I have to admit, I'm having a hard time figuring out how to talk about this show. Two of my best friends are in this band, and I used to be a "contributor," so to speak. Ok, fine, I sang backup vocals at their first show last year, but I was there as the first set list was cultivated from lead singer Shayne Fee's solo eight-track recordings into full blown songs, so I'm obviously pretty close to the whole thing. In the end, I think "brutally honest" is the way to go, since that's how I am most of the time anyway. Luckily, I really like the band, beyond just the usual loyalty to friends' projects, so I have almost entirely positive things to say. Way to go, Free Lions!
This show was in support of a band called The Colourist at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana, and in my opinion it was the best venue Free Lions has played yet. Sure, Spaceland in Silverlake has more prestige and buzz, but the Yost suited their sound better than any place I've seen them play. The band consists of two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards, with occasional percussion thrown in by (my former co-) backup singer Jocelyn Fee, so when they play a smaller place the sound can feel cramped, marginalizing some of the intricacies, in particular the keyboards. At this latest show, however, the mix sounded just right, giving these songs their due.
In hockey they refer to the franchises that have been around since the very beginning of the league as The Original Six. Free Lions has their own Original Six, and they opened with one of these, "Astronaut Wife Depression." The song opens with an extended instrumental section, showing a clear Sigur Rós influence as it slowly builds to a mini-crescendo before stopping, leading to Shayne's opening line: "I'm comin' back from outer space..." I'm not gonna lie, I really like this song, and I'd like to think it's not just because I once had to learn all the lyrics. The opening is great, but the meat of the song is really strong too, and I never get tired of the part after the first chorus where Shayne sings, "I know how you been feelin'..."(wait for it)"...OOOUUTTA place!" He doesn't have one of those traditionally or technically great voices, very gruff and strained in places, but it sounds perfect for this band and these songs.
There have been new additions to the songbook since that first batch, and they show a nice growth (much as I enjoy five of the originals, most of them have a very similar sound). I don't know the official names of the newer songs because they don't really have them yet, but the best of these is one that Shayne leads on piano, while the girls sing backup and add percussion. When it comes to the breakdown, the song speeds up and changes a bit, reminding me of Arcade Fire, especially with the shouted "Hey!" the girls keep repeating. Overall, the largely non-partisan crowd seemed to be into it, and when they closed with the very strong duo of "Georgia" and "It's OK," it made for a nice capper to the performance. Now, I don't want to give the impression that it was all fairy dust and cute lil' kittens--the stage banter needs work; Shayne's repeated use of "yeah" at the end of lines on "Georgia" sounds, to my ear anyway, like someone saying "um" too much in a speech; there's a love song duet between Shayne and Jocelyn, which is a little strange since they're, you know, siblings--but for a band that hasn't really been together for all that long, with a lead singer and songwriter who is a relatively new musician, and a drummer who actually counts the guitar as his best instrument, you'd never be able to guess any of those things; they sound like the real deal. I'm excited to see where they'll go from here, and how an eventual recording will sound.
I should also mention the band that came on immediately after them, Blok, since it was one of the strangest things I've seen in a while. Initially there was a tall blond girl wearing a black leotard walking around the stage, until she finally came to one of the mics and screamed, "B! L! O! KAAAAAYYYYYYYY!!!!!" Suddenly a backing track came on, and this hipster-looking white guy came out, rapping up a storm. And he was good, pacing around the stage with an intense look on his face, leaning out over the crowd, his eyes bugging out furiously. Meanwhile, the girl was all over the stage, dancing (I think) and grabbing a mic every once in a while to scream some backup vocals, almost like a hype man. Eventually, another guy appeared, wearing what looked like a skinny black mask, fingerless gloves and a black shirt with slashes torn across the front, and he started gyrating too. There's a video of some of the performance on their MySpace page at the link above, but it doesn't do it justice. I'm not sure I even liked it (though the vocalist impressed me), but it was worth seeing.
Be sure to check here for more Free Lions updates in the future, and you can visit their MySpace page if you click on their name under "Friends of Oatmeal" on the right side of the page.