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  SMOG w/ Husky  
  The Echo Lounge  
  East Atlanta, GA  
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A couple of years ago I saw Smog on tour. I hadn't really been a big fan of Bill Callahan before then. I tended to think of him as being personally responsible for one of the most self-indulgent, over the top, reeking-of-pot-smoke pieces of lo-fi indie rock known to man: Evil Tyrant (off Forgotten Foundation, Smog's 1992 debut). However, the concert back in 1999 (in support of Knock Knock, an excellent album, which I highly recommend) opened my eyes. I suddenly appreciated the sense of melody and mood which Callahan demonstrated in his music; more importantly, that concert itself was compelling - you didn't want to get a beer or go to the bathroom for fear of missing a note.

Anyway, I've been waiting for Smog to come back. And finally, this June they did.

When we got to The Echo Lounge, I was somewhat curious and hesitant about the opening act, Husky. I hadn't seen them, and I was fairly sure I hadn't even heard of them. That's not usually a good sign -- I tend to read a fair amount about local music, so I'm usually familiar with the bands that are present on the scene. Therefore, I was a little surprised when that band took the stage and I realized:

Husky serves me coffee most mornings.

Yup, 4 out of 5 people in this band work at the coffee shop I frequent. After I realized this little tidbit, I decided to pay more attention to the band. Surprisingly, they weren't bad. Sure, their music sounds like that which is inevitably termed "math rock" - a mostly istrumental sound that's strongly Slint-influenced (or Slint-damaged, depending on your taste) with some Polvo thrown in. However, what made them so interesting was their line-up: guitar, guitar, drums, and keyboards, but no bass. That isn't to say that there was no bass "part" in the music; rather the keyboard seemed to support the sound, providing a strong anchor for the dueling guitars. Admittedly, there were some flaws in their performance: the drummer/vocalist sang through this vocoder-like device which not only disguised the words, but also gave the music a loopy, slightly silly effect. And it was clear that they were having problems hearing one another on the stage (well, duh…it was The Echo Lounge), so that some of the songs seemed a bit incoherent and had ill-defined, somewhat chaotic ending. But, on the whole, considering it was one of their first shows (if not the first), it wasn't bad. In fact, I'd like to see them again if only to see how their music develops and grows.

After a quick intermission, Bill Callahan (and his backing musicians) took the stage. I think he wore the same denim jacket that wore the previous time I saw him. I think he was playing the same guitar. I think he had the same demeanor. But, it wasn't the same show.

The first thing I noticed was that, although the backing band was competent, the musicians seemed to pay more attention to Callahan's playing than to their own. By this I mean that they would really cue off of Callahan's riffs, without adding any touches of their own. While on the surface this would seem to be a good thing (after all Smog really is Bill Callahan), the emphasis this placed on Callahan's somewhat rudimentary strumming highlighted a certain void in his technique. This in turn demonstrated that most of Callahan's songs sound very very similar: they use the same chords and melodic structures over and over again.

Similarly, as the second or third song began, I thought, "ooh he's going to play Hit the Ground Running." Then, when Callahan began to sing, I realized, no, this was a different song. If that had only happened once, I would have just shaken it off with the conclusion that maybe I wasn't as familiar with Smog's catalog as I thought. And then when that moment recurred a bit later, I just shrugged and said, "Well everyone recycles to some extent." However, after the third (and then fourth and fifth) time, I had to rethink myself: maybe (just maybe) Callahan's songs really do sound alike when you take them apart. Maybe underneath all the lyrical melancholy and observations, he only has a limited palette of musical expression.

Let me tell you, that wasn't a pleasant thought to be having in the middle of an anticipated concert. But it was in my head, and it wouldn't be denied. Sure, the show was solid and enjoyable. In fact, I'd even say it was a good show. Still, somehow, the luster was off of Smog's performance and the overall effect they had on me was one of slight disappointment (and perhaps disillusionment). In the end, I'd probably go see Smog again, but I doubt I would anticipate it as greatly.

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