mr. Gnome at Burts. Photo: Karamea Puriri
I arrived a week early to mr. Gnome’s show at Burt’s … That’s how excited I was to see this band from Cleveland play live. I thought about “occupying” Burt’s for the week, but a bum smoking outside talked me out of it: “You’ll be better off at Pioneer Park, the living standards are much higher there.” So, I returned a week later, three hours early, just in time for the opening bands to make my ears bleed, nearly freeze to death inside the unheated bar, and for the bartender to inform me and my boyfriend that they were out of most all liquor and brews. It’s OK, though, because mr. Gnome was fucking worth it (and Brewvies was just down the street, so we filled up on good beer before subjecting ourselves to cans of PBR).
As one of the shittiest dive bars in town, I was surprised that mr. Gnome was playing Burt’s to begin with—they may not have the fame of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but having just spent the last couple of hours listening to their new release, Madness in Miniature, over and over, I can state with confidence that they have the same caliber of talent, cater to a similar fan base and belong in a nicer venue where more people are apt to show up. I spoke with Nicole Barille, the vocalist and guitarist of the band, after the show and asked her how they ended up at Burt’s. Apparently they were supposed to play Urban, but it had fallen through. Regardless of where they ended up, I’m really happy they decided to come through Salt Lake, and happy that I was able to share the experience with some of my SLUG coworkers (who became instant fans along with me after we played Madness in Miniature in the office), rounding out the crowd to about 20 people. The rest of Salt Lake is really going to regret not being at Burt’s that night when this band makes it big—and they will.
I was curious to hear mr. Gnome live for one big reason: they are noisy as fuck, but there are only two people in the band. Sam Meister on drums and keys makes up mr. Gnome along with Barille, their music reminding me a bit of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Blonde Redhead, but a lot louder, and a lot more layered. Where all that sound was going to come from became apparent as Barille started setting up, stringing a row of pedals around the mic, which had another mic taped next to it. This would be a lot easier to explain if I knew the technical terms for all of the equipment they were using, but alas, I’m classically trained and when it comes to instruments that plug in, I’m clueless. Barille also tuned three guitars for herself, and though I can’t tell you what kind of guitars they were, they looked really classy and professional. Meister set up a small keyboard next to his drum set, which was next to and facing Barille’s set up, rather than the audience, which I thought was kind of neat and different. Taking off his shoes and socks (Cleveland must be colder than Salt Lake, ‘cause it was fucking freezing in that bar!), Meister sound-checked his drum set, Barille did a quick mic check, and without a word, they began to play.
The crowd may have been small, but damn, were we stoked! mr. Gnome started with some songs off their older albums, and as I’m a new fan, the only one I recognized was “Vampires,” off their 2009 release Heave Yer Skeleton. Everyone else was really excited about the song, too, probably because they’ve seen the awesome and disturbing music video for it. Check it out on YouTube, it comes with a parental advisory: “This video contains drugs, blood and profanity.” After sampling their older music, they jumped right into Madness in Miniature, released only two days before the show.
I couldn’t believe that the band was pulling off the sound from their records so well. Barille was doing as much work with her feet as she was with her hands and vocal chords. They have a 40 second song called “Run For Cover” that serves as an intro to the next song on their album, “Bit Of Tongue” (the album is meant to be listened to in one sitting, from start to finish), it features harmonized vocals that repeat like an echo, which Barille executed perfectly by singing into the mic and looping it over and over. She did the same thing on a few songs with her guitar, making it sound like they had another musician or two backing them. Strip down all of the magic tricks, however, and mr. Gnome is straight up talented. Barille’s vocals are a unique mixture of Karen O, Joanna Newsom and Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino: beautiful , full of energy and somewhat spooky, depending on the song and … well … whether it’s the beginning, middle or end of the song. This is what’s so great about mr. Gnome, their songs are playful and dynamic, some starting out soft and slow, then moving into a mad frenzy of drumming and distorted guitar riffs only to stop suddenly, Barille belting out some yelps, and moving back into a race to the finish. The crowd loved this, someone even screamed jokingly between songs, “Play faster!”
The set lasted less than 45 minutes, even after the two-song encore, and though I wanted to hear much, much more, I was happy they’d played “Vampires” and my favorite off of Madness in Miniature, “Wolf Girls.” I headed back to the merch booth where they were hanging out before packing up, not intending to buy anything ‘cause the rest of the money in my bank account was meant for groceries and I already had the digital promo for Madness in Miniature, but my boyfriend talked me into buying my first vinyl record. I might be eating spaghetti for the next week or two, but supporting this amazing band was totally worth it. I wish I had had the money for a t-shirt as well, they had some pretty awesome designs. Check out some of their music and order Madness in Miniature here: mrgnome.com. Next time they come through Salt Lake, don’t you dare miss out on seeing them play, even if they don’t have a drop of alcohol left at Burt’s—mr. Gnome will fuck you up nice and proper.