Seattle Band iji Wows Cheer Up Charlies: Live Review

iji_081114-2I met Zach Burba on my recent trip to Seattle at a Lake / Bouquet show at Hollow Earth Radio. When I told Zach I was from Austin, he said he’d be playing Cheer Up Charlies in a few short weeks, and we discovered we were friends with many of the same folks, no surprise there. I posted one of the bands tracks prior to the show, and recognized the insanely catchy songwriting and no frills production style as characteristic of many of the bands I love in the Northwest. Certainly, I was looking forward to the show, especially since I’m already a fan of Alex Napping and Daniel Francis Doyle, who were also on the bill. However, Monday night at Cheer Up Charlies vastly exceeded any expectations.

Alex_Napping_081114-2The night began with a set from Alex Napping, who appeared more confident than ever, and rightly so in the wake of the success of their first single and the announcement of a debut album. Under the direction of Alex Cohen, the band’s vision is vital to their appeal, but too, Cohen has done an incredible job assembling a lineup that can execute the aesthetic in her mind. Cohen’s songwriting, full of layered guitar parts and slow builds, provides a framework on which a cast of excellent musicians can build. Plus, as great as Andrew Stevens is at a variety of drumming styles, it’s likely that he’s most enjoyable to watch in this band.

iji_081114-4iji, a cast of five musicians, took the stage next. At the core of iji’s songwriting is something I’ve found among many of the bands in the Pacific Northwest: they aren’t afraid to try something a little cheesy, a little risky. Often that thing is a dorky guitar riff or hooky solo that feels just a little too smooth jazzy or a little too 70s soft rock. In most musical circles this would be a joke that gets laughed off before a band returns to the serious work of creating respectable indie rock. Instead, it seems that these centerpieces, which demand head-bobbing, toe-tapping, and playful shimmying, stick around. The songs are undeniably lighthearted, almost goofy, but then atop those cores is multi-layered, nuanced, dextrous pop music. The end result doesn’t sound cheesy at all, but that accessible, fun approach remains. iji is a band unafraid to experiment, to take risks, and the reward is a style that stands out in a sea of indie bands.

iji_081114-3Before you draw the conclusion that I’m ragging on our own community here in Austin, rest assured, there are a slew of bands making great music here in town. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t up their game by taking a cue from iji’s playbook and letting a little bit of fun creep into their focused mindset; vulnerability is a big part of what turns good art into great art. Several close friends who are actively creating great sounds in Austin spoke to me after iji’s set and were overwhelmed, wide-eyed at how outstanding the band had been. Truly, iji has something special. I picked up two of their vinyl’s after the set, and I’ve been listening to them nonstop since.

Marvelous_Good_Fortune_081114-1Consisting of the same five members, Marvelous Good Fortune followed iji, but brought an entirely different style to the stage. Still vague experimental and delightfully odd, the band’s style is much more mellow and emphasizes keys more heavily. Before the set, the group donned long, red robes and traipsed the perimeter of Cheer Up Charlies chanting. The quirkiest moment of the set came in the form of a dreamy, acid-trip-esque inter-band conversation where Zach Burba played the part of a snake lizard and Curran Foster expressed a desire to live the simple life of a lizard. Far out, for sure.

Daniel_Francis_Doyle_081114-1Magical is the only way to describe Daniel Francis Doyle’s solo, nylon string guitar set that closed the night. I’m a huge fan of DFD, and if it’s possible, that fandom has expanded in the wake of Monday’s performance. Played on the classical acoustic guitar, the noodley elements of his songs were more pronounced and more impressive. “Aging Time” and “One Foot Out the Door” were particularly transfixing. I’d always sensed Doyle’s Talking Heads influence, and although it makes complete sense, it took this set for me to see how much he has in common with the legendary Jonathan Richman. Doyle is truly a treasure, a distinct voice in Austin music. Austin was lucky to be treated to a set by iji, but iji had their own luck to share a bill with some of Austin’s best musicians.

All photos © Bryan Parker & Pop Press International; all rights reserved. Click any image to open in slideshow viewer.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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