There’s something really beautiful that happens at great shows: You forget your exhaustion, your sore muscles and your aching feet stuffed into heels. There was no better show to take me away from myself than Little Green Cars at the State Room with local opener Bullets & Belles.
To be honest, I was barely up for a show last night. Between working my
day job and the very intense show I’d seen Thursday night, I could’ve
have just as easily spent the evening in sweats watching Battlestar Galactica. Luckily, I got it together enough to go to a great show with two fabulous up-and-coming acts.
First, I’ll say a word about the State Room. It was my first time at the converted children's theater, but by the time the headlining act appeared it had already become my favorite venue in Salt Lake City. The staff was friendly; the sound fantastic and the combination of church pews and dance floor is accommodating to both the more and less energetic concert-goer. I know I’m probably late on the State Room love, but if you’re over 21 and even more behind the times than I am, watch the State Room calendar for shows that interest you. It’s a great little venue, and those are hardly a dime-a-dozen in this city.
It’s a good thing that the sound guys know their stuff, too. Both Bullets & Belles are driven by complex vocal harmonies. A muddy sound mix would have completely destroyed the effect, doing an injustice to both bands and making me a very, very sad reviewer.
But, bullet dodged! (My deepest apologies, but that’s too good a segue to pass up). The night’s opener, local three-piece Bullets & Belles, played an impressive set, with help from a drummer and bassist whose names, unfortunately, I never learned. By the second song, the audience was clapping and snapping along with vocalists Erin Haley and Noel Sandberg, while guitarist and vocalist Ryan Cron led the way through the first few folky tunes.
(Disclaimer time! I went to high school with Cron, but I really don’t think it’s a big deal. If his band were awful, I solemnly swear that I would tell you so. Luckily, they’re pretty great, and if you don’t believe me you can go ask CW's Austen Diamond and he’ll tell you the same thing.)
Bullets & Belles bill themselves as “contemporary folk doo-wop.” While that’s not inaccurate per se, it also doesn’t quite capture the strange and lovely hybrid that is Bullets & Belles. My notes from the show are peppered with my attempts to put a finger on exactly what that extra element is, but I couldn’t quite get it. Suffice it to say, the band has range. Sometimes the folk slides into country, sometimes the doo-wop gets a little more rock & roll-y, especially when the acoustic guitar and stand-up bass get traded in for electrics. Whatever they do, it’s all good. Haley and Sandberg both have great voices, but they’re distinct enough from one another to create an interesting sound. Each one of the three vocalists takes the lead on a song or two, lending the set a nice diversity. By the end of the opening set, the dance floor had gone from nearly empty to nearly full. Personal-favorite songs included “Against the Walls,” “Curried Rice” and “Monday Morning Prayer.”
Whoever booked this concert showed great instincts by putting Bullets & Belles and Little Green Cars on the same ticket. Again, both bands distinguish themselves with incredibly complex vocal harmonies. Both bands are heavily influenced by contemporary indie rock and folk, and both feature female vocalists with spectacular ranges. Little Green Cars, featuring six young ‘uns from Dublin, Ireland, feels more solidly rooted in folk music, especially on songs like the quasi-murder ballad “My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me.”
I mention the band’s youth for a couple of reasons: First, none of them were actually old enough to attend the show they were playing, which always strikes me as ridiculous. Second, and more importantly, the band doesn’t feel young. Their vocals (especially those of the female vocalist, Faye O’Rourke) and lyrics show off a maturity I wouldn’t have imagined possible from such a youthful group. “Kitchen Floor” and “Goodbye Blue Monday” have a heartbreaking poignancy and depth to their lyrics.
Little Green Cars also have an indie-rock heritage that’s impossible to ignore. The largeness of the sound—check out “Please” for an example of this—and deep-sounding percussion reminded me of Arcade Fire, even before I discovered the two bands share a producer. Little Green Cars have three guitarists -- two electric and one acoustic -- in addition to their bassist, pianist and drummer. The distinctions in the voicing of the instruments helps to fill out their sound, even when O’Rourke isn’t doing terribly complicated guitar work. Most of the fancy fingerpicking stuff is left to front man Steve Appleby, who also led the band’s haunting, choral-like a cappella opening songs and took care of most of the banter, even taking time to read us a Seussian rhyming poem about the highs and lows of touring (highs include their first game of beer pong and playing Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; lows include getting lost and being underage in U.S.). Appleby is funny and jovial, like your best friend’s hilarious younger brother, someone you would genuinely like to buy a beer for if it were legal.
Little Green Cars are young and have their whole careers ahead of them, which is exciting and refreshing. Bullets & Belles, while not quite as young, are also on a trajectory to do great things with their music. As the latter are local, I’ll be keeping my eye on their website for upcoming shows. And as for Little Green Cars? I’d expect at least another album and North American tour from them in the next few years. Let’s hope they keep working as hard as they have been and that they grace Salt Lake City with another show, and soon.