by Jason Harper
The Veils, the Comas, and American Catastrophe. Tuesday, June 19, at the Grand Emporium
Reviewed by Jason Harper
Do you know anyone who likes seeing shows at the Grand Emporium these days? I'm afraid I don't. The sound is usually bad, the bar staff ain't the friendliest in town, the stage is ugly and half-assed, and it's just not a cool place to hang out and see a show. It's a facility. They have drinks, a stage, and an interior, one local musician recently commented, that looks like it was designed by the Cylons. It's really a shame, with so few venues in town, that its owners don't work harder on making it an appealing place to the people on the scene. Because, since it's changeover from hallowed blues dive to sterile disco, I've seen some good shows there by relatively major bands -- the Delgados, the Perishers and Aqualung, Hard-Fi -- some of which actually were very well attended.
It was downright embarrassing how few people turned out last Tuesday to see Brooklyn's the Comas and London's the Veils, two up-and-coming acts that by rights should have been playing where people would be there to see them. Opening for them was local act American Catastrophe. I missed them because they started at like 8:45, no exaggeration. The venue had decided to book it as an all-ages show, with "curfew" at midnight.
The Veils' Finn Andrews finished the night with a serenade in the women's restroom. Photo by Scott Spychalski.
By all accounts, the PA was fucked up. Someone in AmCat said the subwoofers had blown during their soundcheck, so they just threw up some mics around stage to pic up the various amps and drums. The Comas patiently let the GE soundman guide them through a long sound check that left the group with functional but not great sound. The drums sounded like lightbulbs shattering in a silverware drawer.
The Comas put on a tense, humorless show. They looked nervous and we felt nervous, because just about everyone felt bad about the fact that no one was there. I felt partially responsible, because all I did to preview the show was talk about it and play some songs on my podcast, but, what the hell, I don't get paid to promote shit and bring people out to shows. That's other people's jobs, especially, in a case like this, that of the venue's promoter.
Still, the Comas played hard, rocked hard, and said a non-sarcastic "thanks" after every song. The one good thing about the slate echobox that is the Emporium is that the crowd's applause is amplified, making one person's "woo!" worth that of about three in any other venue. The Comas' sound is essentially juiced-up powerpop with a bit of darkness and edge spread in. It's got the high vocals (supplied by co-singers Andy Herod, also on guitar, and Nicole Gehweiler, also on bass) and synth of many a fellow band on the not-emo-hating Vagrant label, but it's more grown up, meatier, manlier. And really just not annoying or shitty. The Comas are good, man, even on a shitty off night.
There was still a sinking feeling after their short set. A few more people had trickled in, which helped, but there were whisperings that the Veils, on superhip Rough Trade, had been aloof rockstar jerks to everyone and were hiding in the green room like mopey pricks. I had half convinced myself that they weren't even going to play.
The Veils, minus the hot chick bass player. Photo by SS.
But they did. And it was great. Really, they couldn't have been nicer, especially charming and shy frontman Finn Andrews, who, after the first song, said, grinning meekly, "I really thought there'd be less people here." A group of about ten honest-to-goodness concertgoers (i.e., not from the other bands on the bill) formed a rapt crowd at the Veils' feet. Drums aside, the band actually sounded good, every tortured squeal that Andrews and lead guitarist Dan Raishbrook rang from their vintage American guitars coming through pistol clear. They'd tear up a song then talk to the crowd. After finishing up one song midway through the set, the sweating, suddenly self-conscious Andrews asked each person in the small crowd to introduce themself. And he was clearly just having fun with an awkward situation, as when he dedicated another song to a small cluster of people talking loudly at the bar.
The Veils' songs evoke the country gothic of Tom Waits and Nick Cave but are higher-tuned, as if Rufus Wainwright had a hand in the writing. Another clue as to the influences came through when Andrews led the band in a kickass rendition of "Mr. State Trooper" from the Boss' Nebraska. Veils songs like "Calliope" (feat. crooning Finn) and "Jesus for the Jugular" (feat. wailing Finn) are near or past 10,000 plays on the band's MySpace for bloody good reasons and will probably be ending up on the buzz blogs soon, if they haven't already, which they probably have.
But then, oh but then, after the band left the stage, somehow Finn Andrews ended up doing the encore, solo, in the women's restroom. If I remember correctly, he invited the audience to join him for an encore in the green room, but a lady from the crowd suggested he relocate to the washroom to take advantage of its acoustics, and he obliged. It lasted about five minutes and I missed it because I was buying a beer for myself and a friend, but our photographer didn't -- I couldn't resist putting the photo he got at the top of the entry, for all the world to see what went down in KC.
So, in the end, Grand Emporium you're off the hook, thanks to the Veils saving the evening. But let's do something about this halfassery on your owners' part, OK?