Every year, somehow, Schuba’s sweeps the Reader’s category for best music venue. Why? The reason usually given is that the sound there is ALWAYS phenomenal. Well, that’s true as long it’s an acoustic-leaning act. Truth be told, though, getting great sound for acoustic acts isn’t as difficult as it seems and if you really want to see how ‘phenomenal’ the live sound is there I recommend you go catch an actual band that uses any semblance of volume, layers or texture because this is the second such show I’ve witnessed there where the sound was sublimely awful. Almost Metro awful, in fact, which shouldn’t ever happen in a room that size with a reputation as well-established.
I arrived in time to catch Young Prisms’ set, which wasn’t bad. They seem like a young band who have found their jumping off point, but haven’t gotten too experimental with it yet. I found their more restrained my bloody valentine sound pleasant enough. The most that I hope for them is that they are able to take what they have and find more of their own voice with it because they have some decent songwriting chops, which is rare in bands that mine similar material. They also get major points for not overdoing it on the effects and the amount of variation between their songs. Their set also grew more enjoyable as it continued. A little volume would’ve been nice, but it seems clear to me that the lackluster mix they received was definitely not of their own choosing. The only instruments that seemed to be coming through the house speakers were the drums, the guitarist’s vocals and a tiny bit of the female singer’s vocals. I know that the vocals are usually buried in this type of music (I’m guilty of it myself, after all), but this was clearly an oversight on behalf of the sound engineer. My favourite songs of theirs were the ones where they strayed further out into starker, more open territory from the MBV-imitation sounding songs. For a young band, though, they are way ahead of the game and I’m hoping they are a band I can keep my eye on as they progress because they have a great foundation nailed down. I’m also always impressed by a band that can still get something across even when they’re dealt a shitty mix.
Tamaryn’s band started a few minutes early and sounded nice and muscular like they did the last time I saw them, which was at Lincoln Hall opening for the Raveonettes last year. Tamaryn’s voice was also nearly inaudible and when it was clearer it was only through her own use of force. Her having to do this constantly in order to be heard did cause some audible strain on her voice. Microphone feedback problems continued throughout the night. Her vocals also sounded like they were coming from the bottom of a pool. Guitarist Rex Shelverton’s live sound cut through the mix perfectly like last time, I think purely because he understood that if he wanted volume he would have to claim it himself. The bassist followed in similar suit. They tore through their 45 minute set with conviction and the new songs sounded strong. ‘Mild Confusion,’ ‘Love Fade’ and the title track from ‘The Waves’ benefitted from the tautness that’s typical of the ‘Tender New Signs’ material—which clearly is the result of a reliance on capturing the band’s live sound.
As if the sound problems weren’t enough the atmosphere and the crowd were awful as well. I guess I just need to make my ‘no weekend shows’ a general rule as it seems there’s nowhere safe to go on the weekends where this isn’t the case. It was maddening because I spent a great deal of the main set wishing I could just go home and get away from the people surrounding me. A few songs in the band hit a nice emotional pitch starting with a restrained version of lead single ‘Heavenly Bodies’ into the buried gem of the new album, ‘Afterlight,’ paired with a powerfully beautiful live reading of ‘No Exits.’ It was the only time throughout the night that I managed to finally lose myself in the moment until this pair of girls moved right next to me and proceeded to squawk at each other over the music while comparing their fancy phones and talking about their respective workdays. At one point during a quiet section of ‘No Exits’ the louder of the two screeched ‘What am I doing here?’ and it took every ounce of restraint for me not say, ‘Who the fuck knows?! Why don’t you go away?!’ Next one of them struck a pose with her beer over her head while Screechy took four flash photos of her in the same pose. Four. Flash. Photos. The third has me staring with complete hatred directly into the camera over this girl’s shoulder.
The band ended with ‘The Waves’ and an intense version of ‘I’m Gone’ that was quite impressive. By that point I was in full misanthropic mode hating everyone who was there who couldn’t just shut up or quit tweeting, texting and fiddling with their shiny-screened phones for just 45 minutes of live music that they had all paid $10 for. I hope the band at least gets paid well for this show because then it would mean something worthwhile had come out of this night. I did notice that they made a hasty exit to the band room once they were finished. Here’s hoping they’re popular enough on their next visit to play at Lincoln Hall again. There was a room that did them justice. Congratulations, Schuba’s—you’re on the ‘never again’ list.