Slabs of sound

Low Flying Owls

Low Flying Owls

My general philosophy in writing this column is to seek out bands and venues that I haven’t heard of, seen or visited. I’ll drop everything to rush out to Loomis for a new coffeehouse, often at the expense of missing an already-established Sacramento band putting on a kick-ass show at a well-known venue.

This may be the reason that I’m only able to catch Low Flying Owls in action once every two years or so. The last time they appeared under the Clubber heading was in October 2002. Since then, they have been through much: The release of their first proper full-length album, Elixir Vitae, on Stinky Records; an attempted move to New York to support that release (two of the members never really moved, spreading the band across the continent for a while); the departure of Matt Guyton and the return of Mike Bruce; and, most recently and in many ways most importantly, a split with their now-former manager (and occasional freelance writer to SN&R), Eddie Jorgensen.

Last Friday night, Low Flying Owls returned to what has become their favorite local venue, the Blue Lamp, on a bill including Daisy Spot and Pets. The direction Low Flying Owls had begun two years ago has gelled into a crunchy, riff-driven sound. Gone are the long, Pink Floyd-influenced psychedelic overtones that surfaced during the band’s earlier shows; in their place is a heavy, repetitive sound full of hooky, distorted guitars—courtesy of Andy Wagner and Jared Southard—that churn like a funeral dirge cranked up to a head-bobbing speed. Southard’s vocals, in particular, are reaching a Morrissey-like delivery, although still retaining a sense of punk-rock whine. The whole thing is latched together by the dual force of Bruce’s interesting bass work (not to mention his fancy dancing feet) and Sam Coe’s spot-on drumming (Coe is certainly one of the area’s best drummers).

It’s a good, heavy and compelling sound on the whole, although, as a listener, I did find myself looking for occasional nods to dynamic range. One new tune, “Mama Said,” did feature some quieter moments that rose again into thundering rock, and as such offered the listeners’ ears some respite. A touch more of the same kind of dynamic range might make for a more interesting live show.

One last note about Low Flying Owls: I see quite a few local shows and talk to a fair number of bands. Much of the time, I hear bands complain about small audiences, about how venue X won’t book them, about not being asked to play a show at the park, about practically anything. In the midst of these complaints I see very few bands that are actively out on the town watching other bands play. The members of Low Flying Owls are a big exception. I have seen them in the audience at many local shows (most recently watching Giant Squid at the old Capitol Garage), and for this they should be applauded. It’s about time local bands started supporting local music. Bravo, gentlemen.