Concert review ON AN ON, Dots Not Feathers and Royal Canoe more than pass their audition at the Demo, Monday, March 18
The Demo feels like a church’s basement. Visitors to the club enter another dimension where worship is optional since a basement avoids the light of day.
It could be a storage center, a meeting place for Girl Scouts, maybe a bootlegging outfit back in the day. Although the building it anchors is meant as Holy ground: a basement can duck that dogma.
The Demo’s size lets it behave unlike larger venues. There is a walkway from the ticket counter to the stage created by a brick wall and the very bottom of stage right’s rafters. The tunnel blinds all peripheral vision. Once out of the tunnel, when 180 degree vision has returned, there is a merch table to the right and another vendor — a woman selling lighters. Look up and left; there is the bar. Turn around and get the first look at the stage. It stands chest high with monitors placed on its edge. It can be leaned on with arms crossed and chin rested. It is probably the most comfortable front-row in St. Louis. The venue holds, maybe, 150 people.
I stood there for the last two songs of Dots Not Feather‘s opening set. They may have followed Samuel Fickle, a local singer-songwriter and forlorned lover of maligned folk, but the show felt like it started when Dots Not Feather’s shot into “There’s a Ghost.” DNF grafts afro-jazz beats onto pop melodies and Dirty Projector’s-esque hockets and three-part harmonies. Singer/guitarist Stephen Baier’s guitar parts were highlighted by the uneven mix. His parts are not fidgety, but roam at an urgent pace. With Dots Not Feathers, Baier certainly has something to say.
Benefitting from DNF’s chromatic arrangements, Royal Canoe played to an audience of 50 warmed up for a lesson in music theory. Approximately six synths were placed around the stage — at least three were stacked before keyboardist Matt Schellenberg. With the dexterity of a forest-dwelling monkey, Schellenberg navigated each individual synth portion and backing vocal opportunity with precision. The entire band, for the matter, cut like a blade tracing the bones of hydrogen’s atomic skeleton.
The myriad of tracks that dance throughout Royal Canoe’s compositions sounded enchanting. I have sparse notes from the band’s set from being completely subservient to the sound. The heady mix of afro-infused double percussion and ’90s hip-hop synth tones in bizarre time signatures left me spellbound. Topped by the sub-octave vocal cutter used by lead singer Matt Peters, the songs were multi-textural and sounded unconventionally brilliant.
ON AN ON are brave for following Royal Canoe, for the latter played a set of headlining caliber. As the main drawl, ON AN ON, played a nonchalant set of gauzy dungeon pop. Often compared to Beach House, ON AN ON,’s debut “Give In” is less prone to sleeping in the clouds. Every song was tethered to the ether by guitarist/singer Nate Eiesland’s safety-knot guitar patches. Ryne Estwing’s full-voice falsetto on “Bad Mythology” was as calculated as Eisland’s guitar parts — timed all too-well within the track and attention giving, and getting, live.
ON AN ON did not have the life-springing zest of Dots Not Feathers and Royal Canoe. Born from the fallen seeds of Scattered Trees, they induce epiphanies. Royal Canoe carried on like the conscious thought aware of its deftness. Not a hair was out of place during that set. It made ON AN ON’s set, and the night at the Demo, all the more successful, and finally conclusive.