Fort Greene

‘Reconfiguration: An evening with other lives’ at BAM

October 13, 2015 By Benjamin Preston Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Other Lives, an indie rock group from Portland, Oregon, played at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House this past Friday. Photo by Emily Ulmer, courtesy of BAM
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Judging by the crowd pouring in, one could well imagine the smell of marijuana filling the entry hall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House Friday night just before Other Lives, an indie rock group from Portland, Oregon, took the stage. A ticket usher screwed his eyes suspiciously as he regarded my long hair and unshaven face.

“Wasn’t me, man, I just got here,” I said as I rushed in to take my seat.

From the start, it seemed clear that Other Lives’ show was probably made for — if not by — stoners. Cross-hatched light displays, looping animations of a boy falling, a boy riding a horse, a boy in the fetal position, a scowling young man in ’70s disco pimp garb behind the wheel of a ’60s sedan and other boy-themed images served as a dynamic backdrop for the band’s songs. They seemed to be building toward something — an overarching message or depiction of time passing — but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it would have been clearer if I’d taken a toke in the bathroom before the show. 

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Overall, Other Lives had a soothing, well-coordinated sound, if at times a bit heavy on the ringing sound (more on that later). There was a lot going on. Backgrounds changed from stars to ocean storm to desert to fire to dark road at night and back. Individual band members switched instruments often. On a few songs, Jonathan Mooney played both trumpet and keyboard simultaneously. For the most part, these feats of musical derring-do worked, creating a layered sound that sounded in harmony not unlike the concurrent ringing of many metal chimes.

Occasionally, one bandsman would strike a few notes alone, sending off the starting threads for another tapestry of sound. Frontman Jesse Tabish played some beautiful surf rock guitar riffs in this manner, and Josh Onstott’s bass took the sonic spotlight for a few moments, too. Mooney blew a few notes on his trumpet sans accompaniment at the beginning of one of their songs, but, fortunately for him, the band joined in quickly. The scratchy tones left an impression that by doing too much, Other Lives may have been getting less traction than they might have if they streamlined tasks a bit. As it was, my mind’s eye pictured one of those old world street performers who is a self-contained and often discordant symphony of drum, harmonica and accordion. It takes a real master to pull off something so complex. The jack of all trades/master of none isn’t really equipped to handle such complexity with grace.

Tabish carried his vocals without much embellishment, delivering a clear, if melancholy sound that seemed in keeping with the struggling boy images flashing behind the band. His stage manner was entertaining, and I got the impression — based on the way he squeezed his thighs together and bent his knees from time to time —that he had watched a lot of Led Zeppelin concert videos and absorbed some of Robert Plant’s stage persona. His voice was more Thom Yorke than Plant, though.

With the exception of a couple of songs — the Arabesque number that featured Tabish’s surf guitar and another, even catchier bass-driven tune — Other Lives’ songs tended to run together in a flat, mournful arc. A glance around at the audience revealed a variety of expressions, common among them brows knit in contemplative frowns with chins cradled in thumb and forefinger. A handful bobbed their heads, and more walked away mid-show. But perhaps they were headed to the bathroom to light up. We’ll never know.

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