Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Concert Preview: Tobin Sprout in Pittsburgh, the Girlie Show

Friday, April 21
Brillobox, 4104 Penn Avenue, Garfield
8 p.m. $14

With so much happening this week, I have a lot I'd like to talk about. So I'm previewing some shows here.

I've used this comparison before, but it bears repeating due to the universal quality of it. A certain level of energy can be felt in a band that is hitting upon something. It could be a new song, it could be the right combination of people locking in with one another for the first time or it could be the feeling a group gets when it realizes that an audience is reacting positively to the music, when they initially thought no one was listening. The music might not be "perfect," whatever that means, but the feeling the band puts forth more than makes up for it.

This is the reason Skip Spence's Oar can sound so liberating. Fresh out of Bellevue, with no producers or bandmates leaning on him, Spence was free to create whatever he felt. It's the way a band feels in the practice space, on numerous occasions. Everyone is setting up and the first person to get behind the kit, or turn on the amp, hits on a riff. Slowly everyone picks up on it and it builds. It could be something pedestrian as the riff to "Gloria" or it could be "Little Johnny Jewel." Maybe half the people in the room don't even know the source material. Whatever it is, it belongs to them, if just for a couple minutes.

This same version of enthusiasm, this sonic je nais se quoi, bursts from the speakers in the opening seconds of Tobin Sprout's first solo album in seven years, and the first since he left Guided By Voices after the reunion of "classic lineup." "Future Boy Today/Man of Tomorrow" doesn't even begin neatly, since a second or two of guitar intro gets cut off. And it almost falls apart as it surges towards a coda, with lagging drums. But with a four-power-chord riff like this one, it doesn't really matter because it feels great.

Sprout, who now lives in Michigan, still utilizes the same lo-fi technique that he used on GBV records (the opening song was supposed to be a GBV song). Guitars overmodulate in some places, while others sound like they were recorded down a hallway, several feet from the microphone. That particular effect makes "I Fall You Fall" and "Tomorrow From Heaven" especially dreamy.

And then there's the piano, which factors into many of The Universe and Me's songs. The recording quality and use of reverb makes it sound like John Lennon's "Imagine" piano deep in the bathtub. Not only does this add to the hazy, dreamy quality of the music, it draws out the wistfulness of the lyrics. In "When I Was a Boy," Sprout tables his more surreal imagery for some honest reflection that dang near comes close to '70s mellow rock. Does that comparison make you uncomfortable? Don't worry, you'll like this. The man has moved into his sixth decade so he has every right to look back as he rocks ahead.

More than one writer has opined that Sprout was often George Harrison to Robert Pollard's Lennon and McCartney in Guided by Voices. His tracks were often an interlude between Bob's massive output, a nice riposte that made you yearn for more. In addition to the opening track, any number of these could have fit on a GBV album. But 14 of them in a row proves that, after all this time, Sprout can still hold his own. Hearing them live can only make them better.

PS In addition to Tobin Sprout's show, just down the hill and around the corner, Hambone's is hosting The Girlie Show: Olde Guarde, with Jenny Morgan, Joanna Lowe, Liss Victory and Sarah Halter. Morgan (who plays Americana) and Lowe (spoken word) founded the Girlie Show four years ago. Victory (of Victory at the Crossroads, playing solo acoustic tonight) and Halter (acoustic prog, also in the heavy Blue Clutch) are newcomers/heirs apparent.

This shindig starts at 9 p.m, with a $5 cover. Hambone's is located at 4207 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.

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