(photos by Dusty Segretto)
Coming from the tale end of a national tour in support of their shiny new album, The Ruminant Band, Seattle residents Fruit Bats found their way into Newport, KYâ€™s Southgate House. The tour boasted support by Iran and the lone, acoustic-wielding Kevin Baker. Thankfully, the evening offered quite a bit more than a few slightly famous, extremely talented artistsâ€™ slinging batches of â€œartist integrityâ€ and â€œexperimental outletsâ€ from their own respective side-projects.
Nope, I was rather impressed by the three acts, though for very different reasons. I believe that truly memorable performances, like albums, are able to transport the listeners one-by-one to a new place, away from their smoky hometown venues and into a place where only the songs themselves exist. In this place, we finally get to see the origin of the band members, the stories they unfold, and the true motive behind each song- that is, of course, until the shrill scream of mic feedback punches us in the brain. That said, the respective performances of Iran and Fruit Bats were altogether very enjoyable, though they sat firmly on opposing extremes of the audio/visual spectrum. While one brought me to a simple (western?) â€˜happy placeâ€™, the other reminisced of the 90s alternative scene, airports, and desperate city life.
Beforehand, Kevin Barker made a humble entrance to the stage around 9:30pm, almost immediately summoning the awkward power of a dry joke about Cincinnati, followed only by a reference to backing drum sounds. The man himself, before the show, struck me as a very identifiable Fruit Bats tour manager/helping hand/ guy with a nice beard and funny jokes. He was not that. Instead, Barkerâ€™s jokes were terrible, and his music was stunning. Once he began, his Devendra Banhart meets Nick Drake-esque folk tunes were somber and delicately pieced. Though I have not yet gotten the chance, I found myself repeatedly wishing that I could hear his songs on recording as I pictured them in my head- spacey, lo-fi, and filled with a warm tape hiss.
An hour or so later, Iran took to the stage with mostly songs from their fourth studio album, Dissolver, released earlier this year. Their most famed member, Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio) was not present, I assume due to the upcoming release of his own solo album, the s/t debut under the name Rain Machine. Nevertheless, singer Aaron Aites commanded the room in a most peculiar fashion. He began the set sitting down with his hair and his face, dangling the microphone by the chord, and lighting his first (of many) cigarettes. As their set moved harshly but strikingly through instant classics such as â€œAirport â€˜79â€ and â€œBuddyâ€, Aites wondered the stage like a drunken Hemingway character, giving credence to the rigidity and apathy of [insert 90s garage legends]. Reverb on the vocals? No thanks.
Finally enter Sub Popâ€™s sun-filled Fruit Bats, just around 11pm. Contrary to the surprise that accompanied Iran, I am happy to say that they were just as I might have expected, and hoped. Performing a decent mix of songs from each of their four albums, The Ruminant Band ruled the setâ€™s majority with highlights â€œThe Blessed Breezeâ€ and â€œPrimitive Bandâ€, along with the title track and a few others. I was also especially happy to see them include an initially veiled â€œCanyon Girlâ€ from Spelled In Bones. All in all, thereâ€™s really not much to say about the Fruit Bats live show. Itâ€™s delightful, finely tuned, and Eric Johnson (The Shins) relays song after song of light, quality craft. Any of their albums will sit nicely on your shelf next to label-mates The Elected and Rogue Wave.
- Ben Lehman