My first written words

Bishop Allen / Throw Me The Statue / Darwin Deez — Chop Suey 11/07

There are very few songs with the magical power to evoke goosebumps upon every listen. Live or recorded, it doesn’t matter; it consistently happens at the same spot in the song — cresting over the bridge into the final chorus, almost as if there’s a tone or beat within, that, when struck, triggers chills in the listener. Radiohead’s “Let Down”, The Beatles’ “Polythene Pam / She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” and Bishop Allen’s “Flight 180” all have this magical moment. And last night’s performance of “Flight 180” at Chop Suey was no different.

We all knew it was coming. Surely they wouldn’t not play it. But after their 50-minute set they left the stage having done just that. The anticipation was killing us. Since they chose to put that song in their encore, they made the song somehow impossibly bigger than it already is. Every song, from the 80s-tinged synth-pop of opener Darwin Deez, into the bouncy tunes and antics of Throw Me The Statue, up through the first song of Bishop Allen’s encore was played in preparation for “Flight 180”. Building, building, building, up to that chill-inducing point in the song, “if you feel like DANCING…”

It was fantastic.

Strangely, the show was not sold out prior to the start time. I’ve seen both Bishop Allen and Throw Me The Statue perform in larger venues separately, touring along with bigger acts, but somehow the combination of the two fails to fill the relatively small floor at Chop Suey. Unexpected, but welcome, as it’s always nice to have a little extra breathing room when standing for 3+ hours, well into the early-early morning.

I only managed to catch the very end of the opener, Brooklyn’s Darwin Deez. Managing a rare feat for an opening band, the audience liked them enough to beg for an encore. The band was even unsure if this was an ok move, yelling out as they strapped on their instruments for the second time, “Justin, is this ok?!” That one song, along with some further evidence online, made me wish I’d shown up earlier to catch their whole set.

The last time I saw Seattle’s Throw Me The Statue I wasn’t very familiar with the band. I’d only heard a couple songs on KEXP, and that combined with the fact that they were sandwiched between the phenomenal Grand Hallway and headliner Robin Pecknold (of the Fleet Foxes), I was none too impressed. But a lot has changed since then. Their 2nd album, Creaturesque, was released in August. And while a lot of the songs on that album could be identified as covers of songs not written by Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, and other Northwest favorites, their middle-act set last night allowed the band to shine in all its indie-pop glory. I suggest you catch these guys the next time they roll through your town, as they won’t be playing these smaller venues for very much longer. The few songs they played from their debut, Moonbeams, along with most of Creaturesque (of which the bass-lead “Ancestors” was a major highlight), made a perfect launchpad for Bishop Allen to jump from.

Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen is a nerdy band. Justin Rice, the lead singer, wearing a dark-blue wool cardigan and large, plastic-rimmed glasses, came onto the stage looking nothing like what you’d expect if you were only hearing them perform on the radio. But for what Justin may lack in chiseled looks, he gains in stage presence. Along with his longtime co-songwriter and bandmate, lead guitarist Christian Rudder, Justin commands attention. His voice and demeanor on stage, even when totally screwing up a song (as he did not once but twice when trying to perform Empire City early on in the set), is that of a seasoned professional.

While their sound has changed drastically over the years, from a more punk-pop base on their 2003 debut Charm School, up through 2009’s great pure pop exploration Grrr…, Bishop Allen’s live sound remains consistent from start to finish. There are very few slow moments overall, and those that do come (markedly when the lead singing duties moved to keyboardist Darbie Rice a couple times during the set) are welcome breathers between intense, power-pop singalongs. I found myself bouncing up and down with the non-capacity crowd a number of times during the set. And even though Bishop Allen may have four people on stage singing the same lines at the same time at various points during their set, it was clear that the audience, at least towards the front of the stage, knew the words to nearly every song the band performed. Each song was a battle for the listener, trying to pull Justin’s voice out from the sea of singing from all around. It can get quite annoying when the guy behind you, singing off-key at almost a full octave lower than the lead singer, is the loudest thing in your ear. But thankfully those moments were few and far-between.

“Like Castanets,” “Middle Management” (both from The Broken String) and Charm School’s “Busted Heart” were marked highlights throughout the set. Even during the less-noisy moments, such as Darbie’s quieter singing on “Butterfly Nets,” where the silence throughout the bar showed that everyone was paying rapt attention, made for a set without any dull moments. As the band was completing the aforementioned capper for the evening, “Flight 180,” I remember thinking they must end the show now. Anything that follows that religious-experience of a song would sound like an afterthought. But try they did. As the drummer and bassist left the stage, Darbie looked at Christian with a “sure, why not?” kinda jesture, and came to the main mic again. With Christian on guitar and Justin on xylophone, Darbie proceeded to sing the normally male-lead “Ghosts Are Good Company” from Charm School. And she absolutely nailed it. The six-year old song ended up sounding completely new without the heavy drums, background-chorus or slide guitar from the recorded version. And even with the decidedly unfat Darbie singing the chorus “I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I can’t believe I got so fat…”, it all somehow worked fantastically together.

With that, the show ended. Perfectly. I left the bar with a new band to investigate further, a stronger love for an up-and-coming Seattle act, and a renewed love of a band that I had allowed to wither away as new shiny-objects appeared in my playlists. But even though they’ve been around a while now, I feel there’s a lot more to come from Bishop Allen. They may not find that chill-inducing moment again, but I’m sure they’ll come very very close.

(Originally posted at Click & Dagger.)