The longer a band takes to set up and the more instruments they have the more pretentious and difficult to relate to they will be. At least, this was what I thought before Friday night. Der Rath has hosted some interesting bands, but none that have roped me in as much as the Winter Sounds.
It was a little difficult for me to be excited when it took almost 45 minutes for the band to get their shit together and get out on stage, and then sound check. Imagine my dismay when they decided to pull two vocal mics to the floor and gather around them with an accordion, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and snare drum.
To my surprise though, the band blew through three or four bluegrass songs, including a rendition of 1993’s “What Is Love.” Yeah, the song from “A Night at the Roxbury.” It was great. Between the adept banjo and pounding acoustic guitar were beautiful vocal harmonies that had me yearning for more. People were dancing on the floor in front of the band, some were making fun at first, and then people really started to dance and enjoy the band.
By the time they quit to jump back on stage and take up their normal instruments I was ready to be let down. I felt like they couldn’t match that initial intensity. The dancing may have died down a little bit, but it was still the most packed I’d ever seen the “dance floor” of Der Rath, and the band was even better plugged in. Gone was the banjo, replaced with a bass guitar, the acoustic guitar switched out for a telecaster and the accordion swapped for keys.
The genre bending that ensued was amazing. People who know me will know that I hate any time someone tries to use more than two adjectives to give a band a genre. Post-shoegaze electro-pop rock is way too many words for one band. I don’t care that they kind of sound like a few bands from Britain in the early ’90s or that they have electronic elements. The Winter Sounds just calls itself an indie band, and while that can mean a ton of things, I approve.
It’s so much better than country gospel-tinged pop-rock. Some of the songs were straight-forward rockers, like “Trophy Wife,” but the harmonies had that country/gospel sound that gave it so much more power. What really brought this band’s sound home though was the instrumentation. The violin functioned like a lead guitar, while the guitar and bass both flirted with rhythm and melody, and the keys too took on this double role. It was a cacophony of beautiful noise, but the melody was always at the fore.
Animals in Human Attire, a band from Milwaukee, was another band present that night that had some interesting instrumentation. The bass was held together with duct tape, which didn’t leave me with too much hope initially, and there was a drum set assembled from various buckets and propane tanks and a giant tonal bass drum that had seen better days. It looked a little ragtag to say the least, but the energy of the band blew me away.
The talent these guys had was obvious, keeping those of us who opted to stay after the Winter Sounds left on our toes, at the very least. Most of the set was high energy and raucous, but the accents from the unique percussion in the back and the added intrigue of the dying bass guitar (it cut out several times, but it sounded amazing when it was there) had me tapping my foot.
The only problem that comes from being unique is that a band might miss the mark. The live setting definitely helps with this, and I don’t know how I would have felt had I listened to either band’s recorded work first, but with this experience behind me, I can say that I will be picking up copies of both band’s albums.
Have you witnessed a unique, killer band recently that you think deserves some attention? Send your questions and comments to Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org.