Some of the best experimental indie rock the Bay Area has to offer was on showcase last Friday at Berkeley’s Starry Plough – the New Centuries headlined, alongside Thread Productions duos Silian Rail and Tartufi and their close associates, the Aimless Never Miss. A good-sized crowd caught the show from the venue’s main stage area (which boasts pretty remarkable sound), while another handful of onlookers bobbed their heads while seemingly enjoying their burgers.
Openers Silian Rail did something I don’t think I’d ever seen before – instrumental indie pop. Guitarist Robin Landy and drummer Eric Kuhn did create an atmosphere, but proved that does not have to be the sole function of an instrumental act. In fact, the duo may have had the strongest pop sensibility of all the bands on this bill. Robin’s guitar playing is so pretty and Eric’s drums so driving that it feels as though lyrics and vocals would actually betray the experience that is being created in these songs. With just guitar and drums, Silian Rail create something very special – instrumental music that is engaging and melodic without being avant garde or chaotic.
This distinguishes them from the another guitar/drum duo of the night – Tartufi. And this is not a knock on Tartufi – in fact, the two bands complimented one another remarkably well. The duo of Lynne Angel and Brian Gorman add in the occasional vocals (from Angel) while creating soundscapes of epic proportions. The two have enough equipment for a larger band, and use all of it to the fullest extent, building each piece of a track flawlessly from scratch. Songs can change direction from lovely and slow to high-speed and intense and then end or change direction just as quickly.
Sandwiched between the duos were The Aimless Never Miss. If you’d caught the ANM earlier this year, you’re probably familiar with the wall-of-sound established by a five-piece band. Well, ANM are a bit more stripped down these days – Kuhn remained on stage for drumming duties while only guitarist/vocalist Jonny Latimer and bassist Andrew Macy joined him. Latimer and Macy tried to get the crowd ready with a handclap ukulele sing-along. It was a worthy effort, though not everyone was an active participant. The rest of the ukulele-free set was heavy on material from the band’s upcoming album, and the thinned-out lineup was an intriguing way to showcase it. While the five-piece lineup was a force to be reckoned with, the trio is free of distraction with an emphasis kept where it belongs – on the songs. In one impressive moment of the band’s musicianship, Latimer and Kuhn switched instruments mid-song, proving that perhaps the trio can carry all the weight.
Due to my intent on not missing the last BART train, I was unable to catch the New Centuries. So, instead, I put the band’s new EP Paradise Massage on my iPod as I road home. The album combines post-punk aggression with indie dance floor grooves, sounding a bit like a more fun Joy Division. I was also reminded of VHS or Beta. I imagine it would translate well live.