An Amphora of presence
Our expectations for live music are different from our expectations for recorded music. After all, many of us can remember live shows where the band’s performance didn’t match the recording, either in falling far short of the CD or in surpassing it. This gulf—between falling short and surpassing—need not be a facet of the actual music being produced but rather is often more closely related to the band’s stage presence. In other words, if the band puts on a good show, then the audience might overlook musical shortcomings, and, conversely, if the stage show isn’t cracking, the audience just might perceive musical shortcomings that aren’t even truly present.
Last Thursday’s show at Old Ironsides highlighted this issue with the performances of Amphora and Guardrail (Aesthetic also was on the bill). Guardrail opened the show with a serviceable set of relatively complex songs. The band’s core sound heavily referenced grunge, particularly Soundgarden, but the performance was not limited by the grunge palette of crappy guitars thrown through broken amplifiers. Instead, Guardrail also elicited some more progressive sounds, changing guitar tones and drawing the songs out into spacey jams that, at times, veered into progressive-rock territory, not quite as spacey as Pink Floyd or as musically complex as Yes but certainly nodding in both directions.
Though the music was interesting and competently played, the performance lacked an essential quality that wasn’t completely understandable until the next band, Amphora, took the stage. Amphora’s music is very similar to Guardrail’s: grunge-influenced, yet with a touch of progressive rock. The difference, though, was that Guardrail’s show was akin to watching your local junior-high-school band in a performance. In other words, the individual members looked nervous and out of place even though they clearly had the musical chops to pull off a great set. This was particularly a problem of the vocalist, whose voice and style were emotional (even if a bit derivative of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) but who essentially stood motionless as he sang. Simply put: If I want to see a statue, I’ll go to a museum.
Much to the contrary was the performance of Amphora vocalist Michael Grofe. Rather than becoming plaster, Grofe gave his audience a solid performance, drawing the relatively large (for a Thursday night) audience to the stage and moving to the music with a sort of wild abandon. The same could be said for the rest of the band: Ryan “Squeak” Armes’ super-fast bass work was made even more dramatic by the fact that he really seemed physically consumed by the music, and Ian Watts’ guitar and Crist Giotes’ drums were similarly consumed. Even keyboardist Adam Rice was manically seated at his instrument, tweaking knobs and playing chords like a mad scientist. This, coupled with compelling, emotional music (if at times a bit overwrought), helped make Amphora’s set enjoyable.
The fundamental difference between these two bands was not in the music but in the performance, offering something of a reminder that the best rock shows emphasize both “rock” and “show.” If Guardrail tore a page from Amphora’s book, it would be a much more compelling live act.