Photo by: Reid Williams

Truthfully, I had never seen Pillows play live until this show, despite being a huge fan of Two Step, an album I’ve been replaying since our feature episode on the band over a year ago. I am quite pleased to report that the band did not disappoint, playing through a number of great songs from their debut album intermixed with a few new ones. For the band recently named “Best Musical Duo” by the East Bay Express, the set was an exhibition in how to make big sounds with only two people and a few instruments, as even the songs with more sparse instrumentation felt full thanks to Julie and Jessica’s warm, rich vocals.

On the more electric numbers, the band displayed why they don’t fit into easy classification as a folk group. The churning “Incantation,” for example, owes more to garage rock than it does folk, with its simple, effective electric guitar lines and rolling drums. To my mind, the garage comparison extends beyond the sound to the overall quality of the band. Like the best garage rock, nothing feels missing in Pillows’ music, despite the band’s minimal setup. Quite the contrary, the configuration allows the lyrical and musical details to more easily take center-stage.

Roman Ruins performed before Pillows, and delivered a set that made me want to hear more in the future. Although some of the songs on his MySpace page reminded me of the lusher side of California pop–and there were certainly some songs that went in that direction–Graham Hill’s solo performance displayed a greater variety of sounds and styles.

In a live setting, it’s a tough and, from my perspective, unenviable task to be a solo performer in a live setting, especially when some of your attention has to be directed toward coaxing interesting sounds out of the devices on-stage. While there wasn’t an explosive stage show, Hill’s melange of loops and samples kept the sound interesting. With only a single 7″ out officially, I’m curious to see where Hill takes the project in the future, as he clearly has an eye for sound layering and song construction.