Three pent up bands unravel before a lifeless Moxie’s crowd
The Red Robot brought its version of rock down from Redding and into the very subdued environment of Moxie’s Cafe, and it was refreshing. Obviously well-schooled in the in the Fugazi-inspired calisthenics of jagged arrangements and crashing dynamics, the Red Robot’s might was measurable more in its spirit than the songcraft. Muscular Zepplinish riffs played in chorus by guitarists Mat Calderon and Tatton White on the finale, the aptly titled “The Holy Moment,” were blessed by the hard-wrought sweat of a committed performance.
The Americas kicked off the next set with some pre-recorded noise and then proceeded to play every last note to the hilt, both in volume and intensity. The constant volume press proved somewhat distracting, as I lost interest at times when the noise became unrelenting. It wasn’t so much a “white noise” coloring the atmosphere, but more like constant splashing water that engulfed me and made it hard to focus.
The execution was still fun and impressive, and the cut-and-paste songwriting that places impossible shifting parts side by side at a frenetic pace were as always at the rapidly beating heart of the Americas’ set. It’s just that, in comparison to the dynamics of the foll0wing set, you could see how power can be created and adjusted with more careful and varied choices with regards to volume.
After the first song by Portland’s 31 Knots I leaned over to a buddy and joked, “This sounds like prog-rock!” He suggested I was only saying that because they had their guitars hiked up to their chins, and then, on cue, lead singer/guitarist Joe Haege launched into some furious “tapping” up and down the length of his guitar’s neck, lending some credence to my side of the story.
31 Knots is a group of naturally gifted musicians who have no doubt run the gauntlet of both prog- and math-rock in their musical journeys, whizzing by an onslaught of Robert Fripps, Steve Howes and any number of math-obsessed post-punkers into the clear air waiting on the other side of the miasma of musicality that so many gifted noodlers choke their souls to death on.
With a fired-up spirit and careful attention paid to keeping the lines moving, not resting on their ability to toss around time-signature changes and complicated bass and guitar harmonizing, Haege, bassist Jay Winebrenner and new drummer Jay Pellicci were using their powers for good instead of evil. The language was certainly more complex than the average three-chord punch, but the music was born of the same soulful desire to just play the rock.
They put on a show. "Stepping out" in the true sense of the expression, Haege and Winebrenner danced through every song, admirably trying to get the crowd moving. It wasn’t happening. This was an "applause only" crowd, which didn’t deter the Knots in the slightest (Haege even went so far as to say it was the best show of their tour).