Tucson's Dead Western Plains create a beautiful wall of sound where melodies tap into exhilaration and melancholy in equal measure. The droning guitars, intricate keyboard work and borderline-tribal drums are the ingredients behind their well-crafted, soaring, psychedelic pop songs.
The chaotic, colorful video display overlapped their white outfits, complementing their sound. Singer and keyboardist Johnnie Munger claimed this was the "last time they'll play this set," because the band has plans to write a whole new set for the fall. This is something that should excite music nerds all over town.
Though I hadn't heard of them before, Chicago's Scattered Trees turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises to hit a stage this year in Tucson. This five-piece outfit was a terrific follow-up for Dead Western Plains. Right out of the gate, they vaguely reminded me of the best elements of early U2. They delivered catchy, powerful, repetitive choruses with mesmerizing harmonies in two, three and four parts, depending on the song. Each song was complex; they've mastered how to keep a song interesting with unexpected twists, while not alienating the listener, and struck an excellent balance between tension and release. Especially captivating was Baron Harper on drums, forceful and tight-wristed when needed, yet loose and forgiving when necessary. A highlight was "Love and Leave," from their new release Sympathy, which sounded reminiscent of "Where Is My Mind?" by the Pixies.
Asobi Seksu's opening number had a commanding beat, but—through no fault of their own—the vocal mix was way off. Singer Yuki Chikudate has a powerful delivery that defines Asobi Seksu's recorded sound, and it was buried beneath layers of fuzzed guitar that were overpowering. In fact, the guitars were so loud that many fans headed out to the patio, or into the lobby.
The four-piece were clearly playing their hearts out, and it was extremely disappointing that the sound was so subpar. I headed for cover myself after their second song, "Strawberries"—my favorite track from their 2006 release Citrus—proved no different in the mix department. I hope they come back soon for a redo, because they are usually a thing to behold in a live setting.