Monday, January 14, 2008

Show Review: Downplay @ Skully's

by Dave Schaefer

Friday night was a night for local music -- from Willie Phoenix at the Treehouse with Ryan Cox opening with an acoustic set, to Watershed and opener The Receiver at the LC, to Red Wanting Blue at the Newport. I attended none of those, save for catching Ryan Cox before I headed to Skully’s (a bit of a sacrilege skipping out on Willie, I know...).

Who was playing at the neon-emblazoned Skully’s Music Diner you ask? A trio of local rock and alt-rock bands that started with Black Spyral Dancer and 7th Cycle, and ended with Downplay.

I like Skully’s as a venue overall. What it lacks in character, it makes up for in usability. It’s simple, the sound is good, and there’s a bar at every turn. If you want to escape the music, you can hit the diner and have a quieter drink or head out in the freezing cold patio in the back where the heaters don’t work and drunk people inevitably want to bum a cigarette. I don’t recommend the patio.

For Skully’s, the crowd wasn’t very thick. Neither was it small, but I’ve definitely seen it busier on a Friday night. Some of that was likely due to the aforementioned bigger shows going on, creating an audience that was a bit thinner than it likely would’ve been otherwise.

By the time I made it to the show -- I was running late due to starting my evening hanging at the Treehouse -- Black Spyral Dancer was already on the stage. Anyone who knows me, is well aware that I seldom miss an opening band, just in case there’s that gem waiting to be discovered, so I was disappointed to have missed part of their set. I was more disappointed when I found that they were really quite good. Their playing was tight, their songs different enough to be interesting, and the vocals came through cleanly. I’m thinking this is a band to keep an eye on. I only wished I’d been able to catch their entire set.

The second band, 7th Cycle, clearly have a following and had the largest audience of any of the bands that night. Though I was anxious to hear this band, I wasn’t overly impressed. I didn’t feel there was anything new or different to what they presented. It seemed a bit recycled and certainly nothing unique. I have to admit, though, that the crowd loved them and 7th Cycle was clearly having fun and giving the people an energetic good
looking show, if not an overly original sounding one. Their musicianship, however, was actually quite good – they could just use a few good songs to match it.

Downplay was the headliner. The band’s music has an alt-pop-rock flavor that’s fun and has just enough originality to make you take notice. Lead singer Dustin Bate's voice was better live than I thought it would be. I was familiar with Downplay’s CD
A Day Without Gravity, and in my review of the CD I mentioned the fact that Dustin has a great voice for this genre. I assumed that he wouldn’t be able to produce that same recorded voice in a live setting. I was wrong. His vocals were still spot-on and the band performed nearly flawlessly. Granted, the band is somewhat of an afterthought as far as the audience is concerned. Dustin’s the one that does the talking and makes himself the star of the show. Bass player Chad White did his best to move people’s attention over to his side of the stage every-so-often and was occasionally successful – Dustin would do well to play up Chad’s comedy relief during the show.

Downplay performed all but one of the songs from
A Day Without Gravity along with a couple covers to fill in the gaps.

Overall, I enjoyed it. Besides the clarity of Dustin’s singing, the show was as expected, but not necessarily beyond expectations. I’m going to get flak for saying it, given the genre that Downplay falls into, but I like this band. And much like Bullet Jones, they’re determined to be successful, though the two bands are diametrically opposed in their methods.

Downplay’s next show is with a band that fits better with them than Black Spyral Dancer and 7th Cycle: Lovesick Radio, Jan. 18 at the Park Street Patio.


MatJones said...

You get no flak from me - Downplay's music is solid. I had no idea they were even playing last Friday. Otherwise, I would have attended.

Dustin said...

Thanks for the write up! Too bad we look like douches in these pics, hahah.