Real Live Action

Blackout Beach

with The Ruffled Feathers, Fine Mist, and Alicia Tobin. December 8 @ The Anza Club.

by Fraser Dobbs

Blackout Beach- Deserter’s Song

I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of Megaphone‘s third annual Night of Joyful Voices—a mixed line-up of music and comedy whose purpose was to recognize the work of the publication’s vendor program—but I wasn’t about to miss out on Blackout Beach, so I bundled up tight on a crisp December evening and headed down to the Anza Club to take it all in.

When Alicia Tobin first took the stage, no one really knew how to react. It was still early in the evening, but it took three or four minutes for it to sink in – “oh, this is a comedy routine!” Tobin delivered plenty of holiday-related wisecracks but she was funniest when digging into the crowd, singling out those closest to the stage for some mud-slinging.

I’d heard a great deal about the Ruffled Feathers from a friend of mine who described them as “dance music,” so I was pleasantly surprised when a quintet walked on stage behind nearly twice as many instruments—among them a ukelele, a mandolin, and a trumpet—and went wild playing extremely cute but nonetheless evocative music. You could get away with calling the Ruffled Feathers chamber pop if you really wanted to, but to do so would discredit how well thought-out their set turned out to be. Those in the crowd not dancing were observed to be tapping their feet and transfixed on the youthful musicians, who blended Broken Social Scene and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros into something warm and magical.

After the Ruffled Feathers I was in a good mood to have my expectations blown away, so I was prepared to give Fine Mist the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, armed with nothing but a keyboard, a drum machine and two space-echo-drenched microphones, the duo took that benefit and drove it into the ground. Between their tired synthetic dance beats and uninspired vocal pair-offs, they just didn’t look interested doing what they were doing. Megan McDonald has a great voice and on a few tracks she was a pleasure to listen to, but for the most part Fine Mist lacked soul, spirit, and prowess.

Blackout Beach blew me away with their ferocious, unholy energy. I make coffee for frontman Carey Mercer: he comes into my café a few times a week, usually with his young son. He is quiet, friendly and patient, and to see this contrasted with the musician’s on-stage persona, not to mention the epic lyrics of the recent Fuck Death LP, was a staggering and patently invigorating process. Each new song drew Mercer further and further away from the realm of normal human beings. Like a bard being burnt at the stake for heresy, Mercer is all high poetry and strangled shrieking, and to see his tunes backed by a group of sane musicians made for an interesting juxtaposition.

Blackout Beach were a much different experience live than I was expecting, with a fairly traditional guitar/bass/synth/drum lineup standing in for the experimental waves of monophonic synthesizers that Fuck Death toys with, but the instrumental differences didn’t hinder the band from playing intense, literary songs about cowardice and war like “Beautiful Burning Desire” and “Be Forewarned, The Night Has Come”. Observing Mercer rip into his 12-string Stratocaster like it was the spirit of hate and vengeance was a sight to see.