There aren’t a lot of indie hard rock bands floating around, so encountering one will almost certainly be a rare experience. And, there are far fewer fronted by a pixie-ish blonde with a Ph.D in Philosophy. If it weren’t for Austin’s Ume, in fact, probability would favor an empty [data] set within those parameters.
On this evening Lauren Larson, her bassist husband, Eric Larson, and drummer Rachel Fuhrer are at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. to open up for Wild Nothing. It’s a bit of an incongruous matchup, a band that puts the power in power trio opening for one with a synthpop revival aesthetic. The Saturday night crowd arrived in time for the opener, having clearly undertaken their own pre-game activities, and are ready to rock. What this particular crowd may not have been ready for, though, was the ferocity of rock destined to aurally stone them.
The band’s setup is like that of The Joy Formidable — perhaps their closest analogue — with bass on the left, guitar / frontwoman front and center, and drum kit off to the right and with less depression than usual in rock show staging. From the first chord, Lauren Larson is completely kinetic. Her hair whips about like a cat o’ nine(-thousand) tails, and she’s alternately fierce and coy. Immediately, her capabilities bring about a bit of awe: how does one sing lead vocals while playing lead guitar? Doing both simultaneously, not to mention doing so while jumping around (SEE THE PHOTOS BELOW) is just some sort of freakish Bach-ian point and counterpoint ability that few possess. And that’s before she goes all Ian MacKaye on stage.
She does this with Fugazi-like guitar riffs that jump up and down and up again on the scale. She then partners with Rachel Fuhrer’s drumming and does it with elements of prog before doing it in the punk stylings of Red Five and The Distillers. Other moments have 70s stoner hard rock vibes. There’s a moment when I’m envisioning Janis Joplin fronting Tool? What? Yes…that, too.
It’s controlled cacophony, definitely unique in this age of the keyboard-driven synthpop soon to be heard on this very stage. It’s absolutely memorable, a bit bracing, and a whole lot of awesome. This tag of Next Big Band doesn’t fit, though, because what they’re doing is too intellectual for the masses. It isn’t as melodious as The Joy Formidable, as consistently dissonant as Sonic Youth, or as riff-driven as the average 70s rock band. There are so many references, in fact, that it’s an almost academic exposition of their extensive musical education. Which, delights the hard core music nerds and leaves some of the less informed (the 20-something prepsters here to see Wild Nothing) a bit puzzled.
No one can doubt Ume’s primal energy, though, or the intriguing contrast inherent within a frontwoman who could easily be envisioned at an elegant party, rocking a black cocktail dress and a discussion about the finer points of Kant‘s categorical imperative. But, one must envision that cocktail party discussion while contemplating an unworldly amount of centrifugal force on the ends of her hair, its defiance of gravity worthy of NASA’s attention.
By the end of the show, one imperative is categorically clear: If you like rock and roll, you must see Ume perform.
Photos: Katherine Gaines