Saharan Gazelle Boy and Breathe Owl Breathe
Friday, November 5, 2010
This month's First Friday yielded an impressive show down in the Crossroads. Local bedroom pop act Saharan Gazelle Boy shared the stage with one-of-a-kind Michigan trio Breathe Owl Breathe. (This is the latest in a string of noteworthy acts that Saharan Gazelle Boy has opened for. The past month has seen the newly formed live ensemble play and hold their own with Twin Shadow and the Drums.)
Saharan Gazelle Boy sparked their set off with "Half Hair Girl," a synth-sweet mind-bender. From the get-go, the group brought the craftsmanship of SGB's newest EP, Strange Teen Heart, to life. Fellow Capybara member Mark Harrison's snappy snare drumming stood out, since the studio tracks feature a drum machine. Frontman Darin Seal's impassioned delivery didn't falter. His intensity and stage presence are the mark of someone who not only puts his heart into his work, but also pours his heart out onto the stage.
The three keyboard attack of "Something I Want to Know About You" incited a chorus of sing-alongs. During the slower tune, "Those Days," the energy of the audience momentarily bottled up, and was released with the closer "Amy Needs a Vacation." As the song wound down during a keyboard spot, hand-claps emerged. It's no stretch to say SGB had the largest draw of the night, and those there to see the group were there to boogie. The show was everything you want out of a pop act: danceable, bright neon fun.
Toy keyboards, cello, soft male-female harmonies, a song that mentions a mustache: that's the kind of ingredient list that gets the "Look at That Effing Hipster" banshees screaming. Nine times out of ten, it would be justified; but Breathe Owl Breathedoesn't follow the stereotypical recipe. Where many an act would just make another egg sandwich, Breathe Owl Breathe makes French Toast.
Kicking off their set, vocalist, guitar and human sound effects man Micah Middaugh joked to the thinned-out crowd, "We're saving up for a smoke machine." Micah asked the audience if they had seen any killer mustaches. After giving kudos to the mustached members of SGB, he spontaneously recounted a tale of a nail-tough mustache that would drink from its own boot. Thus, he segued into their second song of the night, "My Own Stunts." Donning some headgear, Middaugh broke into the prelude for "Dragon," which is a song about a princess and a dragon who are penpals.
Some bands will use their goofiness to cover their lack of musicianship. With Breathe Owl Breathe, the fact that they were good musicians allowed them to be goofy. Throughout the night, Breathe Owl Breathe asked the audience to create an imaginary swimming hole (during the very catchy head-bobber "Swimming"), pretend they were in a lake and on a rickety ship, and do a dance supposedly created by sabertooth tigers. (Wrapping up the aforementioned song regarding sabertooth tigers, Micah exclaimed "We're about to go extinct.")
The mini-story segues before each song drew upon the surroundings and the particulars of the crowd, giving a unique context to each tune. Overall, it felt more like a live action creative-writing exercise than a concert. This is not to say that the music was completely overshadowed; it merely shared the stage with Breathe Owl Breathe's elusive element.
Adjectives like "creative" and "quirky" and "clever" have become part of marketing shtick used to sell or label a prepackaged bundle of goods (usually in the aisle marked" indie"; see also"alt"). When one stumbles across a band that really hits all of those buzz-words -- creative and quirky and clever -- that isn't trying to sell an image, it's a breath of fresh air.
Critic's Bias: Full disclosure: I'm pretty good friends with all the performing members of Saharan Gazelle Boy.
Overheard in The Crowd: "Hey, you're not dancing."
"It's too bad you have to 'work."
Random Notebook Dump: "This reminds me of Nilsson's The Point!"
Saharan Gazelle Boy Set List:
Half Hair Girl
Strange Teen Heart
Something I Wanna Know About You
Amy Needs A Vacation
Breathe Owl Breathe Set List:
Across The Loch
My Own Stunts
Lake Light (?)
Dogwalkers of The New Age
Parrots in The Tropical Trees