LIILA, OF THE PAINTED CHOIR, LADYLIKE, SHUDDER KONG
Saturday, Nov. 30
Shudder Kong is a one-man singer/songwriter who accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. While his passion is unquestionable, his confessionals lacked a dashboard, memorable melodies, interesting songs and penetrable lyrics. The Dashboard Confessional analogy isn't a cheap shot—Shudder Kong completely left rapport with his audience out of his performance, leaving an atmosphere akin to watching a therapy session through a two-way mirror. And that's what made his set so uncomfortable and unengaging.
Ladylike, also from Phoenix, played a solid set of sadly unremarkable '70s bar rock. While their near-perfect facsimile of Aladdin Sane was admirable, a dose of even a fraction of David Bowie's charisma and personality would've greatly improved matters. Having enjoyed Ladylike's recordings, I'd like to assume that this was an off night for the quintet. Their best song was driven by a slinky R&B-via-glam-rock drum beat, with lyrics somehow pertaining to Twitter. Their worst song was an ill-advised cover of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up," which was probably played with more energy by the new-wave cover band down the street, complete with an even more ill-advised "funk" breakdown that hearkened back to Eric Clapton's smoothed out (even by Clapton standards) '80s dinner-party soul. Ladylike was solid, but mostly unexceptional.
But Of the Painted Choir, a Phoenix-based five-piece, was nothing if not exceptional. Frontman Fred Huang is a master producer, and the band's recordings are marvels of technology and prowess. Between the layered productions and Huang's too-good-to-be-true recorded vocals, recreating this stuff live is a tall order. But, as usual, Of the Painted Choir delivered, with Huang's angelic voice going up against slightly rowdier versions of the group's equally beautiful songs. "Lula, My Baby," "A Spanish Mountain" and pretty much every other song they played were the perfect combination of Nancy Sinatra swagger over Ennio Morricone's classic spaghetti Western soundtracks.
The sole Tucsonans on the bill, Liila, closed out the night with hypnotic, waking-dream mantras featuring exceptional guitar playing from Connor Gallaher. As far as junkie-rock goes, Liila's music is euphorically sleepy, based on repetitive rhythms, with ebb-and-flow dynamics providing variation. The trio's grasp of restraint grew looser until the explosive instrumental finale, which blew out pleasure receptors for a stunning 10-plus minutes. It could've been longer.