Walking into Urban Lounge Tuesday night to see a local band I had heard of but never heard and an unknown touring band, I had no better than average expectations for the night. Local no-wavers Night Sweats opened the show, causing me to think a couple of things in succession. The first was that their music seemed a little dark to be an intuitive fit for the show. More importantly, as their set went on I thought, Why have I never been to a Night Sweats show? Their songs grooved gloomily with just the right amount of fuzzy synth bass, and even though their appreciation for Joy Division was obvious (right down to the singer’s Ian Curtis-like baritone), they spun their own take on their influences instead of merely aping them. Their set up on stage looked somewhat haphazard, suggesting that their main concern was fitting all six of them with their mounds of equipment on Urban’s stage. The singer was often the only one facing the crowd. Each of them kept busy, even if it meant three of them were playing percussion on one song, but as the songs went on they locked into a precise groove, and I stopped caring if they knew whether or not the audience was there. They closed with a song whose melody was noticeably poppier than the rest of their set, but it really got my attention as it devolved into a mishmash of analog drones and cymbals. I’m definitely going to make it a point to catch the next Night Sweats show.
The time between Night Sweats and touring act Chad Valley was taken up mostly by moving Night Sweats’ gear, as Chad Valley was a one-man band with a fairly simple set up of a few sequencers and a mic. Chad Valley is the solo project of Hugo Manuel of math-rock band Jonquil. When Manuel, a paunchy British fellow, took the stage, I considered him an unlikely candidate to be rocking the dance floor, but that’s exactly what happened. His looping, Balearic pop wasn’t remarkable for breaking new ground--it’s pretty easy to file him in between El Guincho and Washed Out—but it was remarkable for how well he executed it. His loops were dense but not impenetrable, and his melodies were light and catchy without retreading ideas from song to song. Chad Valley plays like half-remembered choruses from ‘80s New Romantic bands. Unfortunately, his impressive tenor voice was only really heard during the soundcheck, as it got heavily reverbed and buried in the mix during his set.
After the audience got their wiggles out with Chad Valley, Active Child took the stage close to midnight. Theirs was an unconventional stage set-up: lead man Pat Grossi sat behind a harp beside rack-mounted effects resting on a milk crate with a classical bust of a woman adorning it. It was a fair representation of their genre-confounding LP You Are All I See, which makes opera and dubstep sound totally natural together. The first thing I noticed as they started playing, beside how unusually reverent the crowd was, was how remarkably precise they played. While they used sampled parts rather extensively (mostly harmony vocals and synths), all the beats were played live on an electronic kit. Given the warmth behind Grossi’s music and his flawless falsetto, the technicality of it all was only impressive and never alienating. When Grossi did stray from the sheet music, it was on the single “Playing House,” possibly the most soulful track from their recent LP.
The songs from their EP Curtis Lane were noticeably dancier and more conventional. The crowd loved them (and Grossi made a point of complimenting the crowd’s dancing), but compared to the inventiveness of the tracks from You Are All I See, it came across to me as faceless synth-pop. That being said, show closer “I’m in Your Church at Night” was both dancey and emotionally compelling. They tacked it onto their set at the request of the audience after announcing they only had one song left, skipping the formal encore protocol. They did, however, sound suspiciously tight to have not prepared that song to be played, but maybe that’s a testament to their musicianship. Seeing three great bands on a Tuesday night in an intimate setting is nothing to complain about as a music fan, but each of these bands deserved a larger stage.