Reviews

Live Review: Criteria, Little Brazil, Icky Blossoms…

Author: Tim McMahan
03/12/2012 | Lazy-i | lazy-i.com | Live Show Review
It was another great weekend of shows, starting with Friday night’s 5-year birthday party at The Waiting Room.

I arrived in time to catch one song by The Photo Atlas — their usual high-energy dance rock a la The Rapture left me wondering why these guys have yet to catch on nationally. By the time Little Brazil came on stage The Waiting Room was crowded, though not a sell out. LB lit it up as per usual, using the opportunity to play some new material which fell in line with their older stuff but somehow felt more modern. Frontman Landon Hedges continues to galvanize his role as indie music’s Freddy Mercury with his soaring, high voice and overall stage bombasity. Before closing their set, Hedges suggested that Criteria’s Stephen Pedersen would have to come out for their last song, a fiery rendition of a Smashmouth tune — not the “Walking on the Sun” Smash Mouth, but Pedersen’s old old band. Sure enough, out came Steve to share vocals on the final chorus, and the crowd went nuts.

Moments later, he was back on stage fronting Criteria. Here’s a band that hibernates for months only to pop their collective head out once a year (or so) to thrill its fans and generate unfounded speculation that perhaps this time they’re back for good (though we all know better).

I’ll say what I’ve said every time this band reunites — they haven’t lost any of their chops. The band still shreds, and Pedersen can still hit those high notes with a mighty fist in the air. His rockstar moves and his movie-star good looks have always made him an indie version of Rick Springfield (“…paging Dr. Noah Drake…“), though these days he’s in Hard to Hold territory.

The difference between this performance and all the other Criteria reunions was the crowd response — I’ve never seen their fans so animated and into the music. And we’re not talking about oldsters from “back in the day” — there were plenty of youngsters screaming back the lyrics who couldn’t have been around when Criteria was first hitting the stages of America a decade ago. How this happens — how a new generation discovers a band that rarely plays and hasn’t released an album in years (and obviously doesn’t get any airplay) — is indeed a mystery.

Icky Blossoms at The Slowdown, March 10, 2012.
Icky Blossoms at The Slowdown, March 10, 2012.

Saturday night was the send-off concert for Icky Blossoms at The Slowdown. The show, originally slated for the Jr. room, was moved to Slowdown’s main stage due to the anticipated crowd size. It turned out being the right call.

Here’s my takeaways:

&emdash; The band seemed tighter than usual, maybe they were nervous?

&emdash; With the new songs, Derek Pressnall appears to be taking a back seat on vocals to Sarah Bohling, who still doesn’t seem completely comfortable in that lead role. It’s either that, or the sound mix was poor, because I couldn’t hear her on half her songs as she struggled to project above the booming rhythm section.

&emdash; Ah, that new rhythm section of Saber Blazek on bass and Clark Baechle on drums is bad-ass. Anyone who’s seen Machete Archive knows about Blazek’s chaotic ballet when he’s deep in a groove, and years of playing in The Faint (and in Bright Eyes) has made Baechle arguably the best drummer in Omaha. HUGE.

&emdash; If Sitek has had an influence on their sound, it may be in their new emphasis on deep beats. Icky always was a dance band, but now they’ve pumped up the volume to new levels, reminiscent of The Faint.

The more I see them, the more they remind me of The B-52s and Public Image Ltd (PiL), with Derek divided somewhere between Fred Schneider and John Lydon. Meanwhile, Bohling continues to fill the Nico role. Nik Fackler’s guitar textures continue to impress me, as does his knee drops. When he’s wigging out next to Blazek the whole room feeds off the energy.

In retrospect, I do think Bohling was simply tight at the beginning of the set, because she laid it on toward the end, especially on a new tune that she shared with Pressnall, whose name presumably is something like “Riding Around in My Car Forever.” And then there was the closer, the always huge “Perfect Vision,” which never fails to get the crowd bouncing. It’ll be interesting to see how well the tune translates to a South By Southwest audience this week. I’ll let you know.