the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Engine Down
eclectic reviews and opinions
Engine Down (with The Jealous Sound and Moments in Grace)
4 March 2004
The Middle East (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
It was a great night for hipster bingo as Boston's emokidz turned out for a state-of-the-emo-nation show: 3 bands all featuring a 2-guitar/bass/drums line up with a single primary vocalist, playing mostly Les Pauls through Marshall amps (Engine Down had an Orange), and Fender basses (all played with picks, a rarity in my new home) through Ampegs.
First up were Moments in Grace, a heavily-hyped Florida band. They were admirably tight -- especially the rhythm section. But despite the frenzied way they jackknifed around the stage, my attention kept wandering. Their songs are built on standard rock progressions, played predominantly in blocky chords. Melodically and lyrically they were uncomplicated, unchallenging, and almost painfully generic. Their most distinctive trick is singer Jeremy Griffith's tendency to jump into an upper register for a note or two -- which reminded me of Sarah McLachlan, as did sappy lyrics like "Forgive, forget all of our broken promises," repeated ad nauseum. This band belongs in the "Tonight's episode featured music by" tag after a TV show you were embarrassed to watch. The shocker is that their EP (available as a free download from momentsingrace.com) was produced by emo/hardcore tastemaker Brian McTernan, known for his work with truly fierce bands like Drowningman and Strike Anywhere. And as dull as I thought their set was, the kidz loved it. Go figure.
The Jealous Sound feature former members of Knapsack and Sunday's Best, both bands I kinda liked. From the first few seconds of set-opener "Anxious Arms," with its dueling palm-muted eight-note figures, they clearly had more going on than Moments in Grace. But their dynamic palette was limited. If you know the quiet melodic part is inevitably going to explode into big slashing power chords, it robs the song of drama. Blair Shehan had surprisingly poor mic technique for a veteran of national touring acts, which had the weird effect of making some of his chorus parts nearly disappear. What I could make out of the lyrics seemed less interesting than Knapsack's anway. His stage patter was also mostly about how superior California is to Massachusetts, which probably made him sound dumber than he is.
Engine Down closed out the night. They're from Richmond, Virginia, close to my old DC hometown, and record for Lovitt, a label sometimes dogged by the epithet "DisChord junior." I'm not partisan: association with DC does not automatically mean good. But Engine Down really seemed to be playing on an entirely different level from the other bands, working around the conventions of the emo genre rather than being constricted by them. Their songs were marked by more expressive dynamics, more varied singing, and harmonic progressions using passing tones and chord permuations rather than standard I-IV-V moves. A handful of songs from their recently-completed forthcoming record suggest it will be a worthy follow up to 2002's excellent Demure. Sadly (and perhaps inevitably for a Thursday night), they played to a substantially thinned crowd.
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