Located along Jos. Campau the Belmont is a long-standing bar that’s much beloved by locals and out of towners alike. It also frequently hosts live music, with a pretty decent small stage complete with room for supposedly 200 people (though only about 20 have a good view of the band).
We came to this show primarily to check out Dryvel, a band we profiled two years ago. For the evening the lineup was the same as before — Matt Marriott on drums, Robert Grupido on guitar, and Nick Coccia on bass guitar. Actually this might have been one of the last times to see this lineup in action — as Nick is departing from the band. Dryvel is currently searching for a new bass guitarist to replace Nick.
So what has become of Dryvel over the last two years? Well, for one thing they’ve definitely tightened up their sound. Sporting tracks off their new self-recorded full-length release He Walks Alone, the band showed a clear maturation. From breaks in instrumentals, to chanting choruses, Dryvel’s songs are now much more structured and enjoyable.
Last time we saw Dryvel in action, we mentioned that the vocals were a rough patch. The vocalists have remained the same — Nick and Robert — but we feel both vocalists actually improved significantly, we’d say — which makes Nick’s departure a bit more unfortunate.
The band’s sound is comparable to a green Rise Against or Taking Back Sunday. Depending on what label you want to (ab)use the band falls roughly under the post-punk/hardcore/pop-punk umbrella. With songs like The Fall, Half Past Midnight, and The Train That Stopped my Ambulance, Dryvel had the whole crowd singing along. Perhaps not surprising, considering The Fall recently began to see radio play on 89X and WXOU.
The set was everything this kind of act should be — energetic, fun, and fast-paced. The band played pretty much their whole album in the time it’d take to get a few songs in at some shows.
And as a special treat they showed off their multi-instrumental skills with Bob taking up the Drums, Matt the bass, and Nick the guitar to play Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”. Guest vocals were by a Andrew May of the local outfit Six Months Gone [Myspace Music]. Surprisingly the cover sounded a lot like the original, which is pretty impressive given that everyone was switching things up. May sounded pretty much exactly like Rage’s Zack de la Rocha, which makes us definitely want to see Six Months… to see what he normally sounds like.
We always try to give bands some constructive criticism to keep these concert reviews from being too one sided. When it comes to Dryvel we feel that the band would really, really benefit from focusing on writing one or two catchier songs — perhaps a bit more hook-y or poppy, so to speak. The band has tons of solid filler material, good stage presence, but it needs a hit to pull in out of towners and gain more attention.
The songs on the new album represent a great improvement over the band’s past material, but it still needs to advance more and come up with the kind of infectious track that can serve as a borderless musical introduction. Writing a hit is a hard task for any band, but we feel that Dryvel has the experience to try to get it done.
Our only other commentary is that the band would definitely benefit from label representation — even from a small label. Most of the people at the show were their to specifically see one of the bands — Dryvel, The Finer Things, or the headliner Again & Again. The Dryvel folks are quite popular, so they had quite a few people coming specifically to see them. But the unfortunate thing, in my mind, is that more everyday joe schmoes hadn’t heard about the show and come wandering in. That’s the kind of thing labels can greatly aid in.
You have to also consider that Dryvel’s new album sounds pretty amazing considering it was self recorded (and we hope to have a full review soon), but it’s hard to craft the kind of hit the band needs on your own. Labels aren’t always fun, but lets face it, they’re there for a reason — and part of that reason is taking the headache out of music. Once Dryvel lands its new bassist, they should definitely look around to see whether any of the local labels are a good fit — as a means of promoting their work, if nothing else.
Following Dryvel’s performance Ann Arbor natives The Finer Things took the stage. Much like Dryvel they commanded a very partisan audience.
Humorously the Dryvel crowd largely departed to the bar area, or out of the venue entirely, and were transplanted by a legion of Pabst-wielding Ann Arbor locals who had driven to see the next group. There were very few Dryvel fans who stuck around for The Finer Things or very few fans of The Finer Things who came early to see Dryvel, depending on how you looked at it. That’s kind of unfortunate!
Regardless, we waited patiently for the new act, nervously eyeing our Pabst toting neighbors, who also all happened to be wearing The Finer Things’ emblematic Michigan shirts. Seeing a big crowd dressed in a local band’s shirts isn’t something you see every day. If those people were all fired up enough to buy their shirts the band must be pretty good, we figured.
The Finer Things proved a pleasant surprise and definitely surpassed our modest expectations. The band falls roughly into the “art pop”/”piano pop” genres.
Keyboardist and lead vocalist Dave Hawkins has a knack for layering catchy synth/piano riffs over fast paced vocals which bring Hellogoodbye to mind. He might also have a bit of Dylan in him, what with his slight frame, head of curly hair, and penchant for those rambling fast paced melodic tunes.
The guitarist Joe Shaheen, by contrast had quite a different style, playing a sort of classic rock revival guitar. His licks were refined and smooth, showcasing a great deal of classically trained talent. His knack for improvisation had us convinced that he could probably out classic-rock the average classic-rock guitarist from the day.
The final member of the band, Joel Cieslak manned the drums and sort of tied these two disparate parts together. The drumming really provided a solid backing for everything the band did.
The Finer Things appears to have just formed earlier this year, but already they’re a lot farther along than many bands who’ve been around for much longer. They’ve written a number of songs and are a producing a unique sound. The band’s biggest strengths appear to be their strong instrumental skills, their lyricism, and their sense of humor. They even showed they could blend 3 or 4 of Lady Gaga’s biggest hits into a single sing-along.
The band still has some things to work on though (in our opinions). While at times Hawkins and Shaheen’s styles meld into blasting indie-retro beauty, at other times they sort of clash like a cool winter scarf and a hot summer day.
The other thing this relatively young band could improve upon is isolating various instruments and instruments from vocals. Most of the songs were very listenable and quite enjoyable, but most consisted of furious guitar over furious vocals. Certainly that’s a style, but with Shaheen’s awesome guitar, Cieslak’s structured drumming, and Hawkins vocal talent the band might be better served by at least occasionally showing off these talents separately rather than piling them on top of each other.
We told Hawkins that his band may be pretty fresh on the scene, but they’re the best thing out of Ann Arbor we’ve heard since Tally Hall. We absolutely mean that. If the band plays its cards right, though, they could potentially be much bigger than Tally Hall as they have a very unique sound, are clearly very proficient instrumentally, and seem creative.
Our skepticism of The Finer Things was quickly transmogrified into respect. After seeing the band rock it out we started feeling like sooner or later you might see us sporting those uniformesque tees. They definitely made believers of us and we look forward to seeing them more in the future as they continue to grow and evolve.
We didn’t get a chance to catch Washington-state rockers Again&Again [Myspace Music], but between Dryvel and The Finer Things we definitely obtained our local rock fix for the evening.
And we’d like to send a message to those who didn’t attend. Go see new local MUSIC! It seems like that’s a message not enough people are getting these days. Maybe it’s because of lack of promotion (as we discussed with Dryvel), but c’mon folks, there is good music out there. Good music like this. Don’t just go see bands from your hometown. Take a chance on a new band like these two.
Updates 1: Added the identity of our mystery vocalists and links to said bands’ Myspace pages for your listening pleasure.
Update 2: Something awful happened during the process of editing this article, so if you saw it get cut off and were all confused, rest assured we now have the situation under control — we think.