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The Water Turn on the Floodlights

January 23, 2009

The Water | Image by City Paper Digi-Cam

Sometimes you can tell a band is going to be awesome just by watching it set up its gear. At the Ottobar on Wednesday night, a local band called the Water instantly piqued interest with the mountain of equipment it squeezed onstage, including a couple of large, ornate lighting rigs. And it was going to be just two members operating all of the cool shit arranged between them. Despite the nondescript name, the Water was clearly going to be an interesting band.

Like many other bands that get a big, layered sound out of a deceptively small number of musicians, the Water relied heavily on pedals to record one part of a song as a loop, and then play over it. The set’s first song established the band’s working method: the guy in the knit cap on the left looped up a twinkling synth pattern, and the bearded guy on the right played a guitar riff over it. Once those elements were in place, the guy on the left switched to guitar, and the guy on the right switched to drums, and they used the initial loops as a bedrock for a grand, whooshing rush of sound that rose and fell. One of the arrays of lights onstage was rigged to change color in time with the kick drum, and would scroll through four shades in sync with the rhythm of each song. During certain songs, however, a bright white light would appear when the song reached its loudest section, which was something of a cheap trick, but was also worked really, really well.

Of course, building layers to crescendos and then decrescendos is pretty much the universal language of all instrumental indie bands. But the elegant simplicity of the Water’s song structures was belied by the fact that it had some pretty damn good ideas. Each of the five or six songs it played had its own distinct melodic and rhythmic motif that would be worked with subtle variations for several minutes. And the drummer was simply a powerhouse, using a spare set with just a snare, kick, floor tom, hi-hat, and ride cymbal to maximum effect, and finding unique ways to transition from soft to loud and back each time.

The Water, good as it was, however, was sandwiched in the middle of two funk bands, which made for one an incongruous local bill. The first, Stugottz (formerly Stewbone), was a laid back quartet of hippie looking guys, playing some relaxed, groove-driven rock with spacey guitar leads. And the show ended with a set by the NerfTones, an extremely tight and slick traditional ’70s-style funk band. While it was fun to watch the NerfTones’ horn section blow solos over slap bass for a few songs, it was a somewhat strange and anticlimactic way to follow the Water’s noisy art rock.

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