Don’t you love it when the first band steals the show?
I mean, of course we don’t totally love it – we’d prefer to be knocked out by everyone on the bill. But there is something thrilling about the lesser-known, usually younger, usually greener openers getting up there, channeling their nerves and excitement into a great set and showing everyone how it’s done.
That’s what The Splinters, a quartet from Berkeley, did at Bottom of the Hill Wednesday night, and they brought a bunch of their buddies with them to take audience of the night honors as well. The Splinters have attracted a fair amount of attention here lately (see our podcast #225), and I am happy to confirm that they deserve it.
The band’s recordings show off their fairly straightforward garage-rock-with-girl-group-topping formula. The songs are well-crafted and get effectively in your head. But the group elevated their game by light years on stage, and it was all about their energy.
It wasn’t just the friendly, club-house connection with the audience. These gals were having a blast together. Lauren “Ketchup” Stern worked a mad tambourine and managed to both draw focus and share attention with her band mates. Drummer Courtney “Juju” Gray, the group’s strongest musician, grinned the whole night like a kid on her first trip to Disneyland. The vocal harmonies hit every nail.
They earned 100 extra points – with me at least – by doing switchies. For one song, Juju moved to guitar, Ketchup took over the drums, Caroline “Spex” Partamian hit the tambourine and Ashley “Flapjacks” Thomas stayed where she was.
Then Gray went back to merrily bashing her kit.
The Sandwitches – “Song of Songs”
The Sandwitches, from this side of the bay, have distinguished themselves with a nervous, heady kind of vibe that can be quite intriguing. But it made for a challenging segue on Wednesday.
The trio opened with some new material that seems to draw from traditional forms like 1920’s blues singers and folk ballads. It did not gel for me, especially some baffling falsetto harmonies.
A technical breakdown forced them to re-group (guess which band’s drummer brought a new amp for them with a mile-wide smile on her face?). And then something interesting happened: The Sandwitches nailed their last two songs. The jangle came back into the guitars, the beat achieved lift-off and the voices came together. I don’t know if those songs represent the direction the band wants to move towards or away from. But they sent me.
Perhaps The Sandwitches are the sort of cerebral, shy people who need a little warm-up time. Even they were smiling by the end.
Woven Bones – “I’ve Gotta Get”
Woven Bones from Austin, TX headlined (and employed the first bass guitar of the evening). They are a stripped-down power trio whose drummer, Carolyn, uses a floor tom and snare to whip up a formidable beat.
The band’s driving, three-chord rock is very much in step with Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and others who bravely hold down the shit-fi fort while the trendsters depart for new territory.