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“Noise In The Basement” Digs Further Underground

January 9, 2009

Ms. Sara | Image by City Paper Digi-Cam™

Though we’ve seen a pretty wide range of bands at 98 Rock’s “Noise In The Basement” showcase at Fletcher’s over the past few years, there’s an unmistakable tendency for it to feature, well, the kinds of bands that would appeal to 98 Rock listeners. But this past Monday, Ed Neenan of the local power pop band E. Joseph and the Phantom Heart helped assemble a bill with a decidedly more indie slant than usual, dramatically announcing it online as a “protest rather than a rock show,” in an attempt to break the weekly event out of the same old, same old. Early in the evening, the Phantom Heart played a brief set, and it was nice to hear songs from 2008′s All The Medicine In The World . . . without that album’s slick production sheen. Their live sound is still a bit heavier on keyboards than would probably best suit Neenan’s hooky guitar-driven songwriting, but the more energetic rock sound of the closing “Selfish” helped the band leave off on a high note.

The next band, a quartet called FFHH, was the most prototypically indie rock act on the bill, with dense two-guitar interplay and brooding post-punk songwriting. Two members of the band took turns on vocals, and while the guitarist that sang had some strong if unmemorable material, it was the bassist’s deeper voice and more groove driven tunes that made the most of the band’s strengths.

Unfortunately, Monday’s show couldn’t possibly be all good, and the bad finally came with Red This Ever. The quartet looked and sounded like a group of aging goths who latched onto a particular sound in 1991 and have been faithful to it ever since. But it wasn’t so much the band’s commitment to that aesthetic that made its set such a slog, but rather the canned synth loop backing tracks it played along with, as well as the blue haired lead singer’s absolutely terrible lyrics and uncomfortably awkward stage presence.

The final act of the night, however, was far more enjoyable, and much more difficult to categorize. Ms. Sara and the Help was an odd little trio comprised of a female vocalist (presumable Ms. Sara), an acoustic guitarist, and a percussionist playing a minimal stand-up drum set. With a jokey demeanor, Ms. Sara described the topics of the band’s first couple songs as “herpes” and “deep throat,” and at first it felt like she might be relying on some kind of Sarah Silverman-esque schtick, just a pretty girl talking dirty. But her big, soulful voice, contrasted with the band’s scrappy, stripped -down sound, was an intriguing combination, and the songs had serious hooks no matter whether the lyrics were straightforward or gross-out gags.

The band made reference to the fact that it was ordinarily a quartet, and that a drummer flaking out necessitated playing in new acoustic formation. (Its keyboardist played drums Monday.) But the sound suited the group so perfectly that it’s tempting to suggest that it stick with it in the future. Either way, though, it’s hard to imagine a band like Ms. Sara and the Help ever getting played on 98 Rock, and in that sense, E.Joseph’s Trojan horse scheme for the show was an absolute success.

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