As expected, the poppy double bill of The Sea and Cake and Loney, Dear drew a large crowd to the Black Cat on this Saturday. But somewhat surprisingly, the veteran headliner was a much bigger draw than the trendy -- in hipster circles -- Swedish upstart. Maybe that's due to The Sea and Cake's overdue return to touring and recording. Or maybe it's D.C. telling Loney, Dear to break from its formula.
Loney, Dear -- Emil Svanängen and comrades -- is another in the scores of Swedish acts putting a stranglehold on indie pop, and while their second record, "Loney, Noir," is deservedly achieving critical acclaim, their set at the Black Cat proved repetitive. The mix of folk and power pop is pleasant to the ear, but almost every song started off with Svanängen singing and strumming his acoustic guitar in his folk singer guise before swelling into a swirling pop crescendo. It works, but when repeated as nauseum, it loses its effectiveness. On a couple of bouncier songs, Loney, Dear avoided the pattern by hitting stride at the get go, and while that helped mix things up, eventually it was not enough to get the set from pretty much sounding same song after same song. Also effective, but also repetitive by the end, was Svanängen's flat scream, which many of his songs rode out on. To Svanängen's credit, one nonsense-lyriced song maintained the emotion expected of power pop, redeeming the group's musical chops despite the lack of meaning in the vocals. The set was good enough, though, to deserve more attention from the crowd, which revealed itself to be a largely Sea and Cake audience by mostly ignoring Loney, Dear, talking through the set and often making those quiet folkie intros nearly inaudible. The group deserved more respect, even if it does need to work on its dynamic.
Gone for four years, The Sea and Cake received much more attention from the audience and also made its set more interesting by not falling into pattern. Over seven albums, this band, one of the leaders of Chicago's post-rock sound, hasn't strayed much from its basic dreamy pop-fusion, but there have been enough twists to keep the albums from sounding the same, even though the band's imprint is unmistakable by now. The twist with May's "Everybody" is a more rocking version of the group. The quartet opened with two songs from that album, "Up on Crutches" and "Crossing Line," both rockers except for Sam Prekop's tender, breathy vocals. Several selections from this album made the set list, but the rest represented a generally fair sampling of the band's past work, albeit leaning toward the more up tempo and rocking songs, and even rocking them out a little more. The steady picking on "The Biz" was heavier than usual, and on "Jacking the Ball," Prekop spitted and shouted the chorus, breaking free of his hushed, lonely croon. In between those two, "Mr. F" fell back to the gloomier side of the band but felt darker rather than depressed.
On "Leeora," the band best showcased its strengths, stretching the sweet song into a long jam. The interplay of Prekop and Archer Prewitt's guitars is unrivaled in pop or post-rock, so a little bit of jamming is appreciated and almost necessary. And with the technically tightest rhythm section in indie rock -- drummer John McEntire and bassist Eric Claridge -- the song remained grounded. If the set was at lack for anything, it was probably more improvisation like this.
That more familiar Sea and Cake sound wasn't completely gone from the set -- as mentioned before, "Mr. F" touched it -- and one new song performed here, "Transparent," was a familiar, lazy dream. Likewise, "Parasol," from the band's second album, "Nassau," closed the set on a mellow note, before the band quickly returned for a "Left On"-"Do Now Fairly Well" encore. The former was another rocker with intertwining guitars and crescendoing swells of feedback, while the latter again left the crowd in that mellow mood the band is really known for. "Do Now" was also the most dynamic and textured tune of the night, breaking up that classic mellow fusion with moments of heavier jazzy rock, reminding us both of the band's good ol' days as well as its somewhat bold new direction.