Frequent comparisons to Arcade Fire and The Mamas and the Papas seem apt, but Bodies of Water must get sick of being compared to Polyphonic Spree.
True, the Los Angeles quartet's palpable energy and--especially--their orchestral, often nonverbal vocals invite the comparison. But unlike that Texas mega-troupe, Bodies of Water don't rely on irony or camp to hook a skeptical listener. Their music is also darker, more of this world.
It's not religious in any recognizable way, despite repeated props to gospel quartets as the band's inspiration. In fact, you'll listen in vain for even a hint of a gospel sound. Intriguingly, David and Meredith Metcalf--the Mennonite duo that formed the band--focus on what David refers to as "corporeal imagery in Christianity." Hands, fingers, blood and other physical aspects of humanity surface in reassuring ways throughout his lyrics, linking their message viscerally to the listener.
The best example in Saturday night's set was the rousing closer, "These Are the Eyes," from the band's recent release, Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink. It had the character of an aerobic workout, but the music didn't miss a step, even though the arrangement was among the most complex in a set full of mind-boggling intricacies, from the Doobie Brothers-like sunny nature of the proggy instrumental opener, through occasional, tempo-shifting hard rock breaks and Brazilian-influenced guitar riffs.
Even broader eclecticism distinguishes Phoenicians What Laura Says Thinks and Feels. Their set was a fireworks display of ideas; blink, and you'd miss something really cool. Impossible to categorize, the band wafted essences of Hall and Oates, Rudy Vallée, Faith No More, the Yardbirds, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and an Eastern European ethnic band--all yanked into the 21st century with a unique, postmodern twist and fixed, like decorative pieces of a mosaic, in the band's own matrix of indie rock, prog rock and blues.
First opener B4skin's over-the-top performance-art set featured a singer of punk-minimalist lyrics (often pointedly offensive) and a guitarist with heaps of effects and pre-recorded tracks. Live! Nude! Girls! danced within scrim boxes, like the costumed musicians' alter egos. The project, alas, seems to lack a point beyond, maybe, general decadence--but in context, it balanced the redemption of Bodies of Water.