Thursday, May 03, 2012
Guest Column By: Beth Mandel
Company of Thieves
Photo credit Scenes from my Lunch Hour
What I am most struck by as I enter Cat’s Cradle is how mixed the crowd is. Eighteen year-olds stand shoulder to shoulder with thirty-plus- somethings, both crowds unironically clad in canvas TOMS. I’m early, as I am perhaps more eager to see the opener, Company of Thieves, than I am to see Grouplove, technically the headliner of this tour. It’s not crowded yet, so I head up to the front and find a good picture-taking perch, a set of tween girls the only obstacle between me and the stage.
Before long a seasoned couple sidles up next to me. The woman, Allison, strikes up a conversation after she catches me taking notes. I observe that I am on the older side of this crowd, at a wizened twenty-eight. With a self-effacing laugh she tells me to hush up – she’s forty! She and her husband Matt, a cancer doctor, have been going to shows since Dave Grohl was still drumming with Nirvana. She went to Dave Matthews Band shows when they only cost a dollar. Though her fit frame belies it, she tells me she has three kids. The middle one is a nine year old whose preferred school outfit is an old world fedora, her Black Keys t-shirt and a tutu. Allison brings home a tee from every concert she attends for each of her kids. Her daughter’s two favorite bands are the Beatles and the White Stripes, and she’s crushed that they’re both broken up. I tell her to tell her daughter she’ll soon lose count of how many of her favorite bands have broken up over the years, and that she should instead feel good about the fact that she’ll undoubtedly be the coolest kid in her freshman dorm.
Before long, Company of Thieves takes the stage and Allison and I are instantly transfixed by the band’s glowing, magnetic centerpiece – Genevieve Schatz. Her band mates probably get tired of hearing this, since they’re all talented in their own right, but when COT is on stage there’s only one place the audience is looking and that’s at Genevieve. And really, what else can you expect from a rock band? What made Ozzy, Bono, or Mick great frontmen? Charisma – a tendency to draw the spotlight. And a solid set of pipes of course.
Genevieve has charisma and pipes in abundance. Her voice is an intriguing dichotomy – at once childlike and questioning and yet still soulful as all hell. When she sings, her whole body becomes involved in the effort. Her bony frame twists with the emotions she’s belting, her chest heaving like it may be ripped apart if she doesn’t excise what’s building up inside her. She is simply dressed, wearing a sheer ivory peasant blouse and skinny jeans that allow us see her serpentine gyrations. She is completely captivating. She pauses between songs only occasionally, like when she tells us the new song she is about to sing depicts our relationship with the environment. As she wails out “Gorgeous/Grotesque” she makes everyone in the room feel the conflict she’s illustrating. If she sang “Oscar Wilde” with slightly more twang and less wail then on Ordinary Riches (their freshman album from 2009), then it seems she was saving her wail for the closing number “Won’t Go Quietly” (from 2011’s “Running from a Gamble”). It was an explosion of feeling that perfectly closed an enthralling set.
After a quick set change, Grouplove took the stage. If COT was all about the lead singer, Grouplove is the exact opposite. Their lineup is democratically horizontal, and they share not only the spotlight, but the harmonies and melodies as well. Everything about this band screams equality, yet they are still permeated by dramatic individuality. Singer and guitarist Christian Zucconi wears a flowered t-shirt that Allison and I agree looks like a Laura Ashley couch, and then laugh about how most of the kids there won’t get the reference. Singer and keyboardist Hannah Hooper is like a slightly less ripened version of Genevieve, equally energetic and delightfully feminine, but lacking that radiating soulfulness. The band seems equally nascent, though their sound is well developed, their lyrics are a bit superficial: “Cruising on the highway with my friends, top down, and we're all on our way to the beach…Hot day, mid-June, naked kids, running wild, and free. It's summer time fun, relax and stay young.” By contrast, COT’s aforementioned “Gorgeous/Grotesque” spins this poetic yarn: “There's nothing more helpless or hopeless than the birds of the city streets, with the dirt on their heavy wings. In the evening, on my way to sleep, I hear them- screaming out into a bitter melody.” Still, it’s easy to see stylistic synergies between the two bands and their joint touring is a clever pairing.
Photo credit Scenes from my Lunch Hour
I leave the club shortly before Grouplove finishes, eager to go home and pen my review. As I turn the corner heading for the parking lot, I catch Company of Thieves scarfing down some pizza outside their tour bus. I stand in awe of Genevieve, even in such a casual environment. Searching for something to say while fully intimidated, I tell Genevieve something I once heard a radio DJ say: “You were like a Mexican jumping bean of energy out there tonight!” I see one of her band mates roll his eyes at this unoriginal pronouncement, but I hope she’ll be kinder. She is. She beckons me to sit next to her, and says between mouthfuls of white pizza (yum!), “Really? I don’t think I jumped enough tonight. I was afraid I’d crash into the drum set!” I agree with her that perhaps it wasn’t that jumpy, but it was certainly not lacking for energy. We chat for another minute, and not wanting to selfishly hog her time, I excuse myself and head out. Only later did I wish I had asked her for an autograph, fan-girl style. I’ll have to settle for enjoying my pictures instead. All in all, a great show.