Today's show review comes to you from our nation's capital, where freelancer Jeff Kozlowicki is stationed. Despite having nearly broken his ankle the day before the show, Kozlowicki (hereby affectionately referred to as "Koz") hobbled down to The Black Cat
to catch a performance by The Apples in Stereo
. Thanks for the review, Koz! Your friends at BaebleBlog hope that the Apples' rock 'n' roll worked some medicinal magic on your injured joint.
The Apples in Stereo: Live at the Black Cat, 2/13/07
The Apples in Stereo have launched into space with a new album and a new tour, both of which are simultaneously welcome returns and open-ended departures. On hiatus since 2003 amid divergent musical and marital visions of head honcho Robert Schneider and drummer / now-ex-wife Hilarie Sidney, the band was bound for change after Sidney’s mid-session exit in 2006.
The resulting record, New Magnetic Wonder
, is an intricate 1970s-centric affair that diverges from previous poppy psychedelia and Nuggets-worthy nuggets. Complete with sticky Electric Light Orchestra harmonies and nods to the contemporary atmospherics of the Pernice Brothers and Phoenix, the songs are strong, fun, and engaging - but ultimately leave a sense that something is missing amid all of the orchestration. Would the newly-single Schneider be able to carry such a dense work on the road?
When new keyboardist John Ferguson walked onto the Black Cat’s stage with a B-movie spaceman outfit – complete with matching cape and top secret LED-powered goggles – I feared for the worst, but Schneider soon followed with moon boots, an armful of guitar pedals, and spiky male pattern baldness to tell me everything would be alright. The rhythm section’s entry groove soon yielded to “Skyway,” a galvanizing, crunchy head-bobber that would have led off the new album in a just world.
After a few old rockers, the gentle Pernice-esque verses of “7 Stars” slammed into the fuzz-guitar chorus to reveal the band’s internal battle: whether to run away with shiny 1970s excess or to hunker down with unpolished three-chord stomp. The uncomfortable balance left back-catalog songs to be pleasant reminders of the band’s past rather than to represent a logical musical development. A long Beatlesque chunk of psychedelia that drew screams from the overly friendly and possibly drugged fans up front yielded only clumsily to a tight rendition of the loose “Sun is Out.”
The Apples in Stereo did not disappoint with their performance, but neither did they electrify. An unprepared young man at heart, Schneider laughed anxiously at a slightly disruptive group of mistakes and tuning problems. Long-time musical companions John Hill (guitar) and Eric Allen (bass) steadied the ship in the face of Schneider’s apprehension and younger members’ excessive wardrobe enthusiasm. Faced with a band that was on the second night a six-week U.S. tour, the crowd had to be content to feel the joy and warmth of the music, which were fortunately in abundance.
Stripped of the oppressive processing and restraint of studio perfectionism, new tracks like “Can You Feel It” and “Open Eyes” sounded fresh in their refreshing voices and instrumentation. The band romped through the obvious radio single “Energy” as Bill Doss, another new member, expertly manned a free-standing cowbell to sharpen the focus of the surprisingly lean arrangement. The hyper-speed “Same Old Drag” brought a newfound urgency to the relaxed slickness of the original song. While ballads (“Play Tough”) dragged too long, the band kept the audience engaged with rapid returns to what the Apples do best: unite powerful garage simplicity with sweet bubblegum songcraft. An encore drawn from the band’s first EP showed both how far things had come and how far things could still go.
The ultimate musical destination is not yet clear; the band clearly needs a female singer to bring Hilarie Sidney’s innocent songs back to the stage, and Schneider should more carefully select which old songs to revive. Nevertheless, the joyous musical presence of Schneider and his cohorts is encouraging amidst an indie rock audience that generally takes itself too seriously. As long as the Apples in Stereo take the time for guitar solos, pretty harmonies, and perfect choruses, we should eat up every sweet sound that they make.