On the surface, last Wednesday’s lineup at Great Scott might not seem very cohesive in genre. The show mixed together LVL UP’s ’90s slacker rock, Florist’s electro-tinged bedroom pop, Kal Marks’ sludgy garage punk, and Brittle Brian’s experimental acoustic folk – and if there’s one thing these bands proved, it’s that cohesiveness can be seriously overrated.
Brittle Brian, a local favorite of WRBB, opened the show, but to my dismay I arrived late due to subway delays (big surprise) and only caught the end of her set. Luckily for me, she closed with a gripping rendition of my personal favorite, “Lizard Eyes,” setting creaky vocals and wry confessional lyrics against haunting solo guitar lines. In the past few months Brittle Brian has also opened for the likes of Frankie Cosmos, Pinegrove, and Porches, and I’m confident we’ll be seeing her make even bigger moves in the near future.
Hands down, the title of heaviest set of the night goes to the show’s other local opener, Kal Marks. Explosive drums and distorted bass riffs created a dense wall of sound that took me by surprise, and guitarist/singer Carl Shane spewed dark, neurotic lyrics with a unique vocal timbre reminiscent of Jonah Furman from the late Krill (RIP). Kal Marks will be going on tour this week, but you can catch them when they return to Boston on April 1st at O’Brien’s – and trust me, you want to.
Florist took the stage next and dialed the atmosphere back with their soft but powerful electropop. The set was mostly made up of songs from their debut The Birds Outside Sang, out now on Double Double Whammy and written, recorded, and mixed entirely by bandleader Emily Sprague. On the record, these songs are quietly entrancing and meditative, like staring at the ceiling in your bedroom, but in a live setting they become sweeping epics. Emily’s airy, pillow-like voice carried deeply personal lyrics about pain, growth, and self-discovery over hazy electronics in “The Birds Outside Sang” and the melodic guitar lines of “Vacation.” I was very pleasantly surprised to notice that the room was relatively quiet during and between songs – something that is unfortunately rare at any show in a bar setting like Great Scott – and this definitely speaks to the absorbing, affecting nature of their music. Florist’s set was a beautiful and special experience – the type of live performance that makes you feel your existence as more than just your positioning in time and space.
LVL UP has been a top WRBB favorite ever since they played our annual Block Party show this past September. The band categorizes themselves as “slacker rock,” aligning them with 90s indie rock acts like Pavement and Silver Jews, but the lethargic image conjured by this title doesn’t give credit to the surging energy of their performances. With three out of the four members constantly switching off on lead vocals, their sets are always diverse and fast-paced, moving seamlessly from the crackly fuzz of “The Closing Door” to the twinkling and upbeat “I Feel OK” to the bewitching slow jam “I Feel Extra-Natural” – and somehow they manage to pull this off all while maintaining a unified signature sound and constant intensity.
We all know that sense of worry that comes when a band we really love comes out with new material – will it be good? Underwhelming? A disappointment? The prospect of hearing new music from LVL UP has been exciting, but also a little nerve-wracking. That said, any nerves I had were eased completely when they played four (!!!) brand new songs that fit right in with their current catalog. The very first song of the set held a standout moment in its ending, with guitarist/singer Mike Caridi matter-of-factly shouting a repeated line about “never finding love.” Former standbys like “DBTS” and “Soft Power” were conspicuously missing from the set, but I want to assure LVL UP fans that these new songs are absolutely worth making room for. It may be a bit presumptive for me to form a judgment based on a handful of songs I heard once at a show, but I feel safe predicting that we’ll be seeing an AOTY-level record from them this year.
by Samantha Stoakes // Photos by Jon Polen