The last time we'd seen New York group School of Seven Bells, in 2009, they packed Chicago's Empty Bottle to the brim. Last night at Fitzgerald's, however, there were far fewer people in attendance (though the band's 10:30pm weeknight set-time couldn't have helped their draw). Furthermore, also instantly noticeable was the absence of the group's former live focus--their team of twin sister front-women.
Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (and former Secret Machines member, guitarist Benjamin Curtis) were the core of SVIIB; however, Claudia left the band last year, under relatively mysterious circumstances. Their new album, Ghostory, marks their first release and subsequent tour without her -- naturally, her absence was felt, though Alejandra held her own.
In a Houston Press interview with Alejandra earlier this month, we discussed Ghostory, which Deheza described as an emotional catharsis to write. The album, which houses plenty of personal lyrics and hints at the singer's difficult year, was prominently featured at last night's show.
SVIIB's sound--especially on their previous records--has been built around layers of textured vocals and harmonies; together, the Deheza sisters built a dramatic live sound. Although touring keyboardist/back-up vocalist Allie Alvarado has played with SVIIB before, she didn't quite fill the void Claudia left; vocals sounded weak between the duo, and some stage presence lacked between the band in general.
Deheza and Curtis, however, were clearly bonded. "We're like family," she said of Curtis, during our interview. The pair often approached each other onstage, and we caught Curtis send an endearing wink Deheza's way during the show.
While Fitzgerald's downstairs space wasn't nearly packed, Deheza acted like it was; she was an intriguing presence onstage, making fixed and repeated eye contact with her audience as she sang, her blunt black bangs dramatically framing her petite face. She was appreciative, coolly theatrical, and seemed to deliver each lyric to specific audience members.
Besides a few "Thank yous," Deheza didn't address the crowd, which was disappointing, as she was so open and entertaining during our interview.
While Deheza and Curtis remained into the set the whole time, the performance seemed a bit phoned-in otherwise; it seemed too simplified, and at times, we recalled why the genre is often referred to as "shoegaze."
Nevertheless, new songs like "Scavenger," "White Wind," and "The Night" translated especially well live. "Half Asleep," from 2008's Alpinisms, was our favorite of the night, tucked away for their two-song encore.
Nearly midnight by the time their final song ended, the crowd cheered--briefly yet genuinely--and promptly about-faced toward the exit. We suspect there might be some sleepy show stragglers at work this morning. Shoe-gazers, even.
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Personal Bias: I'd like to see Deheza play more guitar. That might help mix the set up a bit. Also, it was cool to see Benjamin Curtis play again; I was a Secret Machines fan.
The Crowd: 20-somethings. Maybe even some teens.
Overheard in the Crowd: Fan 1: "Do you hear that U2 influence?" Fan 2: "That's My Bloody Valentine."
Random Notebook Dump: More AC, please, Fitz.