Bodies of Water @ Cafe du Nord, 2/28/08

Last Thursday’s Noise Pop show at Cafe du Nord was beyond sold out, with even badge-holders being turned away at the door. What could possibly explain such an avalanche of buzz? The shocking answer at the end of this article… but first, LA’s Bodies of Water, whose set I came away from not remembering much of the music but still being oddly thrilled by the performance. It’s weird to say that the hallmark of the band’s sound is their group vocals, because that seems like such a thin premise on which to establish a distinctive musical vision.

But they themselves claim gospel and musical theatre among their influences, and indeed they have internalized the primal power of a group of people singing in unison. Add to that some heavy religious overtones in the lyrics, and the comparisons to Danielson and The Polyphonic Spree start flying around, but Bodies of Water really sound nothing like either one. Anyway, it’s not the gospel part of their music that stands out for me as much as the musical theatre part; I don’t envision Bodies of Water playing in a revival tent, but rather in an orchestra pit, as dozens of chorus members sing along while leaping about on stage.

Or The Whale @ Cafe du Nord, 2/28/08

I use the term “pro” a lot as a negative, to put down bands that put a lot of effort into their image and technical aspects of their performances while apparently forgetting to make decent music. But in Or, the Whale‘s case, they really do come across as professionals in the best sense, with bulletproof songwriting, smart arrangements that showcase the abilities of all seven of their members, and fiery, nailed-down performances.

Their only downside is that they tend to come off as a bit anonymous— I’m hard-pressed to come up with a description of their sound that doesn’t resort to the most generic of No Depression-style jargon. Which is not to say that they’re in any way bland or forgettable (just listen to “Call and Response”, coincidentally available on the Bay Bridged, Vol. 1 comp, for proof otherwise). With everything that Or, the Whale have going for them already, I feel like it’s only a matter of time before they find a sound that’s recognizably their own.

The Dodos @ Cafe du Nord, 2/28/08

The Dodos @ Cafe du Nord, 2/28/08

Which brings us to two dudes who sit down when they play, yet still rock harder than most bands twice their size standing up. With their new album slated for release on ultrasassy French Kiss Records in just a couple weeks’ time, and already being bloghyped to within an inch of Vampire Weekend’s life, The Dodos are poised to be San Francisco’s breakout band of 2008, as clearly evidenced by the crush of people in du Nord to witness their coming-out party.

The Dodos are a glorious mess of contradictions. Meric Long has some badass acoustic fingerpicking skills, but he often plays with a howling, white-knuckle intensity that demolishes any subtlety. Conversely, Logan Kroeber puts his death-metal-drummer chops to brutal use on his unconventionally tom-heavy kit, pounding out relentless tribal war rhythms, but every now and then he’ll add a little fill or accent that hints at an as-yet-untapped reserve of finesse.

The duo had only just started playing together when they recorded Beware of the Maniacs, and it definitely shows in that album’s sloppy, overreaching (but nonetheless lively) performances. But two years and a whole lot of touring later, the new songs that now make up the bulk of their set are leaner, meaner, and a whole lot smarter. For the fleet-footed “Fools”, Meric settles into a breezy strum and breezier melody as Logan slips in a few elegant tom rolls around the edges; “Paint the Rust”, meanwhile, starts out at a slow enough tempo to let the bluesy fingerpicking sink in before the band lurches into some nasty distorted slide guitar and cracking snare.

This was also the first show to feature a third Dodo, Gris Gris drummer Joe Haener, who played toy piano, junk percussion, and vibraphone on a few songs, which provided some extra texture but didn’t fill out the sound very much. I believe Joe will be joining the Dodos on their spring tour, so perhaps they’ll figure out a better role for him while on the road.