Show review: Boat, Ramona Falls at the Crocodile

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BOAT is the sort of band that doesn't take itself too seriously. At the Crocodile on Friday, four of the Seattle band's members--two of whom were keyboard players--crowded the front of the stage during their performance. They all sang together, sometimes yelling more than singing. Everything about BOAT felt a little ridiculous, from starting their set with a song about declawing your pets ("We've Been Friends Since 1989") to cracking jokes constantly.

Pavement trademarked this ironic sense of humor (feigning detachment to show everything that's wrong with the music industry) with songs like "Cut Your Hair." But BOAT's songs are closer to 90s indie bands like Cap'n Jazz than to anything Stephen Malkmus wrote. The songs are more cute than clever, and the music is noisy and chaotic with a hint of bouncy pop. The problem with BOAT, though, is that there's just so much noise being made that it's hard to tell where it all comes from. This is more a result of Boat's carelessness than musicianship. If the band members were less concerned with entertaining the audience, they might learn to play off each other instead of drowning each other out.

Seeing Ramona Falls and BOAT perform on the same bill was like watching an exercise in musical seriousness. Brent Knopf, the musician behind Ramona Falls, has no time to joke around. If he's going to recreate during live performances the same sound as Intuit, his debut album, then he's got his work cut out for him.

On stage, he keeps himself busy, alternating between playing keyboard and guitar, working his synthesizer, and coordinating his backing band. Plus, he had more than 30 musicians helping to record the symphonic sound of Intuit, and there's a slim chance--even with all the drum machines and synthesizers in the world--that he could replicate that kind of music live.

Like BOAT, Ramona Falls has its own gimmicks: the band is experimental and the album is a blend of acoustic, electronic, and string compositions. Knopf could have gotten lost in those concepts, trying to perform live what he made on Intuit. He could have had string players on stage and looping tracks playing at every moment.

But he didn't. Instead, he reinterpreted the album, using a traditional band--keyboards, guitar (played by Menomena bandmate Danny Seim), drums and vocals--giving it a warmer sound live. Intuit is a sad-sounding record, full of lyrics about broken hearts and loneliness. But when Knopf performed the songs Friday night, the tone was different. When a drummer played the beats on "I Say Fever" and "Going Once, Going Twice" live, the tempos felt faster and the music was poppier.

Backing band or not, there's no way Knopf could have pulled off those songs live if he weren't taking his performance seriously. He had to think about the how music sounded, prioritizing what components from his recorded albums would translate to a live audience. That's the thing about gimmicks: they might get you some attention right away, but they won't keep people listening for very long.

 
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