Mothers at Brick & Mortar by Kaiya Gordon 01

Mothers (photo: Kaiya Gordon)

As the Friday night crept towards Saturday morning, Kristine Leschper of Mothers took the stage at Brick and Mortar. The room was hushed and expectant; fans huddled together as moths on a lamp. It was the first time the venue had been quiet all night, and I felt as though that silence encased the audience in velvet.

Mothers’ music is vicious in its exacting descriptions of bodily turmoil and hurt: “This is me, combing your hair in the wrong direction," Leschper sings on “Copper Mines.” And at their best, that feeling of intimate unease is carried from Mothers’ lyrics to their instrumental performance. On their debut album, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, Mothers plays with quick time changes the same way a poet might play with meter, or a painter with roughened textures. But what is most unique about Mothers is the comfort they find in the uncomfortable. Because of the skillful way the band wields shifts in tone and texture, and because of the emotional accessibility of Leschper’s lyrics, listening to Mothers feels cathartic, like a deep cry or a rejuvenating bath. Though I remain a faithful Mothers fan, their performance on Friday night was not nearly as accessible or compelling as their recorded material. Instead of feeling cocooned by melancholy, I often felt like the outsider at an art-school show; as though the music was meant to be a barrier for the audience, rather than an invitation to feel.

Mothers was joined on Friday by Boy Scouts, Crush, and Magic Trick, all of whom are local to the Bay Area. Each of the local bands drew dedicated crowds, and it was fun to see waves of listeners move towards and away from the stage, depending on who they had come to Brick & Mortar for. It was an eclectic crowd: lo-fi bands Boy Scouts and Crush drew DIY kids and punks, while Magic Trick seemed to attract an older, folksy audience. Pinning down the demographics of Mothers fans was especially difficult — it seemed that everyone from high school students to techies was crowded together to watch the set.

Both Crush and Boy Scouts play extensively in Bay Area venues (several members of Crush, in fact, played in multiple bands during Noise Pop), and I’m happy to see them getting the recognition they deserve. Boy Scouts, especially, has been growing rapidly in the past few months: initially the solo project of Taylor Vick, the band has expanded to three, and their set on Friday was more imaginative than ever. Each time I see Boy Scouts, I’m impressed by Vick’s compelling lyrics and ethereal voice — and impressed, too, by the massive size of the band’s keyboards.

In contrast to Crush and Boy Scout’s sets, Magic Trick’s folk-pop was a bit jarring. Though the group was well-practiced and energetic, the seeming disparity between their sound and the first two bands marked a shift in audience’s mood. Regardless, I was interested in the more complex melodies they brought to the stage. At their best, Magic Trick de-stabilized the sweetness of their folk-pop sound with unexpected rhythms and synth additions. When joined by collaborators Alicia Van Den Heuvel and Noelle Cahill, lead singer Tim Cohen’s voice sounded full and vibrant.

Perhaps influenced by the softer sounds of Magic Trick, or by the late hour of the night, the beauty of Mothers’ set was dampened by lackluster energy from the crowd. The Georgia four-piece was startling in their technical skill, but their choice to play songs at half-speed lost me at times. On record, and perhaps during other live performances, Mothers’ music brilliantly joins poetic lyrics, Leschper’s impeccable voice, and constant forward momentum from their punk-inspired compositions. On Friday night, however, all of these components felt at odds with each other. It was difficult to make out Leschper’s words, because they were sung slower than usual, and the largess of Mothers’ instrumental parts was weakened by the pace they played at. Though I had imagined a Mothers show suitable for both moshing and sobbing, that was not the Mothers show I got.

The best moments of the night were the least intentional: Leschper’s solo encore was excellent as a stark and soothing nightcap, and I found the slight smiles and thumbs up the band-members gave each other to be endearing. I wanted to feel more compelled by the Mothers set, and to find more of those moments of clear emotional brilliance. But 1am was not a good time for Mothers to increase the off-kilter elements of their performance, and forgo the impact of their heartbreaking lyrics.

I left the Mothers show feeling disappointed and confused, but have found comfort in listening to their recorded Spotify sessions. Those sessions sound like the Noise Pop concert Mothers could have had, perhaps at a different time, or a different place. If I get another chance to see the band, I will. Until then, I’ll hold the memory of their show gently, holding closer their moments of on-stage grace and joy.