Sparta / mewithoutYou / Aloha - live in New York (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Sparta / mewithoutYou / Aloha

live in New York (2007)

live show

A lot of people like to call Aloha post-rock. Maybe my hesitance in referring them to as such is the result of being weaned the last few years on Temporary Residence releases from the likes of Explosions in the Sky, Mono, and Envy, all of which might not sound incredibly similar but all three of which are definitely in a different camp than Aloha. However, after watching their incredibly fluid set Sunday night at Brooklyn's Polish hall, the Warsaw, opening for mewithoutYou and Sparta, I'll relent. Having heard bits and pieces of the band's last two albums and never quite getting into it I was apprehensive about what I would witness there but it was nothing less than impressive. From my angle it seemed a good deal of the songs were without a guitar and yet, it wasn't missed. The dual keyboards and occasional xylophone lent well to the band's sound, with wandering guitars and warbled vocals up front complementing the songs. The band carefully sauntered through a non-stop half-hour set comprised of seven songs -- some of which included "Boys in the Bathtub," "All the Wars" and "You've Escaped" (all three of which can be found on the band's 2004 effort, Here Comes Everyone).

I feel like a psychiatrist whenever I review mewithoutYou because I always feel compelled to mention frontman Aaron Weiss's improving stage presence. He's gone from a shaky man with minimal crowd interaction to one that manages to crack nervous jokes with the audience between songs and command their attention with a captivating presence during them. With the co-headlining setting in place, the band was able to dress up the stage a bit; cardboard clouds hung from the rafters, with the sun and moon (just like the album cover of Brother, Sister) draped in the center. I expected nothing less than greatness from the dynamic outfit and got just that; the band crept carefully through their more dreamy, crafted numbers and turned it up when the songs required Weiss' more fiery ramblings. I missed Jeremy Enigk's beautiful/creepy shout in "O, Porcupine," but the band still managed to nail that song's latter-portion dynamic anyway. Throughout the set Weiss energetically swayed from side to side while the instrument-wielders moved about trance-like, with drummer Richard Mazzotta often standing up and slamming on his kit with his shirt pulled over his head (Weiss joining him in the disappearing act for the acoustic intro of "In a Sweater Poorly Knit," the ending of which Aloha's members joined in for). It would've been nice to have been thrown a track or two from the still impressive [A --> B] Life ("Nice and Blue (Pt. Two)" notwithstanding), but I'm sure that'll be a given when the band heads out on a headlining tour this spring -- and if this is just the preview, I can't wait for the main attraction.

Set list (9:30-10:20):

  1. Yellow Spider
  2. -----
  3. Wolf Am I! (And Shadow)
  4. Tie Me Up! Untie Me!
  5. C-Minor
  6. -----
  7. Nice and Blue (Pt. Two)
  8. A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
  9. -----
  10. Orange Spider
  11. Messes of Men
  12. Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)
  13. Disaster Tourism
  14. O, Porcupine
  15. -----
  16. Brownish Spider
  17. In a Sweater Poorly Knit
Sparta's sound has slowly developed from one that's kinda loose, jagged, and a little bit rage-filled to a more experimental sort of arena rock -- you've got big hooks, big choruses all the same, but they're filled with a sincere sense, one surely helped by the addition of guitarist Keeley Davis. Davis' contributions have given the band a rebirth with more textured guitar tones and spacey atmospherics that give them a heightened edge (at least musically and originally) over the radio acts they compete with for airtime; when he nailed a perfect backing vocal "ahh" to "Atlas" it made the already compelling, reflective wonder of a song that much better. All the tricks he's learned in Engine Down and Denali has simply done Sparta wonders. In any event, maybe that aforementioned transition the band has made is why they still felt at home in what was essentially an extra-large rental hall -- it made perfect sense really when you thought about it. The band kept my attention all throughout their hour-long set but the inclusion of seemingly every slower number from Threes threatened to break it at a number of points. Honestly, I was just probably upset that I didn't get to hear my favorite from Threes ("Crawl"), or, of all songs, "Cut Your Ribbon"; now that, that was honestly a little shocking. I wouldn't say it ruined my night, but I'd certainly have little to complain about had the band swapped those in for two of, say, the more droning songs. It helped that the band played perfectly on cue, hitting all the harmonies and with all four members constantly in an energetic motion at that.

Set list (11:01-11:59):
  1. The Most Vicious Crime
  2. Breaking the Broken
  3. Light Burns Clear
  4. Unstitch Your Mouth
  5. Guns of Memorial Park
  6. -----
  7. Erase It Again
  8. Atlas
  9. ?
  10. -----
  11. While Oceana Sleeps
  12. -----
  13. Weather the Storm
  14. Air
  15. Taking Back Control
Sparta and mewithoutYou are a pretty sweet, sensible pair to see together. Hit this up while the goods are still givin' (which ain't much longer for this tour).