Real Live Action

The Passenger

with Cloudland Canyon, Nam Shub, and High School Heroin Addicts
October 14th @ The Cobalt

Real Live Review by Fraser Dobbs

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so few heads turn out on Thanksgiving Monday to the Cobalt. Still, it was disappointing that not more orphans turned out to see touring act Cloudland Canyon supported by a chill collection of local bands.

“I hope you like count-ins because our drummer loves them,” giggled High School Heroin Addicts guitarist Pete Moss before hitting the play button on his iDevice. The charm inherent in a pair of musicians making slick lo-fi sad pop to a drum machine living on a phone is an easy tale to tell: a mix of minimalist Flaming Lips and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Moss had his own name stenciled on the side of his guitar, and his synth bandmate “Savage” Sam spent most of the time staring down into his keyboard. Songs were quiet, catchy, and simple, but the best part was the duo flailing knobs and making noise to wash their set away.

Nam Shub’s music probably doesn’t make complete sense to anyone who isn’t a member of Nam Shub. There’s a little something of everything in the quasi-jam, quasi-structured quartet: drone fills, psychedelic rumbling and prepared guitar segues, and post-rock-ish crescendos. A band that is definitely best experienced repeatedly in different live contexts, their set was a joyous jam session accented by a tight like-mindedness and mutual musical understanding. Admittedly, the group took their time warming into each other, but managing to find and then ride a peak of awesome riffs for 10 minutes was an excellent feat. Especially so, considering the sound guy had no idea how to balance what was going on onstage.

The touring partners of Cloudland Canyon aren’t really afraid to wear their influence, singular, on their sleeves. If you like kraut, and you like synths, there’s a ton of room for you to enjoy the duo’s contemporary take on the sounds of 1960s Germany’s rotund experimentation with electronica. The San Francisco natives, who’ve released records on Kranky Records and Not Not Fun Records, among others, cranked out a solid set of undulating synthetic voices and a surprisingly heavy drum machine kick, but their lack of dramaticism on-stage made their performance seem more one-dimensional than it ought to have been. Even though Kip & Kelly Uhlhorn were perched over monster synths and analog drum machines, it felt eerily similar to a DJ hunched over a laptop.

The Passenger is such a pleasure to catch live because you never know what artist Jesse Creed is going to whip out. It’s a moniker that has, at times, been the platform for dancey techo sets and, at others, a seriously spaced-out drone bed. On this night, Creed went the quiet route, building his characteristic warm chirps on top of layers of bass-heavy, beatless waters. That Creed is a synth nerd is apparent (even to a non-synth nerd), but his kineticism is what keeps the Passenger interesting — whether Creed was moving back and forth between his various apparatus, changing a patch, or checking the connections on the back of something, his constant attentiveness paints a wonderful overlay to his live performances.