Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pale Young Gentlemen/Amo Joy/Sleeping in the Aviary; November 22, 2008; High Noon Saloon

Sleeping in the Aviary was playing some of the best shows I’ve seen when they headed out on a very impressive nationwide tour after their CD release show in October. An unexpectedly large crowd packed an early evening welcome home show which found them playing even better than they were before. Their time on the road fine-tuned a band that was already hitting on all cylinders. I’ve been listening to their better-with-every-play Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Motel pretty much non-stop and for once I actually knew most of the songs in their set. One exception will be featured on their next release, a record made up of songs written exclusively in graveyards, due out sometime next year.

Despite his surprising white-blond hair, bassist Phil Mahlstadt seems the shyest of the Aviary boys. While he only occasionally takes lead vocals, his turn at the mike for a song that was something about being human again proved he’s just as good with a lyric and a melody as his band mates, each whom have released side project records. Drummer Michael Sienkowski featured one of his Whatfor songs as another highlight in a set unfortunately shortened by the fact that there was also a late show at the High Noon that night and still two more bands left to play. Luckily when they announced they only had one more song, they chose the shiver-inducing, sanity-testing “Gas Mask Blues,” perhaps the most impressive song on a record filled with stunners. It begs to finish near the top of my year-end list (coming soon). Disappointingly they are heading out on tour again and don’t currently have a Madison date on their calendar. I miss them already.

One good thing that came of their road trip was Indianapolis band Amo Joy. One of SitA’s favorite bands that they met on tour, they brought them home to show the band Madison, and to show Madison the band. A completely delightful group, only the biggest Scrooge could resist their goofy charm. An overwhelming wave of joy de vie exuded from the young band as they played their multitude of percussion and under-used instruments like kazoo and melodica. At one point they sent Elliott through the audience with a suitcase full of mini-percussion toys, hand clappers, party favors and whistles, so that the rest of their set sounded like a less annoying version of a New Year’s Eve midnight celebration.

While the band had already won us over with their music, they doubled the goodwill by not having anything on their merch table over $10. T-shirts they printed themselves (using men’s undershirts because they are cheaper) were $7 while their CDs were in the $3-5 range. I picked up a T-shirt, a CD, and an EP and gave them a $20 and told them to keep the change. I’m not sure who was happier with that deal, me or them.

The Pale Young Gentlemen also released their sophomore record this year on the same label, Science of Sound, and headed out on tour playing many of the same venues that SitA had. Coincidentally they arrived back near enough to the same day that this show served as a welcome home for both of them. PYG’s new CD discards the frenetic keyboard driven gypsy swing of the first disc in favor of more meditative guitar based songs. The more grown up Tra La La (Black Forest) isn’t as immediate as its predecessor, but may prove to be even better with repeated listens.

But until I reach that point I contend that in the live setting the songs aren’t quite as engaging. Watching lead singer Mike Reisenauer crouch over the keyboard, unable to stay seated as he threw himself into songs about Saturday night and girls in their underwear was always part of the fun. Thankfully, a few of those more lighthearted songs did show up near the end of the set. Only “The Crook of My Good Arm” achieves that feeling on the new disc. Admittedly it’s probably a case of “it’s not them it’s me” as the crowd, which had been growing throughout the night, seemed to hang on every word. The always well-dressed band certainly sells the new sound well; the cello and violin beautifully haunt every song, while the rhythm section holds every song in the ether. Here’s one band that wasn’t afraid to grow up (but I secretly hope Sleeping in the Aviary never does).

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