|« Twenty One Pilots Makes Young-Person Angst...Ecstatic?!||From Jeremih, With Love »|
Review Mon Dec 07 2015
A hallmark of the most successful bands is a willingness and ability to change over time. Art always has a basis in context--whether it be societal mores or the artist's personal life--so for it to remain static suggests an ignorance of the terrifying drip of sand from the hourglass that unites all humanity. That's why artists who change tastefully, like Kanye West and The Beatles, transcend the moment, and that's why Nickelback has fallen so far from grace.
Watching The Lonely Biscuits perform at Beat Kitchen last night was an experience in seeing and hearing the process of change. The band is quite young--like me, they graduated from college in May--but they've already gone through a metamorphosis that they put on display for the fifty or so brave souls who conquered the Lazy Sunday vibes and the December chill to come out. Since the departure of vocalist/guitarist John Paterini earlier this year, they've shifted their style radically from the rap-rock hybrid of their early halcyon days to a more straightforward garage-y vibe that stays hard-edged enough not to drown itself in reverb. And in front of a very friendly crowd that was clearly expecting more of the former, the new material worked surprisingly well.
The opening act, local five-piece Freaks for Geeks, fit nicely into the milieu of old Biscuits, laying the warp speed rapping of Eric Slager (and sometimes Aleksa Narbutaitis) over thick, riff-based rock. The group is unapologetically nerdy, with "What Might Get Out" told from the perspective of a werewolf in a relationship and "Now You Know" about Dracula, and combining that quirkiness with the carefree tone of Slager's rhymes and the sheer power of guitarist Ryan Basiorka's playing gives the band's music that late '90s skateboarding video feel. Maybe have the skateboarders dress up as zombies, and you've nailed down their aesthetic. In terms of stage presence, though, they could have been more engaging. Slager did a nice job engaging the crowd in between-song banter (a must at a small venue like Beat Kitchen), but when he began rapping, he turned into a shoegazer, which didn't really match the energy of Freaks for Geeks' songs. Additionally, his harmonies with Narbutaitis in the mostly-sung choruses didn't feel quite in tune, and Narbutaitis herself wavered on her pitches when she took on the primary vocal duties.
The Lonely Biscuits then took the stage and immediately put on a display in frenetic kinetic energy. Robbie Jackson, the band's "live Biscuit" who has been filling in for Paterini on guitar, carved out a massive presence on stage with his electric jerking and jittering, repeatedly shaking the hat off his head in musical ecstasy. On the other side of the stage, bassist Nick Byrd held down a tight groove, shooting frequent smiles at Jackson and drummer Sam Gidley that expressed the purest of bliss. The Biscuits were having as least as much fun as their audience, if not more, and it showed in their impeccable stage chemistry--the simple elation of nailing a chord in unison or hitting their vocal harmonies on "Caught Up In My Head," a song they're considering for inclusion on their upcoming debut studio album, was enough to make their day, and by extension make the crowd realize something special was happening.
With Paterini gone, Grady Wenrich handled all the frontman duties and he did a masterful job. His New Jersey accent comes on strong in his rapping, giving him a very '90s east coast feel with a playfulness that harkens back to Biz Markie, particularly on "Casual Vibes." But now that he and not Paterini is doing the singing for the band, the comparisons they've gotten to the chilled-out side of Sublime seem less apt, since Wenrich's vocals sound far more like some amalgam of Smashmouth's Steve Harwell, Dave Grohl, and Randy Newman--there's a rasp that adds attitude and a relatable, everyman quality. (To be fair, that may have stemmed partially from the fact that this was the end of their tour and Wenrich's voice was run ragged.) Combined with the band's wholesale movement away from rapping, which Wenrich told me has merely stemmed from a lack of inspiration to rap following Paterini's departure, the Biscuits' sound has shifted toward the garage-pop aura that defines much of Nashville's non-country scene. They channel Foo Fighters on their recent single "Come Around," and on their latest, "Pacifica" (inspired by Wenrich's sister's choice of boyfriends), they produce exemplary surf rock with shades of Vampire Weekend melodicism in the verses.
Naturally, some of the fans in attendance clamored for the old stuff, but the band managed to appease them while trying out a lot of new material, including a standout called "Talkabout." Key to that was Wenrich's ability to hold conversation between songs, particularly with a small cadre of very vocal Alabamians at the front of the room. And in an indication of how much the band cares about its audience, they held off on playing their early work "Butter" until the Alabamians returned from getting more beer, since they had been shouting for that song since the beginning of the show. In that song's usual place in the setlist, they allowed for requests. That certainly won't happen when The Lonely Biscuits are playing at Firefly next summer.
It's going to be interesting to see how this young, promising band develops as they move away from the rap-infused, college-focused days of their past and try to break into the mainstream with their new sound. But if their show at Beat Kitchen was any indication, The Lonely Biscuits are good enough at playing straightforward alt-rock, Grady Wenrich's voice is special enough, and their fan base is passionate enough to make it happen.