Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Bottom of the Hill
Better than: Watching Ra Ra Riot outgrow small clubs.
"How many of you have heard of Telekines?"
It's a weird question to hear at a Telekinesis show, especially three-fourths of the way through a set. But Michael Lerner doesn't hesitate to ask, and an overwhelming show of hands at Bottom of the Hill don't hesitate to answer. Lerner appears taken aback for a moment, but clearly he appreciates the sentiment. He thanks the crowd, even offers to do a quick Q&A (where we learn the names of his bandmates, that he doesn't wear contacts, and that Anchor Steam is his "favorite" beer). But ultimately, the man behind Telekinesis seizes this moment of channelled energy. The guitarist begins strumming the opening riff to "Power Lines," the keyboardist initiates a unison clap, and seemingly every head jolts down when Lerner finally sits to kick in the drums, driving an intimate, blissful three minutes of pop-rock.
Telekinesis is still Lerner's little project, a solo in-studio effort that requires him to recruit a few friends to take it all on the road. But his act is far from an unknown entity. Last fall, NPR Music referred to Telekinesis as the number one "band that should be bigger." At the time, this was a nod to the strength of Lerner's second album (12 Desperate Straight Lines) as well as the energy he brings in a live setting. At Bottom of the Hill, Lerner proves this sentiment is false. Make no mistake, the show is phenomenal, but "bigger" feels problematic. Clearly, this is the ideal environment for Telekinesis.
A lot of the energy that drives this Telekinsis buzz does come from Lerner. He chooses the drumset as his live instrument but doesn't relinquish vocal duties or his spot at the center of the band. He hangs a mic high above the kit and keeps his stool up nearly to the point that he's standing, allowing him to transition back and forth between solely standing vocals, solely sitting drums, and a perched combination position. In a larger setting, you wouldn't get to see the intricacies of Lerner's constant motion. Here, though, it's hard not to focus only on him as he's transitioning all over the place and somehow bobbing his head like a metronome the entire time. The amount of coordination alone is impressive, but the frenetic pace is guaranteed to sweep up a crowd in any intimate space. As soon as the initial beat for "Please Ask For Help" begins the second song of the night, the audience has already joined the non-stop movement.
Telekinesis comes across as booming rockers, something that could lost in a large room. While Lerner is in the middle, the rest of the band is equally far forward to his left and right. Songs like the echoey, bass-driven "Wires" sound huge here, with the synthy background to the chorus enveloping the entire room. Earlier in the evening, the band even noticeably toned down the volume of its set, knowing fans at the front of the stage would eventually need relief. Lerner offers a brief acoustic escape with "Sympathy" before the last string of foot-stompers, perhaps for this very reason.
There are other liberties Telekinesis can take as a small but beloved band playing a full but intimate house. There's no need to appease this crowd with everything off his most recent album (April's Domarion), and nearly half the set is from Lerner's first two releases -- including lesser-known tracks such as "Coast of Carolina," which opens the night, and a cover of "Don't Change" by INXS right before the closer. The bass player can tell jokes he made up while on tour ("Why did the horse apply to be a truck driver? Becaus he likes haulin' oats"), and the band can take time to see if there are fellow Washingtonians in attendance.
The 16-song set was an ideal blend of personality and performance. With the way even the lesser Telekinesis songs (take the electronic beats of "Ever True" for example) become more live, NPR definitely has the right sentiment. This is a band that deserves more recognition and exposure. But what makes Telekinesis great is how well its music is tailored for this type of live experience. Lerner and co. have worked to get all those hands raised emphatically at spots like Bottom of the Hill -- here's hoping they keep doing it well after he's no longer surprised.
Time to revisit the Miracle Temple: If you, like me, made the mistake of dismissing Mount Moriah's latest album (February's Miracle Temple) as more of the same folksy twang, you're sadly mistaken. The band showcased incredible variation during its set, with elements of '90s rock and blues showing up alongside that folk influence. A song like "Eureka Springs" is a totally different experience onstage as opposed to on record, and lead singer Heather McEntire's passion alone is reason enough to prefer the live version. Even on slower tracks such as "Telling The Hour," Mount Moriah captivated the audience through intensity and musicianship. Guitarist Jenks Miller in particular evoked the Dire Straits at times with his airy, rhymic playing. He showed a delicate touch during solo sections, creating melodies while weaving in technical runs and never losing the style of a particular song (not easy to do on a plodding ballad like "Plane," for instance).
Coast of Carolina
Please Ask For Help
I Cannot Love You
Lean On Me
Dark to Light
Don't Change (INXS cover)