The late 60s in San Francisco…the late 70s/early 80s in New York City…the early 90s in Seattle — the concept of an emerging “hometown” sound that influences and inspires outside of its county limits may just be the fodder of music journalists posing as social ethnographers, or in the end, a “sound” may merely be one of the many emblems (like a flannel, tie-dye or studded belt) of a celebrated subculture. Fittingly, in 1992, Sub Pop’s Megan Jasper duped The New York Times into printing a prank list of so-called “grunge speak”.
My friends on the East Coast and elsewhere always ask me what the “sound” is here. Is there a “sound”? Sure, there’s a bit of psych rock here, some distorted folk rock, some “Brooklyn-sounding” bands (see, I’m doing it now, too), half-naked marching bands and of course the bike messenger underground blues circuit (soon….i hope) — but I think in the end because this is quite a large city (not an offbeat outpost like Omaha, Lawrence or Olympia), it doesn’t do justice to umbrella the diverse collection of artists and musicians under the ol’ freak folk moniker. Frankly, there’s a lot more going on than a few dozen motivated kids with good record collections, access to your dad’s 60s telecaster and small town hope. Sometimes, I suppose I’d like to resign the romantic notion of “hometown sound” to the simple equation of a couple cool kids who took a chance on some old Beefheart LPs or obscure 70s Byrds records and a like-minded musical foundation took course.
Listening to The Dodos on Thursday night got me thinking about this notion again, because of late, they seem to embody a little bit of all of the above — mixing elements of folk, psych, blues and the ever nebulous “indie rock” all in one palatable serving. Since I first saw guitarist/singer Meric Long perform solo amidst a cluster of effect pedals, loops and long fingernails over two years ago at Hotel Utah, his band’s sound has gotten noisier (but not “freakier”), more rhythmic and largely more memorable.
On Thursday night at the Make-Out Room, where the confines of the room could befuddle even the most skilled sound tech, The Dodos embraced heavy doses of reverb and echo in the manifestations of Long’s vocal loops and drummer Logan Kroeber’s staccato percussion. The two seem to be realizing a wider range of their sound, at times on more tangible levels (Long’s overdrive pedal), and perhaps this is a function of their adaptation to larger rooms and maybe even a broader appeal. However, some of the nuances of Long’s fingerpicking interludes are expended in this development. That said, the energy of the two remains as intimate as impressionable — Meric, much like a pendulum handcuffed to a chair, and Logan’s jack-in-a-box risings over his drums — and is still very much worth $6 and a front seat on the floor (while you can still get it).