FEATURE: Into It. Over It. / The Hotelier / Prawn, Live in Pawtucket – 7.12.14
by Chad Jewett
The Met is a small-ish club carved into a converted mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. There are plenty of these buildings throughout New England (and the wider Northeast) – castles of the industrial revolution, made of stark red brick and now lying mostly fallow in cities like Willimantic, Worcester, Holyoke, Waterbury, Chicopee, Cranston, Salem. The list goes on. On the outside, the Met looks no different, its chipped, maroon façade broken only by the black fading outlines of oaken window fixtures. Yet one walks through a square tunnel set into the building’s long front to an inner courtyard – a shared space known as the Hope Artist Village, which contains an art gallery, restaurant, and book store, to name a few. The Met is set in the courtyard’s near-right corner. The club itself is small-ish and decorated like a House of Blues in an especially gothic Truman Capote story. Giant drawings of Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin stand over the parallel bars and spidery, wrought-iron chandeliers web occasional spots on the ceiling. Nearly the entire room is painted a rubbery, matte black. Drapes are blood red and cover the floor-to-ceiling windows at the club’s rear; the lamps at the bar hold red bulbs, and spindles of orange Halloween lights are placed randomly amongst name-brand bottles. This all gives The Met the quality of a punk rock Haunted Mansion, the visages of Jimi Hendrix and Hank Williams replacing the good-humored macabre of the portraits that hang over the ride queue.
It’s a curious place to see a trio of bands like Into It. Over It., The Hotelier, and Prawn. Considering the realism of the former two and the impressionism of the latter, the space might only really make sense for Prawn. And even still, there’s a funny dissonance between the club’s Pop American Gothic and the painstaking constructed-ness and seriousness of the New Jersey quartet. Watching the band — who performed their 2012 EP, Ships, front to back — live underlines that precision. Prawn’s closest relative might be The Appleseed Cast; like Appleseed, Prawn seem to prize a certain kind of painstaking craftsmanship. You could picture the band devoting an afternoon to arranging pedal boards the way a lit major might fuss over a bookshelf. Indeed, seeing an ultra-defined band like Prawn live clarifies the subtle ways in which this field of post-emo (amongst which you might count The World Is A Beautiful Place, or increasingly, Dikembe) is shaped, the ways in which shapes and movements seem to be the major point. Guitars reveal themselves as distinct parallel lines, as opposed to drops of condensation in a cloud – which is how the gloaming surfaces of Prawn so frequently unfold on record. At times it’s surprising how dense the band can still sound with guitars carving out single, pointillist notes.
The Hotelier are likewise arriving at a remarkably confident rendering of their most recent album, the excellent Home, Like NoPlace Is There. The band seem to be growing more and more familiar with the songs and their dynamics, their drama, the ways in which certain passages of Home call for certain line readings and pauses for emphasis; The Hotelier are fluidly mastering the narrative to be performed on this album. Much of the band’s growth lies in Christian Holden, who is becoming a brilliant vocalist, with a deft understanding of melody, space, and timing. Indeed, spare notes in songs like “Among The Wildflowers” and “Dendron” are subtly re-shaped, the way a good actor might stretch or stunt certain words. At one point, Holden gently asks the crowd to sing along, though the band’s set was punctuated by the audience’s voices throughout, never more saliently than in the opening couplet of “An Introduction to the Album,” a song whose first words (“Opeeeen the curtains”) are swiftly becoming this generation’s “This song will become, the anthem of…” (as Ally Newbold, amongst others, has pointed out, Home Like NoPlace is seemingly custom-built to be sung along to). There’s also a scrappy quality to the manner in which The Hotelier tackle the hugeness of Home. Chris Hoffman’s harmonies frequently fray into screams, lending the album a leaner, hungrier aura live, giving a sharper quality to the album’s passages of desperation and ennui. During the last stretches of “Dendron,” Holden’s bass dropped from his shoulders, the strap breaking free, lock and all. Intuitively, the band simply moved into the song’s minimalist coda, an object lesson in The Hotelier’s gift for making difficult things work.
Evan Weiss announced Into It. Over It’s set as a “casual affair”. “This is our vacation” the thirty-year-old singer-songwriter noted. It’s the sort of comment that’s likely truer than one might think. The tour poster is labelled “Summer Fun Tour.” Later, Weiss would refer to the quartet’s tour as a summer getaway. In some sense, that idea of holiday informality defined the band’s set, as multiple songs were given long, entertaining introductions, including a late encore prefaced by a story of an eventful evening out in Chicago. At times it felt like the opportunity to tell stories was the point. There was a campfire quality to the set that was underlined by the intimacy of the Met, by the audience bunching around the front of the stage. The hour was free of pretense, Weiss taking the stage almost immediately after The Hotelier, a Telecaster in each hand, to double-check his back-lined equipment. Before the set began the band huddled around the drum kit, like a basketball team bringing it in before tip-off, further underlining the summer camp quality of the evening.
There are few bands that sound as whole as Into It. Over It. live, and I choose that word specifically — the weight and density of the band’s music is palpable; as I’ve noted before, Weiss’ songs take on mass in the live setting, making their nimble rhythms even more surprising. Even the svelte, airy songs from 2013’s great Intersections become heavyweights on stage. Simply put, the band sounded incredible. Bassist Tim Mortensen (co-founder of Sound Supply) and drummer Josh Sparks have an especially tough assignment handling the many small moving parts that make up Into It. Over It.’s interweaving aesthetic. Indeed, it’s yeoman’s work keeping the knotting cycles of “Spinning Thread” running – at times one finds themselves simply wondering at the learning curve for these songs. Eventually the set would end and Weiss would make his way to the merch table to talk to fans (the quickness with which the singer-songwriter did this underlines the ways in which it is an ethos – a standard to which Weiss seems to hold himself) and the Met would slowly empty, small bunches of the audience standing around the Hope Village greenspace, others walking back to parking spots, some straggling behind, others moving forward. Like the last day of a summer vacation.