There is a kind of bohemian romance to Solar Culture, with trains passing directly behind the stage and innumerable doorways that lead who-knows-where.
But the space had an overall feeling of abandonment on Friday night, which may have been aesthetically fitting, considering the loneliness that suffuses The Music Tapes' latest, Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes. When the band finally took the stage around midnight, the crowd had swelled to roughly 25.
Opening act Brian Dewan was bizarre and arguably charming. He's a portly, middle-age man with the look of a banker whose one act of rebellion is a kitschy, loud tie. Dewan sings in robust histrionics about everything from cadavers to the story of Rumpelstiltskin. He's got that David Lynchian quality: He's so macabre because of his unassuming plainness.
The highlight of the night was the middle performance by Athens, Ga., outfit Nana Grizol, a pop-circus roadshow consisting of two drum kits, bass, clarinet, euphonium, trumpet and keyboards, all organized around vocalist/guitarist Theo Hilton. They played a couple of quieter songs that showcased Hilton's plaintive vocals, but mostly, they rocked. Band members often giggled and made faces, with Hilton asking them, "Are you ready for another song?" and everyone shouting, "Yeah!!" The songwriting is strong and catchy--I highly recommend their Love It Love It.
The energy flagged somewhat by the time Julian Koster arrived. He opened his set, just himself and his banjo, with "Manifest Destiny." Most of Nana Grizol joined him afterward to become The Music Tapes (with Hilton on drums), but their sound here was much more cacophonous. The Tapes have a raw edge live, and it was fun to watch them as a full, blazing unit, though their insistence on gimmickry and weirdness was tedious at times (like Koster's solo interlude of him shouting, "Death to the thing that you've become!" while bouncing a kickball on a snare drum for several minutes). Some of the gimmicks worked: A singing television that Koster introduced as "the true lead singer of the band" was just weird and fun enough, but the giant metronome, while fine as pure spectacle, didn't add anything to the music.
It was a long, lonely night, but the cheer and bravado of the performers made it worthwhile.