I think it's official now. I have a love/hate
relationship with Ann Arbor band Saturday Looks Good to Me.
I've really liked some of their
recordings; I've actively
disliked others. Likewise, the one time I saw them live,
I really enjoyed their set. However, in the case of this show,
well…..there were issues.
But, before I explain further, let's step back a minute and discuss the rest of the evening.
Shortly after I wandered over to The Echo Lounge, the first
opener, Atlanta's Hot Young Priest, took the stage. I had seen
them only once before,
apparently in one of their first live performances. At the time,
I thought they had a lot of potential, but they were still a
little rough around the edges. On this evening, however, I can
see how much they've grown as a cohesive unit in the intervening
3 or so months. In particular, the interplay between drummer
Chris Jansen and bassist Daniel Winn has given Hot Young Priest
a very heavy and intricate framework that highlights Mary Byrne's
vocals. Furthermore, Byrne's vocals have a slightly more accessible
tone these days; in fact, during several of the songs her voice
recalled that of Carol van Dijk from Bettie
Serveert. Suffice to say, I was quite pleased with Hot Young
Priest's set, and looked forward to the next two bands.
After a break, Ann Arbor's Nomo took the stage. Described as
an Afro-beat orchestra, to me, they seemed more like a slightly
jazzy, instrumental dance ensemble. Think big band with a funky
rhythm. Or think Cordero without the vocals. Either way, the
largish group played extraordinarily well. I mean, it's not
the type of music to which I'd normally listen. However, sitting
in the back room of The Echo Lounge, everything sounded quite
interesting with multiple textures and phenomenal rhythm section.
Additionally, the horn section were a nice focal point of several
of the songs, and seemed like an integral part of the music
instead of just an accent. Although I didn't get their album,
in retrospect I wish I had, if only so I can hear them again
with my full attention.
And then it was time for Saturday Looks Good to Me. Or rather the main players in Saturday Looks Good to Me backed by Nomo (including the afore-mentioned horn section). Based on Nomo's performance, I thought, "This ought to be good."
But, from the beginning, it was a problematic set. Yes, the full orchestration as played by such a competent band was amazing. The bassist held everything together while the horn section came in during all the right parts. However, the female vocalist (whose name I never caught) and male vocalist/guitarist Fred Thomas were the weak links in the performance. Each had issues with staying on key, which was exacerbated by the lack of effects on the PA, which might have masked the problem. Furthermore, when the two attempted to harmonize, the tonal qualities of their voices didn't mesh well at all, and made the key issue even more noticeable.
Still, this wouldn't have been such an issue except for two
other factors. First off, Saturday Looks Good to Me played a
somewhat odd set list. Certain fan favorites like I Wish
I Could Cry and Meet Me By The Water were missing
in action; additionally, none of the songs on the band's most
were heard, which was a tremendous disappointment to me, considering
that was the one recording by the band which I had liked. But
the third factor was the final nail in the coffin. Even though
they were the headliner, Saturday Looks Good to Me played only
35-40 minutes. This would have be O.K., if they had played their
hits. As it was, and combined with the vocal problems, it felt
like a bit of rip off.
Yet, despite the fact that headliner wasn't particularly good, I enjoyed the show. Hot Young Priest provided a good, enjoyable set. And, more impressively, Nomo was a revelation. If the headliner had not been on the bill, I'd probably have rated this one of the better shows I'd seen in 2004. As it is, I'll just make sure to avoid Saturday Looks Good to Me in the future.