Posted by: Necci – Jan 31, 2012
There are times when I think this city has it too good, and January 20th was one of them. There were multiple opportunities to catch live music that Friday night. Black Girls were at Balliceaux, while their Worthless Junk Records compatriots the No BS! Brass Band were killing it at the Camel. While the allure of seeing either of these groups was tempting, my destination for this cold, rainy night, on which thoughts of staying in and keeping warm were also tempting, was Strange Matter. They were hosting what could easily go down as one of the best shows of the year. Considering it's only January, this is an incredibly bold statement, I know. But let me explain.
Strange Matter was already filling up long before The Snowy Owls graced the stage at 10:30. Everyone was jovial, and knew they were in store for something special. It had been a hot minute since any of the bands on the bill had played in the area, and that excitement resonated among the crowd. The showcase also benefited from the additional feature of musician extraordinaire Dave Watkins setting up and orchestrating projections throughout each band’s set. The projections were captivating and helped this moment in Richmond music rise to greater heights.
This was The Snowy Owls' first official show with new guitarist James Wingo. With the addition of this second guitar, the band were able to make a stronger case for their jams, which scream adoration for the fuzzy rock sounds of decades earlier. Matt Klimas’ gentle vocals add a unique contrast to the effects-laden sound that the Snowy Owls accomplish. It suits the group, though, by focusing on the sonic subtleties that engage their listeners only to propel them to new heights. Having just released a split with White Laces, The Snowy Owls showcased tunes like “Could” and “Papertooth,” while closing their set with their ridiculously awesome track “Yr Eyes.” The next phase of the Snowy Owls should prove to be incredibly promising.
Out of the entire lineup, The Super Vacations were the one band that I was familiar with on record moreso than live. I am glad that has changed, because their set included several memorable jaunts throughout their entire discography, as well as several new selections. Lead Singer Rob Ulsh wandered about the stage shouting into his microphone for most of the set. Occasionally a beer can may have launched from the stage, but the packed venue lent itself to that chaotic vibe. Ulsh had such a dynamic personality that it was truly a treat to watch The Super Vacations play. The Super Vacations’ take on psychedelic garage rock is a tremendous feat that they effortlessly pull off live. Maybe the most telling moment was between songs when an audience member shouted “fuck you” at Ulsh. As Ulsh coyly grinned to himself and tugged at the string on the hood of his jacket, he simply replied “I agree.” This simple gesture was just enough to encapsulate the playful nuances that the Super Vacations pull off live and why they are as revered as they have been since 2007.
I don’t even know where to begin when talking about how amazing White Laces were at this show. This showcase of Virginia bands provided these groups with an opportunity for self-exploration. White Laces responded by unveiling new material, astounding the crowd with several new tunes that show the phenomenal evolution the group has undertaken during their recent hibernation. The only familiar moments were delivered through the inclusion of “Hands in Mexico” and “Dissolve Into Color.” The rest of the set helped to showcase the flawless musicianship of the group, as well as a few new musical ideas that were orchestrated through expansion of their instrumental repertoire. One thing became very apparent from their set this evening--White Laces should have no worries about shaking off their reputation of being a very loud live band. Their new material is invigorating in its exploration of sonic space, and they are furthering their reputation as one of the best bands in Richmond.
The Diamond Center closed out the evening. As their smoke machine filled Strange Matter with a thick fog, I knew it was time for things to get underway. This was the first show I have seen from the group since the departure of bassist Will Godwin. Instead of finding an immediate replacement, the band had keyboardist Lindsay Phillips incorporate lower tones into her integral parts. The Diamond Center has done a quality job of maintaining their sound despite lineup change setbacks. The set on this night was full of new material which was pretty surprising, to say the least. The songs were at times shorter and more immediate than what I have come to expect from The Diamond Center. By speeding up the tempo, they were able to remove any preconceived notions that people have about them. They don’t fit into easy categories, which is why the group is such a gem. I'll need more time to sit and absorb their new material, because I won't lie--it’s a departure for them. I know I will grow to love the songs as I hear them more often, but for now, I need more chances to see them live. Despite the unfamiliarity of much of their set, The Diamond Center did a splendid job of closing out the night. If anything, it was an even more remarkable task considering that they had to follow White Laces.
The night came to a close as honest signs of winter made their presence felt outside of Strange Matter. In reflecting on the music I witnessed that night, all I am left with is genuine excitement. Every band performed remarkably, and it’s absolutely fantastic to say that you couldn’t peg a single group that performed that evening to a specific genre. The Snowy Owls are proving to be strong competitors in the scene as they continue to expand, and become a stronger live act. The Super Vacations may very well have become one of my new favorite Virginia bands (right beside my favorites, Eternal Summers). White Laces may be the best band in Richmond, and The Diamond Center continue to prove why they are one of the most important bands to call Richmond their home over the past couple of years. I certainly hope that shows this memorable continue to happen. Sometimes they occur in peculiar fashion, but regardless of how they come to pass, when they do, they are unbelievable and splendid.
Words by Shannon Cleary
Videos by Brad Kutner
Still Images by Harper Holsinger