There’s an unfortunate irony embedded in the nickname “Music City”: despite earning the 2nd spot on Travel + Leisure‘s “Best Music Cities” list, or the fact that great live music is on display almost constantly, Nashville’s residents are not known for showing up in droves for touring bands on the rise. This phenomenon grows stranger when you consider that a large part of the city’s creative class are musicians themselves, many of whom are the very same people who complain when the only attendees at their out-of-town shows are door men, bartenders, and random friends who have the misfortune of housing a poor, sweaty band for the evening. Sure, all of us have at one point or another derided the notoriously late start times of Nashville shows, but regularly packed houses for small bands in Brooklyn, Chicago and LA prove there’s some other lethargic, apathetic force at work in our beloved city.
This dynamic was once again apparent Monday evening at The End, where shared headliners Twin Sister and Memoryhouse rolled into town ready to spread their gauzy wings on an uncharacteristically balmy summer night, only to be greeted by a tepid crowd and an absent-minded sound man (God love you, Brad, but can you please stay behind the board when a band is plugged-in?). Nevertheless, for the 20 or so attendees who stood up for the duration of the four-band bill, the quality of the music performed poured forth in the highest order, coating the room in new wave, garage and shoegaze warmth.
Dovetailing on my earlier sentiments, Nashville’s local bands give the city’s residents plenty of reason to step-up their concert attendance in-and-of themselves. Two of those bands, And the Relatives and Action!, played brief sets before the headliners and earned very warm receptions.
Action!, the husband and wife duo of Robyn and Dan Burns, kicked off the evening by introducing us to their earnest blend of quirky riffs, solemn ballads and impressive rhythmic skill. Though the couple can each hold their own vocally, they more often met up on glowing harmonies, all while playing musical chairs between electric guitar, keys, and drums. The sheer dexterity on display during “This Is Your Summer” and “In the Basement Corner”, in particular, was enough to wake the crowd from its Monday night fatigue, recalling Friend Opportunity-era Deerhoof with an enhanced pop sensibility.
Though a bit of an odd choice on a bill that largely featured slow, reverb-soaked jams, And the Relatives nevertheless blistered through a set that simultaneously recalled Dinosaur Jr. and John Mellencamp. The seasoned three-piece were noticeably confident, rollicking with a power pop swagger lacking in pretension and clearly adored by a certain sect of fans who arrived just in time for the brief set only to vacate the premises as the final chord rung out. The band’s rowdy aesthetic might not have been ideal considering the headliners, but the set embodied plain-and-simple fun in a way that wasn’t lost on the crowd in the slightest.
Though my initial interest in covering the show stemmed from my love of Memoryhouse’s debut EP, The Years (still available for free despite all the blog love), I’d heard enough of Twin Sister before Monday evening to harbor at least a passing intrigue for what their set would behold. “Passing” quickly turned into “fervent” as the Long Island quintet broached the mid-section of “Lady Daydream,” the song that opened their set with a Cure-esque shimmer. Alternating between a sort-of French pop and whispery new wave over the course of nine songs, derived mostly from their new EP Color Your Life, the band easily transfixed me with its delicate textures and lyrical candor. Chiefly part of Twin Sister’s character, whether they know it or not, is a near perfect balance of Siouxsie-ian oddness and pop accessibility, a dynamic that is equally represented on record and in their live show. The band is simply filled with great players, too – five individuals who emit an obvious obsession with tone and who seem to know their limits, emphasizing the communal focus on the songs themselves. Judging by their immensely pleasing set, there are already a flurry of interesting ideas within Twin Sister’s young ranks and I greatly anticipate their development in the years ahead.
Around one in the morning, the hotly-tipped Memoryhouse took the stage brandishing little more than a keyboard, two guitars, a sampler, and a projector, which was unfortunately rendered null because of the venue’s inability to accommodate such elements. The Toronto-based team of Evan Abeele (guitars/keys) and Denise Nouvion (vocals/samples) were joined by guitarist Adrian Vieni, whose playing added a distorted, riff-y fullness to an otherwise listless, woozy pop sound. Beginning with blog favorite “Lately (DeuxiÃ¨me)”, the affect was initially off-putting, though I found myself endeared to the addition by the song’s close, if for no other reason than the focus on guitars provided an unexpected diversity to the proceedings.
Drifting through The Years’ other three songs, as well as three new ones, Abeele, Nouvion, and Vieni kept up a consistent, relaxed patter, stopping only briefly to twiddle with the sampler or to hurl pleas for assistance to an empty sound booth at the opposite end of the room. The frustration embedded in these moments began to manifest itself as the set wore on, but the band ultimately pulled through gracefully. On “Bonfire” and set-closer “When You Sleep”, in particular, the latter a plaintively gorgeous take on the My Bloody Valentine classic, the trio easily reminded us why we’d stayed late despite the impending clamor of our alarms, exposing the compositional flourishes hiding underneath the majority of their original and remixed work. Having interviewed Abeele a few days prior for a piece that’s forthcoming for this site, I was told his background as a composition student is already playing a larger role in the material they’re currently writing, so the set’s final salvo gave us plenty of reason to be excited for what’s to come.
Twin Sister’s setlist:
Milk & Honey
All Around & Away We Go
Meet the Frownies
Other Side of Your Face
New Song (Untitled)
New Song (Untitled)
To the Lighthouse
New Song (Untitled)
When You Sleep (My Bloody Valentine Cover)