Live Review

Cymbals Eat Guitars, Webster Hall, NY

If the band had played a full set with the grace of these last two songs, churches would be erected in their name.

There is a certain Americana to Cymbals Eat Guitars. It’s not the that of Johnny Cash or early Bob Dylan, but an Americana that nods to the indie-rock guitar heroes of the great northwest. A there’s-no-chance-in-hell-Pavement-could-have-come-from-Manchester-or-Paris sort of Americana. The tumbling instrumentation, guitar squall, and too wry to be truly anthemic qualities of this Pacific Northwestern idiom can all be found on Cymbals Eat Guitars’ LP ‘Why There Are Mountains’.

As CEG take the stage on Friday, it is expected that this sense of Americana might be translated to their live performance. When the band do step on stage, it is like the misfits from your favorite basement DIY shows have all clambered out of the crowd, and decided they are there to bring a ruckus. They hit the ground at a full sprint and blow through their first songs with energy worthy of punk shows from Staten Island to Catalina, CA.

Unfortunately, this energy has a tendency to subvert some of the best qualities of CEG. On record, CEG are a wonderful tangle of guitar, synthesizer, drums, and bass, with melodies erupting from rhythms and crumbling over the interplay of instruments. Live, the band sprint through the first half of their set with their volume levels as high as it could go, losing some of the textures they are so good at creating. Even Joseph D’Agostino, guitarist and lead vocalist, stretches his perfect Jeremy Enigk yelp (Sunny Day Real Estate, solo artist) to overly enthusiastic heights. Yet, this does not detract from his obvious devotion to the guitar. The kid can play. The band’s energy is engaging, but it is at their loudest the tunes are the muddiest.

The band could have taken a hint from their own ‘Tunguska’, the second to the last song of their set, and truly embraced the nuance in their own songwriting. In this western-tinged epic, and the sublime ‘Wind Phoenix’ that closes the set, CEG manage to really play to the dynamic changes and melodic shifts that are their strengths, layering instrumentation and relaxing the vocals. If the band had played a full set with the grace of these last two songs, churches would be erected in their name, and innumerable road trips planned to Russia and the Tunguska River.

Like a fine wine, CEG’s set improved with age, a quality we’re sure will develop in the band’s live set as they continue to play before a growing number of fans.

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