Indeed, an appearance by the Philly band, whose instrumental collages sound at times like they were lifted from Donkey Kong, would have thrown the critics into a tizzy, forcing them to choose between NNB's fitful tangents and BSS's lo-fi brainiac rock.
While BSS wows the crowd with its serious musical genius, NNB puts smiles on faces and sets butts in motion by taking off on loosely defined whimsical trips. These are very much in evidence on their sophomore release, UFO. "Show Me Your Heart," for example, builds up from a single keyboard riff to a polyphonic spree created with everything from banjos to tin pots, with spoken-word ramblings sprinkled over the top.
Also on the bill is Make Believe, the latest side project dreamed up by Chicago's Tim Kinsella, a snarky lyricist who also performs with Joan of Arc, Cap 'n Jazz and the Owls, or sometimes with several bands on a given night. Imagine the historical Joan of Arc played by a chain-mail-draped Sandra Bernhardt on Jerry Springer, and you might get a sense of the angry spittle Kinsella channels with this particular lineup.
With their impressive debut, Hold Your Horse Is, Sacramento's Hella came out of the gate like Seabiscuit on meth. Everyone was talking about their tight and precise delivery. Could this much racket really come from only two people? And that drummer! Early live shows drew comparisons to Lightning Bolt. Hella was called the new Don Cab. They could do no wrong. And right around the time of their sold-out show at New York's famed Knitting Factory, they may have even started to believe it themselves. But that's when the wheels started to fall off.
Fast-forward two years and three ho-hum releases. Today, folks don't seem nearly as eager to place their bets on the aging mare. Their live show is both stiff and masturbatory these days -- Spencer Seim hunches over his guitar in a way that makes him look like one of those jacked-up evil birds from The Dark Crystal, and while he's a technical wizard, drummer (and Roger Daltrey lookalike) Zach Hill lacks passion. Those early comparisons to Lightning Bolt now seem laughable. Speaking of laughable, hollering out for "Magic Bus" at these dudes between songs is a gut-busting hoot.