Friday, June 11, 2010

Live Review: Friendo, Yourself & the Air at the Drunken Unicorn, June 8

Posted By on Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 10:48 AM

Michael Wallace and Nicole Brunel of Friendo played dueling guitar riffs
  • Michael Wallace and Nicole Brunel of Friendo played dueling guitar riffs

If alcohol was all Chicago trio Yourself & the Air had to banter about, at least they had more to offer musically to their crowd. ("This song is ... a song," lead singer Erick Crosby quipped. And later: "This is alcohol," holding up his drink.) A swizzled mix of the assuredly disco with the sort-of hardcore, the band's set seemed tailor-made to fit the seemingly younger assembled audience. It proved soaring and upbeat, equal parts The Killers and The Postal Service (and Cursive, maybe?), mixing power pop with something heavier. They used anthemic vocals over plenty of keys and hand percussion to perform a set primarily composed of tracks from their recent EP Friend of All Breeds.

Speaking of friends, though, all I wanted was Friendo. The Calgary, Canada trio seemed almost too creative for its own good as it rehashed kinetic guitar influences, from The Pixies and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to all the lo-fi kings of today; I heard Kurt Vile and Woods and Women and Abe Vigoda in their assuredly original work.

Two or three of them are also accomplished visual artists, selling their impressive wares out of a suitcase at the merch table alongside Friendo's Cold Toads LPs and cassette tapes. (My friend bought a wolf painting with a rainbow. We both got a series of free, hand-drawn comic books.) All three members, though visually subdued performers, master their craft so confidently and beautifully that's impressive to learn two of the members decided to play instruments other than what they usually play for this project.

Guitarist and vocalist (in this band, at least) Michael Wallace is probably best known as the drummer from Women, another Canadian group whose magnificent debut self-titled LP was released last year via Jagjaguwar. Drummer Henry Hsieh (Beija Flor) usually plays the guitar, and never was that more obvious than on the last song of the show, when Hsieh and Wallace switched instruments and subsequently cranked the whole thing up three notches. It was as if they, and therefore the whole room, breathed a sigh of relief that they were back where they belong, where they feel most comfortable. Nicole Brunel (Puberty), as far as I can tell, is usually a multi-instrumentalist, so the fact that she plays guitar like a bat out of hell in Friendo isn't too much of a surprise.

During that final song, she and Hsieh engaged in a grinning battle to not only out-guitar each other, but to hit each-other's pedals (maybe when they were supposed to be pressed, maybe not), Brunel even tapping Hsieh's tuning pedal as a joke, rendering him momentarily silent. It was an energizing way for them to end a set that was deliberately brooding but ultimately transcendent.

But the biggest surprise of the night came when I realized just how many of Cold Toads' tracks featured lead vocals from Brunel. Her voice is low and sullen even as it's sweet, and on the record, as many times as I've spun it and loved it, the mixing buries the voices and I had no idea who sung what. So when it was Brunel who led so many songs, whose performance style anything but sweet and secondary, I couldn't help but feel proud. Friendo was a friend indeed.

(Photo by Julia Reidy)

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