Appleseed Cast. Photo: Valerie Skubal
The five-piece Kansas outfit known as Appleseed Cast came back to Utah to grace us with their presence for the second time this year on November 8. Instead of playing to an all-ages assortment at Kilby Court, they sought refuge from the impending frigid weather with a loose crowd of twenty-somethings at Urban Lounge. After arriving, I followed suit with the first sparse wave of show-goers and eager beavers whom slowly started to filter in by relinquishing myself of my coat and grabbing a stein of hooch as the opening act prepared themselves on stage.
After they finished sound-checking, folk duo, Hospital Ships, provided an unfitting set containing only two guitars, which formed an acoustic texture not unlike an early Simon & Garfunkel and vocals which can only be succinctly described as if Davendra Banhart sobered up completely from hallucinogens while listening to Neil Young’s Ragged Glory on repeat while locked in a van. As interesting as they were, the overall sound seemed completely disjointed from the post-rock/emo headliner and was nowhere near successful in hindering the chattering or the walking pace of the next wave of frostbitten patrons whom were making a beeline straight for the bar to procure more layers of warmth. Hospital Ships are worth their salt, but had the misfortune of playing the wrong style at the wrong time.
Since I was completely oblivious to the fact she was touring with Appleseed Cast, Kathryn Calder (from The New Pornographers), was an unexpected treat. She started quickly after Hospital Ships and levied a slightly bigger impact on the crowd, hooking a few of them towards the center of the floor. She definitely retained an inextricable resemblance to The New Pornographers, the only nuances being a small addition of lo-fi synth whipped in and a stylistic similarity to early Feist in a few of the songs. Nonetheless, she succeeded in getting me to unconsciously tap my foot. Her vocals were sincere and completely natural, giving my stomach a warmer sensation than the stein of ale I schlepped by my side. Calder gave off the impression of a self-driven small town girl who is completely authentic and down-to-earth––the kind I could be best of pals with and would secretly want to date, even though we’d be better off as neighbors. After priming the pipe of the venue for Appleseed Cast (with a more vivacious set than Hospital Ships) and sharing an anecdote about food she’s eaten on the road (which consisted mainly of gas station brand pistachio nuts), she walked off the stage and out of my life.
Now, most of you already know that post-rock is a flimsy label. It encompasses one of the widest arrays of sub-genres, almost making it the “alternative” of this decade. But the real conundrum comes from the second label that Appleseed Cast receive—emo. Emo is a genre that is not only a ghost from the early aughts, but is also one that most music fans refute the legitimacy of since all of it is quintessentially melodic post-hardcore with a certain vocal range. Appleseed Cast has also been tagged with uncommon labels such as art rock and indie rock. Coming to the show, I really didn’t know what sound to expect from Appleseed Cast’s live set, but neither did anybody else.
Without a word of introduction, Appleseed Cast got straight to business on their set which mostly consisted of lesser known instrumental post-rock songs from their earlier releases (such as “Ceremony” off of Peregrine) and tracks off of their new EP, Middle States. This signified their new stylistic motive—significant leaps towards the waters of experimental post-rock. This had rendered the group nothing more than kissing cousins with their Sunny Day Real Estate influences. After hearing the tantalizing effects, the ambient guitar riffs and reverb-laden guitar melodies in the first few opening instrumental tracks, I wholeheartedly decided that it was a move for the best.
The bearded lead vocalist/guitarist, Christopher Crisci, donned a Fargo-esque fur hat and a completely solemn demeanor. The only time he spoke to the crowd was to utter a quiet “Thank you” between songs. The only other time you’d hear his voice is when he would weave melodies with the surrealistic soundscapes he and his band projected out into the crowd. When they played “Fishing The Sky,” one of their earlier hits, Crisci’s vocals sounded much more mature and tame than they did on the recording. The band had the dedication and precision of emergency room surgeons and were conscious of it. At the end of the song, I realized by the complete daze I was left standing in that my aural senses had gone under Appleseed Cast’s scalpel and I couldn’t have been more all right with it.
Towards the middle-end of the set is when they started to mainly perform material off of their latest EP. When they performed “Middle States,” the crowd’s expressions seemed to be deeply lulled as their bodies moved vivaciously along to the bold rhythmic backbone provided by drummer, John Momberg. The crowd quieted down and became the epitome of attentiveness and reverence by the time the band performed the EP’s most popular track, “End Frigate Constellation.” This is who Appleseed Cast is now - the distorted, heavy-bodied guitar riffs emphasized it in our minds. At the end of the set, the crowd was snapped awake as the band dispersed slowly back into the chilly ether from whence they came. I’m a proponent of the new direction Appleseed Cast is taking, and after seeing the way they just plunged their audience into expressionless mannequins, I could tell my fellow patrons were as well.