Saturday Night: listenlisten At The Mink

listenlisten, sIngs, Two Star Symphony The Backroom at the Mink December 4, 2010

A few hours before listenlisten's headlining spot at the Mink Saturday night, some friends asked Aftermath to pin down the band's sound. A visiting couple was stopping by the bar for the first time and wanted to know what the band was like. Hard, soft, heavy, shambolic...

We couldn't think of a reference point. Someone said Arcade Fire, another said folk. Somewhere in there, Aftermath remembers blurting out that they sound like creaky wooden floors, dust, antique oil lamps flickering and a time when things were slower and more methodical, and hearts broke easier.

Nobody heard that because we said it quietly, to ourselves. People don't want answers like that from a stranger at a bar on a Saturday.

listenlisten's new album, dog, continues the track of their last, Hymns From Rhodesia, but with more grime and grit. There is something that feels like home in the music of listenlisten for us. Maybe we live in a different time in our head from whence listenlisten comes. The jury is still out on that.

The whole night was dedicated to the small treasures in life. Openers Two Star Symphony hushed up the crowd upstairs, or at least tried to very hard. The classical group plays movements that demand silence, not just out of respect, but because it's not meant to be background music.

Beers clinking into garbage bins and drunken giggles throw you out of the fantasy. The dude doing sarcastic ballet plies at the back of the room during Two Star's set was a letdown, but only because his form was rusty.

Brett Taylor's band sIngs made an appearance Saturday, pared down to just Taylor on drums, guitar, loops and pedals. Purported to be the final sIngs gig for a few months, it was a quick affair from Taylor, and not at all the multi-piece performance pieces from around the time the LP Hells came out in April.

Saturday's set was a firm reminder of how well Taylor melds family drama with his trademark tinkering sound. We'll see what's in store for the project when it gets reactivated.

John "Little Red" Trower's knife-throwing act brought the night back to the era from which listenlisten's sound hails. Trower's set began with the elderly man eating fire, before moving onto knife-throwing.

Aftermath stood a few feet directly behind him and were aghast and stunned by the whole thing. Per human nature, we couldn't look away. He threw knives at his assistant, who at one point was spinning on his platform. It was funny - part of us was scared to look, but the other part of us knew that he was a skilled artist.

But still, thoughts ran that maybe, just maybe, Saturday night would have been the night he finally fouled up. It was a reminder of what old-school entertainment was like, where it took skill and craft to bring the crowd to oohs and aahhs, instead of computers and whatnot. It's life and death.

It was a stunning warm-up for listenlisten, who sing mostly about death, dying, struggle and, ultimately, life.

We even feel dumb dwelling on listenlisten's otherworldliness and indistinct time space. God knows everyone who has ever taken fingers to keyboard on the band brings it up. Maybe it's something instinctual, something held over in the subconscious ether about the band that reminds us of olden days. Can a sound really keep traveling over decades, occasionally landing in the hands of a few guys with guitars and pianos?

"I Rise" began the band's set, also the opener on dog, and immediately the tone changed in the house. Something gets lost in translation from their recordings to their live show, but what ends up coming out in person is the pain in lead singer Ben Godfrey's voice. The gut-punching has a face.

"Ghost" has one of those minor-key openings that makes a lump in your throat almost instantly. It's science. You see ships setting off of docks, Dust Bowl-ravaged streets, crying children, all in the span of 30 seconds into the song.

What does it to us? The trumpet? Godfrey's frail voice twang? The piano lines? We can't tell anymore. Like we said, it has to be the long-distance generational cable line that keeps us enthralled. Somewhere an ancestor saw music just like this in a backroom or a dancehall.

We popped downstairs to get a drink and ran into a Houston musician who was doing the same thing. For him, he needed to walk away from the flood of emotions.

"It's too much for a Saturday night, man," he said as we both bellied up for drinks.

We came back up minutes later to gather into the crowd up front. A few fans had posted up on Trower's knife board to get closer to the stage.

"I can't listen to these guys while I am alone and drunk in my house," says a friend next to us. Another concured right before the band struck up "Nothing," the closer on dog.

Don't misunderstand us, listenlisten is not all gloom. Maybe it hits in the gut harder for guys than for girls. Most guys we know who are fans of the band hold them in a dear place in their musical language. But there is a sense of overcoming in their music, in the end. Perseverance.

Earlier in the week, there was scuttlebutt in the Houston music scene that journalists have their pet bands that can do nothing wrong in their eyes, the ones who get fawned over. Listenlisten is a band who deserves fawning.

If a band affecting you to your core, for the better, is a bad thing, then sorry folks, we plead guilty.

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