When a band produces an album packed with layers upon layers of sound, effects and instrumentation, it always begs the question, How well can they recreate the songs on stage particularly when they are a trio? Extra band members? Playing along with prerecorded material? Refusing to try and reinterpreting the songs for the live setting? Those are the most common solutions, and Evangelicals answered with all three.
With a Roland synthesizer and extra guitarist Todd Jackson, Evangelicals confidently recreated the strange, lush soundscapes of "The Evening Descends" and smartly ditched the segments and effects that would threaten to bog down the performance. Jackson and frontman Josh Jones shared guitar and synth responsibilities to keep the band's recorded ambience in tact at Iota. Though it didn't start out quite so well. On "The Evening Descends," the band's second LP, the second track -- "Midnight Vignette" -- really kick starts the record. As the opener for this set, it misfired, sounding sloppy, disjointed and flat, never catching the vibe of the rollicking psych-pop rocker it is on record. Any doubts about Evangelicals as a live act were uncomfortably close to becoming facts.
But maybe it was the lights. Jones asked for Iota's signature Christmas lights above the stage to be turned off, leaving the band lit only by black light and strobe, and "Party Crashin'" achieved a rock sound it failed to reach on record. The post-punk rhythm established by drummer Austin Stephens and bassist Kyle Davis provided the spark missing from "Midnight Vignette." And with much of the awkward background dialogue and effects removed, "Party Crashin'" soared, particularly its chorus, unfettered and with more space in which to reside, making it more affecting.
Just as quickly as the band leapt forward on their second song, they were sidetracked again on the third, "Hello Jenn, I'm a Mess." A hard-hitting verse made the quieter, sunny and soulful groove of the chorus -- "Hello Jenn, looks like I've cracked up again. Hello Jenn, looks like I've cracked up ahhhh, well it looks like I'm a mess again." -- even more captivating. And then the power went out. Drag. The amps were quiet. The black light was gone. Only Jones' microphone was in play, so after some mildly amusing banter -- like, "too much rock for Iota" -- Jones picked up an acoustic guitar to play "Snowflakes" on the eve of the great 2008 ice storm that never quite materialized as expected. He said it had been a long time since he'd played the song, an ominous winter lullaby that contrasts beauty and misery, "Snowflakes keep tumbling, and I can't help wondering, will things just keep getting buried?" As he sang "light," the light returned, and Jones was none too serious not to point out that the power did return on cue with his lyrics, and he continued through a sparse, tender rendition of the song, then accompanied by hisses, buzzes, pops and crackles of the amps coming back to life. Sadly, the band didn't go back to "Jenn," instead choosing to rock out the rest of the set. The power outage was a blessing in that it gave us a chance to hear a terrific song that otherwise would have been left out of the set, but it robbed us of one of the highlights and probably the most memorable song from the band's debut album. I can appreciate the band being uncomfortable attempting a do-over, but dang if I didn't really want to hear that song. Instead, with a burst from the smoke machine, they shredded through the asylum horror movie score "Bellawood" and kept on shredding until they brought the set to a close.
The first mp3 that leaked from the new album was "Skeleton Man," and it is one of the best songs on the record, the one that probably will have the widest reach, so it was no surprise they closed the set with it. And the repeated last line -- "When someone loves you very much, when someone loves you very much, when someone loves you very much, you're f'd." -- is perfect as a sendoff. It would be hard to find a better spot in the set for the song. But it was over too soon. At six and a half songs and about 40 minutes on stage, it was a criminally short set. Maybe they weren't prepared to headline -- Iota's Web site originally listed them in support of Headlights -- or maybe they were put off by the power problem, though it didn't seem to bother them too much at the time. They seemingly handled it with good humor and professionalism. Or maybe Virginia is just too square and the band was out of time. Despite the technical problems and brevity of the show, when Evangelicals hit their stride, they were terrific.