Octopus Project at Urban Lounge

Monday Night. In Utah, typically reserved for families, board games, and green Jell-O. For some they are better occupied listening to live music at Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City. Of course, I’ll choose the latter. Not too many people left their nieces and nephews on Jan 22 when The Octopus Project came to town. When I first walked in there were only about 10 other people, exactly the way I like it.

Intimate shows are the way to go. Small venues with the stage right in front of your face. No metal barriers dividing musicians and the audience.  This is how music should be played/watched. There are too many ultra-artists playing in those mega-domes and super-stadiums. And some guy payed $200 for him and his daughter to sit in section 317 row J. Anyway, enough with my rant. Back to the important stuff.

The first band was SLC natives Indigo Plateau. With two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals they have a pretty classic dream-pop/alt-rock sound. And they sound pretty good. Both guitarists use a variety of effects during song interludes creating a nice atmosphere. Their music doesn’t blow me away with originality but an altogether strong sound. They were a good opener, playing for about 30 minutes.

The second act was New Fumes from Dallas, TX. A single musician graced the stage. A guitar hung around their neck and was surrounded by a variety of electronic gismos and gadgets creating the rest of the music. The music was wildly experimental. The vocals were incomprehensible and drowned out by the sheer noise. You’d often loose sense of tempo and rhythm. It was on the verge of being something truly original and cool but wasn’t quite there.

Headlining the show was Octopus Project. I first heard about them through a friend just a few weeks prior. I looked them up on Spotify and really liked what I heard. They are an experimental neo-psychedelic band from Austin, TX with a noteworthy sound. On stage, they are incredibly talented. The four musicians move around from instrument to instrument, each playing multiple throughout their hour-long set. Three of them provide lead vocals on at least one song, but much of their music is instrumental. They seem to have a strong connection as a band and play off each other immaculately.

Octopus Project put it all into their performance. Band-member Josh Lambert opened the show saying, “I know it’s cold and it’s a Monday but let’s have a fucking awesome time together.”  And that we did. The crowd had grown considerably but was still sporadic. Nevertheless, people danced, whooped, and hollered. Yvonne Lambert played an electronic instrument called a Theremin, which is played without physical contact. All-in-all it was a delightful show with excellent music.

Music is often inspiring and can teach us important life lessons. But sometimes it doesn’t have a deeper meaning. Sometimes it’s just meant to be enjoyed. Seeing Octopus Project was a chance to simply enjoy some live music.

Concert Review: Mitski

Indie rock can oftentimes be blunt, but that is not to say it lacks finesse; to the contrary, some of the best indie rock artists only achieve their blunt sound with a great deal of finesse. Mitski’s concert at the Urban Lounge proved just so, demonstrating the extent to which practice and finesse can take a band from good to great.

You don’t have to look hard to find where Mitski mustered such skills. As Carrie Battan brings to light in her article for The New Yorker, the singer-songwriter released her first two albums, LUSH and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, while studying music composition at SUNNY Purchase. Since graduating, she has released another two albums, Bury Me at Makeout Creek and Puberty 2, both of which pushed her towards a more traditional, rock sound. Despite this, it’s evident that Mitski’s training in school has paid off; her command of her voice is impressive, and even within more traditional arrangments her attention to detail is difficult to match.

Overall, this gives Mitski a good amount of experience to work with, which stands in contrast to opener Stong Words. An up-and-coming act from Salt Lake City, Strong Words carry the sound of a band beginning to solidify their musical identity. At its best, their music conjures easy-going vibes with mellow vocals and an airy feel. At its worst, it feels too easy, collapsing in on the padding its mix overly relies upon. The sound balance at the concert didn’t help, rendering the guitar and the vocals indistinguishable, although out-of-tune harmonies in the vocals occasionally (and unfortunately) stuck out in the mix. All in all, these factors ultimately rendered Strong Words’ performance unsatisfactory.

Despite the luke-warm opening, Mitski quickly brought an air of excitement to the Urban Lounge. With a restless start, her band cut their teeth right away on newer material, including more raw cuts like “Dan the Dancer”. Contributing to the raw sound was their mix, which was both drier than Strong Words’ and better balanced. This change put the talent of Mitski and her band members front and center, and fortunately, they were more than able to impress; particularly noteworthy was the guitarist, whose adept use of effects turned the instrument into a jack-of-all-trades for the band.

Later in the set, Mitski took over duties on the guitar, dismissing her band members to play some songs by herself. The expectation at this point was to hear some of her quieter arrangements, but she began with one of her loudest, playing “My Body’s made of Crushed Little Stars”. It was the most intimate moment of the set; the space left behind by her band produced an atmosphere rawer than anywhere else in the set. It also gave her room to truly demonstrate the power of her vocals as she bellowed over the jagged-sounding guitar.

The use of space in her arrangements demonstrates just one of the ways Mitski puts time and thought into her craft. Strong Words does not lack thought when it comes to their music, but the difference in the quality of the performances demonstrates not just the importance of a good sound balance, but the extent to which practice and training can take a band from good to great.