This is about a week late, but such is life. Here are some quick hits on a pretty great show from last Saturday.
CD 102.5 (formerly known as CD101) is as strong a resource as an indie/alternative music fan can imagine on radio. While the omnipresence of Spotify, Pandora, and Sirius/XM have made FM stations antiquated on most platforms, the use of car radio can still be romanticized and appreciated if (a) the listener is driving and staying within the same area, and (b) if the programming is consistently excellent. For those residing primarily in Columbus the first condition is met and CD 102.5 heartily satisfies the second. It’s independent radio, it’s generally fearless from a musical perspective, and it routinely has the support of both the Wexner Center for the Arts and PromoWest Productions to bring great live music to Columbus.
It is with the latter group that CD 102.5 has put on their CD 102.5 Day concert series. The concerts are annual low-cost affairs with multiple bands offering a very high bang for your buck. This year’s show was split into two separate events labeled First Dose and Second Dose; First Dose was, coincidentally, the first CD 102.5 Day event I’ve been able to attend. It was a long experience at the LC Pavilion (doors opened at 5:00, the final encore finished near 11:00) but all five (!) bands were engaging and the headliner was exceptional.
The first group was local band The Weight of Whales. Theirs was an energetic brand of indie rock; their enthusiasm for being a part of the set was evident as they walked onstage. Ringing guitars and clear vocals defined most of their songs, and the closing cut “Consuela” called to mind a harder-edged version The Decemberists. They’re a band worth seeing if they come near you.
Second up, hailing from England, was The Virginmarys. This group sounded like a clone of the most punk rock songs by Arctic Monkeys, or perhaps a more aggressive Franz Ferdinand. This isn’t a criticism, mind you; the band injected a sneering, kicking energy into the venue. Their guitars were tight and the low sounds were appropriately thumping. “Just a Ride” was great fun, and closing pick “Portrait of Red” was executed to perfection with satisfying introductory quiet-loud balance. Their debut album, King of Conflict, came out in February and is well worth a spin if you’re interested in punk-leaning indie rock.
The third band was easily the most disappointing of the evening. Family of the Year is simply an uninteresting, generic-sounding Mumford-esque group. Unsurprisingly, their two best songs were the most original, the ones that gave the band their own niche. “Hero” and “St. Croix” simply sounded different from the whole set. “Hero” was restrained, delicate, and pretty as the crowd sang along to the most Family’ popular track. “St. Croix” flowed and developed around a distorted ringing guitar. The remainder of the set was fairly uninteresting and hampered by strange sound balance. They’re probably not worth your time.
Fourth up were the Irish group Little Green Cars. They deployed a moody indie sound with alternating touches of folk influence and grand sonic expansion a la Arcade Fire. Of course, that cut down the middle is a rather broad one and they managed to hit many places between the two. Strong vocal harmonies tied the set together. Particularly, their female singer had an outstanding tone and songs with her at the lead were excellent. Overall, they had a confident-yet-emotionally-meaningful set that impressed throughout. Even more astonishing: their debut record came out less than two weeks ago. Be sure to get in on the ground floor with Little Green Cars, as they’re a very promising set of up-and-comers.
The final group was the polarizing Alt-J. Depending on who you ask, Alt-J are a derivative, calculated, boring mess, or they’re an innovative band with the best record of 2012. I vehemently disagree with the former and don’t go quite as far the latter (it’s no Celebration Rock), but questions did remain in my mind: just how well would their meticulous, rhythmically complex sound translate to the live setting?
The answer is: brilliantly.
Alt-J had complete control over the crowd from their first notes. The interlocking vocals of “Ripe & Ruin” left silhouetted bodies in front of bright lights. Immediately after, the notes of “Tessellate” started to flow and the audience began to float. The most striking alteration from the album version of the song wasn’t the note accuracy (in fact, it was spot on), but the newly introduced percussion. It’s not so much that there were more drums, but the rhythms were placed higher in the mix given a solid, danceable body to the already great song.
The quiet songs held a shimmering beauty, absolutely silencing the listeners and dropping jaws. “Matilda” and “Ms” were both touching, with ringing guitars echoing playfully around the LC, catching every ear. Even as the cuts were slower, my undivided attention continued.
Of course, the highlights were their showstopping big cuts. “Fitzpleasure” was powerful as it undulated through its varied progressions. The later sections of the song were tight and focused even as the whole piece meandered delightfully. “Breezeblocks” was essentially perfect as the one-two-three-four piano and drum hits erupted in concert. The warping coda was a grand finish to the main set, and probably one of the best live moments I’ve heard in quite some time.
Factor in an eye-popping light display and the vocal power from the two singers? Alt-J is a clear winner, easily the best set of the night. They’re a group you must see if they come near you.