Review- Walkmen, White Rabbits, the Subjects @ the Ottobar, Baltimore

images.jpegIn short:

The Subjects sit at the intersection of Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. Capably and entertainingly, but also forgettably unoriginal save a few surprise songs.

The Walkmen couldn’t stand up to the White Rabbits’ performance. Vocals were off, flat and uneven for almost the whole night. Also, they desperately needed to tune. Points for effort and stage presence, but they delivered a show that was maybe 50% as interesting and engaging as the Rabbits. The sound guys pumped up their levels to try and match the Rabbits’ sound, but amplifying something without dynamism doesn’t make it dynamic. Check out our blogosphere neighbor, Butterteam’s interview with the Walkmen regarding their newest material and label changes in their future right here.

The White Rabbits killed. Absolutely phenomenal set, and the best new opener I’ve seen in nigh on 3 years. Reminded me loosely of Tapes n Tapes’ musically, but expanded to epic scale and more diversely influenced. While constrained somewhat within the realm of “indie,” there were hints in their music of African drum and Calypso/Carribean beats sprinkled in with genre-hopping keys, some rockabilly-esque guitars and duelling vocals, both melodic and harshly screaming. Back-up choruses of “oohs,” “ahhs,” and “la’s” are used to great mood-setting effect.

This 6-member band of multi-instrumentalists was made for their live show, much like Gogol Bordello. The energy on-stage was tremendous and the band was tight as a midshipman’s knot.

The vocals and keys combine with the galloping drums to give their music a swirling, sweeping quality. Like wind blowing over the dunes of the desert or swells working their way through the ocean. Really engrossing, moving stuff. And often, when tasteful and appropriate, they brought an earth-shaking, cacophonous sound, lush and haunting. Their mood traveled from whimsical to mysterious and spectral, almost seamlessly.

No single instrumental voice or line has anything supremely complicated going on, but the effect of them all arranged together is synergistic.

Finally, their sound takes a lot of cues from the Specials, whether they know it or not. The similarities between the backup vocals of “Ghost Town” and “March of the Camels” is a little too strong to believe they are unaware of the pioneering 2-tone ska giants. The deal-sealer was definitely the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” also covered by the Specials. But I think the White Rabbits may just have surpassed that cover by building on it. The final highlight was definitely an extended, improv version of “Reprise” spiraling out of “Maggie’s Farm” oozing melodrama and an eerie, hypnotic charm.

All in all, a great new personal discovery. I will be watching the White Rabbits intently.

White Rabbits Kid on my shoulders, live at Luna Lounge

Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/whiterabbits
Official website: http://www.whiterabbitsmusic.com/

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