It’s been over three years since O’Brother played in Raleigh and two since I’ve seen the mind-blowing post-punk-rockers put on their dazzling live show. In those past few years the band has been busy playing sold out shows with the likes of Manchester Orchestra and Thrice all over the continent, but alas the Georgia based group is finally making their way out on a headlining tour for the first time in what feels like ages. Since my last encounter with the O’Bros the band had put out a highly acclaimed debut full-length and signed to Triple Crown Records, a wonderful feat for a band I once sat cross legged for along with fifteen or so others in my hometown of New Bern. These years of busting their asses on the road and in the studio have clearly payed off though, the band practically up-ended their old style of melodic post rock to a far heavier end of the spectrum, turning what used to be subtle nuances towards a heavy influence has now morphed into a barrage of fast paced, in-your-face post-punk with the occasional yet breathtaking melodic break. I was anxiously awaiting this show, and having last seen the band as they were beginning to play out with their Beneath Your Garden Window material , I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect from this set. Plus opening act Harvard (or their newer, vowel-less name HRVRD) has been a band on my radar for quite some time and was just coming off of the sold out opening spot for fun. at The Ritz this past Thursday, making this the perfect chance to check out a band that I may be becoming very familiar with soon.
The night started off with the Raleigh locals of Octopus Jones, a band whose work I’d skirted around before checking out the end of their set here at Kings. While the band brings a fun and upbeat blend of psychedelic surf rock with punk rock undertones, the melodies and lyricism seemed a bit lacking and couldn’t really hook in this listener. Vocalist and guitar player Danny Martin was doing a great job of hamming it up on stage though, adding to the quirky and upbeat vibes given off by the bands self-described “spank-wave boogie”. I only got to catch the last four songs from Octopus Jones before it was onto HRVRD and one step closer to seeing the o’bros!
Before I delve into HRVRD I must admit that I’ve got a thing against bands without vowels in their name, and while I’ve embraced a select few thus far (SBTRKT and TNGHT being glaring standouts), I’m always a bit apprehensive to check a band out…especially if they used to have a name that didn’t read like a sixth graders notebook cover. Personal grudges aside, whatever changed about this band when they became HRVRD worked wonders for them, the Charlotte outfit used to give off a larger pop influence than the experimental and haunting tunes that were on display at Kings. Thought vocalist Jesse Clasen was coughing throughout damn near every song and informed the crowd of his sickness, his vocals were still soaring through the invigorated crowd at Kings. When I saw Clasen pull out a trumpet after already wowing me with the band’s overwhelming live presence I became enamored in this act. After I saw their use of vocal loops I was sold. HRVRD combined elements of punk, pop, and experimental music to create a compelling product that’s accessible by fans of Manchester Orchestra or Circa Survive alike. And make no mistake, I’ve long grown out of the high pitched vocals and chuggy yet melodic guitar thing…the Circa Survive ship never came to port for this fella, but HRVRD have taken that sort of approach and turned it into an intriguing blend of styles that mesh together perfectly.
Sickness aside HRVRD could have easily stolen the show if it weren’t for me being such a fanboy of O’Brother. As soon as the band took the stage I drew myself uncomfortably close despite their live shows being notoriously loud and known to induce “bangovers” by many attended. Well consider me a bangover statistic, because when the band opened with an old favorite, “Ascension” I was thrust right back into my high school days of losing myself in the same ambient yet ear rattlingly heavy anthem. The band smoothly transitioned into “Lay Down”, the track that marked the beginning of a heavier phase of O’Brother, filled with throaty shouts and heavily distorted guitars but juxtaposed with softer, melodic bridges.
The rest of the show can only be described as painfully awesome, the band was so loud that it was hard to discern much of Tanner Merritt’s vocals, even when he was screaming into the microphone. This volume issue can be a bit of a draw back with a band like this, while their live presence lies heavily in the physicality of their music (you can pretty much feel the bass in your chest, it’s fantastic!) the band’s lyricism is arguably just as strong. With a separate floor tom to add depth to the band’s already powerful rhythms along with their DIY lighting setup consisting of string lights run over all of their equipment, the on-stage ambience is an equally compelling aspect of the band’s performance. To summarize it, it’s all great. While the mixing at these shows could be a bit better to bring out Tanner’s vocals, it’s hard to nitpick at a show that leaves the listeners so speechless. While I miss the melodic side of O’Brother, this band has tread into new territory with their latest releases and their intensity and talent conveys just as strongly through shouts in spurts as it did through their tamer releases. O’Brother is an absolute powerhouse of an act both on stage and in-studio, but nothing compares to seeing these gentlemen perform live, and Sunday proved just that.