Show Review + Photos: Little Joy and Dead Trees at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, Saturday, November 22
By temperament, I'm not a social person, which puts me at the center of a paradox every time I go out to see a band, something I've been doing every other night for most of my adult life -- or so it often seems. But I love music in performance, for the sound and presence of a performer on a stage, but mostly for the social role of being part of an audience. It feels good to be with others, mostly strangers, who are also feeling good.
On Saturday night, the mood in the Duck Room for the Little Joy and Dead Trees show was especially cheery, not quite MSNBC-called-it-for-Obama festive, but still animated and happy, like a low-key party where no one has to struggle to make conversation or mingle. Even the spinning of Toto's Greatest Hits between sets couldn't stifle the mood. I'd put the crowd at 120, mostly 30ish, a few moms and dads sitting at tables, and a hipster presence in the low teens.
Dead Trees:The Dead Trees, a sweaty, scruffy rock band from Portland, Oregon, was warmly, generously received, as if the audience had been following the dudes for years, though they only have an EP and a just-released full length, King of Rosa, to their name. Turns out the show was a homecoming, as bassist Tad Dahlhoff is a St. Louis native; some friends and family clearly turned out. The Trees' set was earnest and outgoing, never spectacular, but this is not a showy band. It just plays rock & roll, with two guitars, bass and drums, and a little keyboard and percussion added in, nothing that hasn't been done a thousand times before them. But the secret is getting the spirit--the spontaneity, the directness, the effortless intensity--just right.
The Dead Trees did, with singer and songwriter Michael Ian Cummings pushing his voice to a hoarse wail, guitarist Matthew Borg refusing all impulse to wank and the rhythm section leaping and laying back as the songs demand. They can sound a little Zombies-esque on a piano pop tune, a little Replacementsy on the great single "Shelter," and little early Old 97s-esque on a double-time country song, and then the full Yo La Tengo on a final, loud, improvved, fuzz fest. An encore would have been welcome; here's hoping the band makes another homecoming soon.
Little Joy may be a side project of Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, but you wouldn't know it from their folksy, living room song swap style or from Moretti's reticent, side-of-the-stage guitar strumming and tossed-off harmony vocals obscured by the cigarette in his lips. To say he was high would be to understate the obvious. This is Rodrigo Amarante (of Brazilian pop band Los Hermanos) and Binki Shapiro's (Fab's LA gal pal) band, at least on stage, and with opener "Next Time Around," the first single from the easy-going, self-titled Rough Trade debut, they set a driftless, nonchalant tone, like the Velvet Underground on Xanax or maybe Buckingham Nicks making up over some sweet and simple demos.
Dead Trees bassist Dahlhoff sat in all night and Shapiro took breaks from cigarette drags for a few shyly warm lead vocals, her voice intimate and coy, with samba-like phrasing at the edges. Every song--all short, fleeting as breezes--came and went with such unassuming charm that I wondered if they were opposed to rocking on aesthetic or cannibus grounds. "Brand New Start" closed out a set which couldn't have lasted more than 45 minutes, but did so with a collective thrill, the Dead Trees joining the group, and upping the ante on the loose sound to an almost rocking, genuinely joyful place.