonium and chaos that the songs “Rikki Tikki Tavi” and “Dance of the Manatee” instill. Darroh Sudderth is, quite simply, a man possessed on stage. He never stands still and even though he is all over the place, he doesn’t let it affect his performance. And rest assured, when he lets out the pro-wrestler voice, it’s uncompromisingly awesome.

Fair to Midland
I was extremely impressed by Fair to Midland’s performance, partially because it was so unexpected, and partially because it was simply so damn entertaining. So many bands are content to just play their songs, yell at the crowd, and hop around a bit… but Fair to Midland is the real deal. It’s not often I get to see bands that really give a real performance, so this was a definite treat.

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