One of the most promising and pure young indie rock bands around played in D.C. recently and it barely made a sound. This listener counted a crowd of 13 upstairs at The Red and The Black, but take away the artists, the staff and the friends of the artists, and that left four. Four people restraining nervous energy listening to this terrific young band.
Many a band, particularly a touring band, will react negatively to such a situation, lamenting aloud about the lack of a crowd, pouting, scowling and often cutting short their set to make a fast getaway. Maybe the most impressive thing about The Foundry Field Recordings was their sense of humor and the humility they carried. They called upon a friend, Jeff, to create the set list, and he requested "that one about Boris Yeltsin." After the sound check evolved into the first song, which started slow and soft and crescendo'd into a rocker with a big finish, frontman Billy Schuh looked in his friend's direction. "Jeff?" he asked and received "Fallout Stations," the title track of the band's new EP. Extending the joke, he simply looked at Jeff after that and heard "Spain," for "Spain Never Made It." The band would leave that pattern, ignoring Jeff's request for "Winter Frames" -- that would be "Buried Beneath the Winter Frames" -- and playing some new music instead.
And about the music, this band is raised on mid-'90s college rock -- the heyday of indie -- remembering some of the heavyweights of that era -- Yo La Tengo, the Flaming Lips, Built to Spill, Pavement, Guided By Voices, etc. -- without sounding too much like any of them. It's refreshing considering the glut of angular neo-post-punk and nu-wave on the scene these days. It's nice to move past the '80s again, even if it seems a little too soon.
Throughout the set, drummer Benjamin Hook played a recording of effects worthy of the Lips -- guitarist Daniel Stegall's noise pop experiments add to this effect, too -- including the intro to "Fallout Stations." That song also was reminiscent of GBV's wistful acoustic side. Built to Spill came to mind when The Foundry implemented crescendo and big guitar rock. And the lo-fi catchiness and Velvety noise read like Pavement and Yo La Tengo. But the name-dropping betrays The Foundry, which always sounded like its own animal, particularly impressive considering how dynamic the band was. Softer, ballady tunes like "Fallout Station" and part two of "Battle Brigades" -- yes, they played the rocking instrumental part one, too -- are executed with the same success as the rockers, like the first of two new songs in the middle of the set. The second was an up-tempo groove with a dance beat -- thanks to Hook and bassist Becky Baxter -- more akin to those numerous dance punk bands and '80s retreads that are up and about these days. But even more ready for the dance floor was "Holding the Pilots/Holding the Facts," another request from Jeff. Throughout, Schuh's tender vocals infuse the songs with feeling, in particular when harmonizing with Hook. Predictably, the band closed with "Transistor Kids" from the "Fallout Stations" EP and Insound single-of-the-week status, then demonstrated their sense of humor by breaking down to a recording of Patrick Swayze's "Be nice" monologue from "Road House."
Also deserving a bigger audience was local singer-songwriter Alex the Red Robert Parez, armed only with his voice and a guitar. His interpretation of Americana was a sort of loungey take, and his voice was reminiscent of Johnny Cash, though often sung with Jello Biafra's inflection. And he betrayed an affection for Bruce Springsteen, closing his set with a couple of Boss covers, "because I've been listening to him a lot lately." Check him out Wednesdays in August at Polly's Cafe.
In a couple of years, when The Foundry Field Recordings headline the 9:30 Club and slay -- and they will slay the 9:30 Club in a couple of years -- probably a hundred people will impress their friends reminiscing about that show at The Red and the Black in the summer of 2007, that hot, rainy Sunday when no one was out on H Street and fewer were upstairs at the bar. Four of us will be listening over their shoulders, rolling our eyes, and smiling quietly and proudly.