Concert review: Tomorrow’s sounds of Cherokee Street today with Demonlover, TOPS, Magic City and CaveofswordS at Mushmaus, Tuesday, October 2
Catching a show on the artistically fertile but sometimes shadowy Cherokee Street is always an unpredictable experience. A new gallery or venue seems to pop up every couple of months, replacing the empty carcass of a similarly creative but now defunct loft space.
That being said, scores of people in the Cherokee district are laying the groundwork for one of the most exciting music communities in the Midwest. Mushmaus, one of the newest spots on the strip, sported a common sight in the area: an empty, dusty storefront for an entrance. The second floor served as a venue. It’s a giant room with a kitchen on one end (with beer I was told I was welcomed to in the fridge) and nothing else but an empty expanse divided by movable, white gallery walls.
Local electronic duo CaveofswordS (Sunyatta and Kevin McDermott) were first up, playing in front of projected images of skulls and Windows 95-era screensaver optical illusions. Complemented finely by the visual overload, CaveofswordS delivered brooding, synth-driven pop. The duo ran the gamut of electronic influences, recalling traces of Suicide up to Zola Jesus. Gloomy and haunting, CaveofswordS would be my pick for a soundtrack to an evening gazing through the Hubble telescope. The invigorating, accessible chemistry between Sunyatta’s vocals and Kevin’s guitar made the music feel incredibly close, while maintaining an astronomical hugeness and density in the dark, electronic sound waves.
Set up on the opposite side of the room, Magic City performed uninhibited rock ‘n’ roll. Churning with organ and inclined towards psychedelic rock, the quintet chorused sweaty licks and lines with unabashed honesty. Watching Magic City is like watching a skeleton reanimate: pieces of flesh from each member’s instrument — from JJ Hamon’s effects-laden shredding to Larry Bulawsky’s vocal shuddering — fly off as the crowd looks on with terrified but rapt attention. The natural reverb from the room worked in favor of the band, echoing and filling each space with a ghoulish presence. The unfinished interior and walls of Mushmaus also helped give the entire night a feeling of closeness, regardless of how much open space existed between bands and the crowd.
Swinging through town on its way down south, Montreal band TOPS swirled together glittering, subdued dance numbers. The band appeared and sounded like kids from the ’90s that should have come up in the British music scene of the ’80s. The cops had shown up right before their set to shut the show down, but TOPS insisted they would perform at a lower level. This meant a toned-down volume from the drum kit and guitars, but it definitely didn’t mean less of an experience. Beautiful and contemplative, TOPS elicited an almost cult-like fascination. It was hard not to admire every little guitar hook or the seamless execution. The band sounded like a heavy cloud pushing down from above, keeping my limbs moving but helplessly looking starry-eyed out beyond the stage and honing in on the forlorn pop sound.
Last up, Demonlover‘s front man Andy Lashier announced that the Satan-adoring band was “going to play it cool.” Featuring JJ Hamon and Sam Meyer from Magic City and sporting cowboy hats, the band spewed hop-along Western tunes stirred up with fuzzy chunks of surf rock. Predictably unpredictable, Lashier stopped a song in the middle of the set to commune with a ghost in the room who was troubled about a banking account. With a joyful, fuck-it attitude, while somehow maintaining a tight performance of spaghetti-western tunes gone wrong, Demonlover frolicked along as the crowd slowly moved in on them.
A wonderfully poppy French cover of Roy Orbison’s “Sweet Dreams Baby,” demonstrated Demonlover’s true prowess: producing pop numbers disguised as oddball jams. Uncomfortable with writing formulaic hooks, the band instead draws from the catchiness of bygone musical styles and converts them into its own feel. Occasionally embellishing a song with trumpets, trombones, keys or whatever else made it in the van for the night, Demonlover kept the large room thick with a kind of musical humidity.
Drawing the night to a close by singing goodnight over and over, the trio had proved it existed for one reason — keeping it weird while achieving the maximum amount of fun.