Tuesday, December 14
For a local band, the album release show is the night when the rock-fun ledger>"/>
Tomten Tuesday, December 14 Chop Suey
Tuesday, December 14
For a local band, the album release show is the night when the rock-fun ledger tips over into the black. All the lugging of equipment, all the underwhelming crowds, all those hours in a dingy practice space trying to get the bridge to that one song just right: it's worth it for this show. The room is full of your band's best friends, and you can finally stock your merch table with something more substantial than stickers. It's the kind of thrill that not even a soggy Tuesday night can dampen.
OK, so Tomten has only been playing out regularly in this form since this past May. But on the evidence of their confident performance at the release party for their self-titled debut, they were feeling that hard-won buzz anyway. The crowd gathered under the glowing red eyes of the sequined dragon at Chop Suey was not disappointed.
As soon as frontman Brian Noyes-Watkins stepped up to his Korg synth, it was clear we were in for a skip through the '60s Anglo poppy fields. Not only does he look a little like Ray Davies of the Kinks, his voice has much of Davies' world-weary melancholy, spiked with the arch haughtiness of Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos.
With his Korg set to either swirling faux-Hammond organ or plush faux-Mellotron, Noyes-Watkins led the quartet through just about every color of the psych-pop rainbow. "Robber Barons" bounced with that music-hall jauntiness that Davies did so well. Noyes-Watkins traded his synth for an acoustic guitar on "Ciderhound," a rustic English-folky drinking song. The band's big epic, "All on a Winter's Day," alternated languid verses with big, swirling, swelling choruses, while the high-hat swish of "Civilizing" sent an already hyped crowd into a jerky dance frenzy. Well-considered harmonies from guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi and bassist Lena Simon added color at the right moments. Noyes-Watkins clearly knows his way around a hook, and Belisle-Chi's arrangements make the songs sound bigger than they should from such a basic four-piece.
Tomten even dared play with the fire of covering the Kinks' "Picture Book" without singeing a hair. If Noyes-Watkins ever runs out of song ideas, he's got a future on the tribute circuit.
It's dangerous for any band to wear their influences so prominently on their sleeves, especially when those inspirations have already been so thoroughly picked over. Standing on the shoulders of giants can make a mere mortal look even smaller. But with a supremely catchy, well-paced set that already sounds like a greatest hits collection, Tomten has the songcraft worthy of their chosen tradition.
The other two acts on the bill played concise sets that held the crowd's attention while they waited for the main event. Candysound, a young trio, offered a straightforward set of reg'lar ol' indie rock: a quiet part here, a loud part there, a frantically strummed octave chord every so often. Their songs did what they needed to do, but the band could use a little more personality. Shenandoah Davis' songs evinced enough invention and distinctiveness to recommend them to anyone who enjoys that kind of thing.