As far as I am concerned, the hallmark of a truly talented performer is the ability to alter a performance to suit the tone and entertainment needs of an audience. We can plan, rehearse, and predict to the best of our abilities but there will come a time when the forces of nature hold you at their mercy. Granted, putting it in terms like that may sound a bit overly dramatic but that’s exactly what happened at Sun Tiki Studios on December, 11th.
The evening started off as it always does at Sun Tiki. We, the crowd, were mingling amongst ourselves before the opening act took the stage. Audience turnout was about what you might expect on an exceptionally rainy evening. My ever-expanding compendium of familiar faces has been fleshed out enough at this point to recognize a few. The beauty of Sun Tiki is that concert-goers truly want to be there. At every show I’ve gone to, the audience does their best to reciprocate the energy of the performer(s). What’s particularly exciting to me is that the later acts are often in the crowd with us. For a newbie to the scene like me, you could be bumping shoulders with some high-caliber musicians without even knowing it until they take to the stage.
On this particular night we were to be treated to a three-course meal of music starting with the up and coming Boston mod-pop trio, The Chelsea Curve. True to the genre, incredibly catchy hooks formed the backbone of their powerfully poppy songs with psych-influenced runs from bassist Linda Pardee and guitarist Tim Gillis. Chances are pretty slim that I’ll ever make it to London, zipping around tight city corridors on a Vespa with sunglasses (sans logo, of course) shielding my weary eyes from the midday sun. That’s okay though, because listening to The Chelsea Curve is the next best thing. Linda’s vocals are so perfectly tuned to singing mod-pop. The ability to deliver playful vocal flourishes and maintain tonal control all while adeptly laying down a foundational bass line never ceases to impress me.
Tim’s solos were endlessly fun. Watching him hop around the stage all the while nailing every single note was a delight to watch. Ron Belanger, the group’s drummer, was just as integral to the overall sound. Ron’s calculated control of his cymbal and hi-hat playing is exactly in sync with what mod-pop rhythm demands. Swaying too far towards “too much” and “not enough” runs the risk of songs having disinteresting frameworks. This was not the case with the drums. They were energetic, perfectly in time, and rewarded listeners for honing in on Ron’s performance. Make sure to check out their Bandcamp. Right now they’ve got three singles uploaded and I’m very much hoping there is more to come. In particular, I thoroughly enjoy Top It Up.
The night continued as Tiger Bomb took the stage, our musical appetites whetted by The Chelsea Curve’s closing number. Tiger Bomb is an all female garage-rock outfit from Portland. If you’re not familiar with this group, you may have encountered the other projects of guitarists Lynda Mandolyn and Chris Horne. Lynda is a prolific artist around the Portland scene and also performs with Crystal Canyon, a refreshingly impactful shoe-gaze band. Chris Horne is no newcomer to the world of music. She’s an absolute titan of Portland rock and roll, being the founder of the phenomenal local group The Broods back in the 80s. If you haven’t encountered The Brood then do yourself a favor and listen to their song I’ll Put You Down. Chris Horne has been honing her musical chops for decades and Tiger Bomb is an undeniably masterful demonstration of her garage-rock roots. The four-piece group features Lynda and Chris on guitar, Andrea Ellis on bass, and Jessica Smith on the drums.
Chris’s raspy stylings on vocals interact so perfectly with her no-holds-barred shredding on a beautiful Fender Mustang. I have to commend Chris here, from now on when I think of “garage rock” I’m almost certain it will manifest in my head as the solos from Baby Come On. Chris’s unrivaled stage presence had me entranced. The rest of the band was just as polished and energetic. Jessica’s performance on the drums could not have been more perfectly suited. Every crash of the cymbals and snare hit was meaningful and served a purpose. Sometimes having two guitarists can be a bit busy, to put it lightly, with a garage-rock group. This was not the case with Tiger Bomb. Lynda was the perfect compliment to Chris’s lead and it’s a testament to how much hard work must have gone into this group. Check out their Bandcamp, you won’t want to miss it.
Let’s circle back to the beginning of this write up. It’s one type of talent to practice rigorously and plan a structured performance you can consistently hammer out at each show. It’s a whole other type of talent to be able to improvise on the fly. This was the situation facing Greenfield, Massachusetts’ seven-piece mod-soul group, the Feldons shortly after they took the stage. In an unexpected twist of events, power went out in the neighborhood of Sun Tiki Studios this evening. It requires a wealth of professionalism and maturity to take this sort of situation in stride. The Feldons took but a moment to regroup before launching into an impromptu unplugged set, in the most literal of definitions.
Guitarist, Tim Smith, laid down his Gibson SG and ran back stage to grab an acoustic guitar and the night resumed. Vocalist and frontman, Benjamin Miner, didn’t show any signs of hesitation towards projecting his voice over the three-piece horn section, lead by the profoundly talented Justin Esiason. Rightly so, too, because he was able to clearly project over three bold brass instruments. While it was not the intended means of delivery for this wonderful demonstration of musical talents, it was certainly special to us in attendance. Hearing Sun Tiki’s owner, Ian, mention that this was the first time this had happened during a performance further compounded the unique atmosphere. Being in a dark room with musicians lit by emergency lights and cell phone flashlights took me back to basement shows I would attend around Orono while at college, something I have been fondly reminiscing upon these days. I can’t stress enough how powerful Benjamin’s vocals were during this evening. His performance during the Feldon’s cover of Eddie Floyd’s Big Bird was moving. The Feldons exhausted their material that would work acoustically and after an incredibly memorable set they closed the evening.
It’s hard for me to adequately describe how cool this felt. At any big venue in the area, they would likely usher out attendees over something like this. Likewise, not every band would be able to roll with the punches Mother Nature threw at us that night. To me, this night felt like the perfect example of what constitutes the soul of local music. I will never forget this show for as long as I live.
A few fun observations from the evening:
1. All three bands had a guitarist playing a Gibson SG. Very stylish.
2. There were two Tim’s playing guitar this night
3. Two bands each had performers named Lynda/Linda.
Okay that last one only works phonetically, but I still thought it was noteworthy.