Last Friday, December 1st, The Hi-Fi in Fountain Square, Indianapolis put on a free concert for First Fridays. I decided to go after writing the preview article. The bands seemed interesting, and when I looked them up, they all sounded pretty good.
Now, I did a good amount of deliberating, brooding, and mulling about before writing this review. After my experience on Friday at the show, I realized that this would be one of the first times that I didn’t have mostly-positive comments regarding the bands. I thought at first that I just shouldn’t write it at all – “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” and all that. Ultimately, of course, I’m here going through with it, so enough of the foreplay. Let’s get this over with.
Opening Act: Ryan Brewer
The first group to perform didn’t have an official band name but went by the name of their guitarist, singer, and frontman, Ryan Brewer. Brewer’s group was a local four-piece, American/southern/country rock band. I believe that Friday’s performance was their first semi-professional show as a band, but I actually couldn’t tell. Truth be told, Ryan Brewer and his backing band were probably my favorite set of the night.
There wasn’t much of a crowd for Brewer, but there were enough Hoosiers out on the dimly-lit dancefloor to connect with his songs about whiskey, friends, drinking, and fun. Lyrics included some humorous quips like, “Johnny Walker says”, and “What’s with all these f***ed up dreams?” It was good-old music for good-old-boys-and-girls, and it was fun.
And to be honest, they had a tight sound throughout their set. Some of their best moments included healthy doses of southern blues, fueled mostly by their lead guitarist, but that’s just my opinion. While their choice of genre wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea, I can’t fault them on the technicalities of their performance. They knew what they were playing, and they played it well.
Second Act: Tracksuit Lyfestile
The second band took some time to set up on stage, which was probably due to their whimsical props, which included googly-eyes protruding from a guitar neck, and what looked like a red and black-painted wooden podium, with two ping-pong paddles nailed to the front. When Tracksuit Lyfestile took the stage, they stayed true to their name, with each member sporting a different-colored, full tracksuit. Right off the bat, they seemed like a gimmicky band, which might have ultimately skewed my judgment of their performance. So it goes.
Tracksuit Lyfestile is a five-piece band with members playing guitar, bass, trombone, an audio sampler, and drums. They played jammy, psychedelic, instrumental rock, and it was hard to tell if they considered themselves a joke-band or not. After their first instrumental, one of them stepped up to a mic and said: “That song was about Marilyn Monroe. No one else sang along [laughs]. This next song’s about dogs.” I’ll just leave that there.
As for their music, I’m sure all of the members of Tracksuit Lyfestile knew what they were playing, but it was obvious their sound wasn’t really connecting with the audience. The crowd had doubled since Ryan Brewer’s performance. Aside from the one guy up front and center thrashing about (there’s always at least one), I mostly saw motionless bodies, along with the occasional nodding head. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s how you know they’re just not that into it.
Final Act: Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes
After sitting through Tracksuit Lyfestile’s set, I wasn’t really in the mood for another disappointment, but I had some hopes for Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes. I remembered them being one of the reasons I wanted to cover the show in the first place. Looking back on it now, I think it’s just because they hit my aesthetic. Their indie sound is very similar to bands like Phoenix, Cold War Kids, and Arcade Fire. They hit all the indie-pop essentials: synth, melancholy vocals that shift in and out of falsetto, and simple, driving drum and bass.
As they continued to play, I started to notice that their songs all tended to follow a similar structure and pattern, even key. It seems like The Great Lakes know what they’re going for, and just continue to deliver that same thing over, and over. Towards the middle of their set, I started to think of them as a copycat band, or, “Discount Phoenix”.
Once I had that thought, however, I realized that it probably wasn’t fair to the musicians, who really did put on a good performance, besides the minor technical hiccup when they keyboard started buzzing with static. Overall, I think Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes have talent and skill, but it seems like they haven’t yet found their voice as a band, and are still in their imitation phase.
So if there’s a lesson in any of this, maybe it’s to think twice before committing to a night at a free concert. But I suppose, having said that, you can always just walk out if it gets too bad. If I didn’t have a job to do, I might have considered that more.