"Almost Home" pulsed with wall-of-sound, careening guitars and an interesting ambient element. I wondered at the three guitarists all blaring the same three chords during "One by One" and grew bewildered by the redundancy. The Sun and the Sea quit the stage after a tune that sounded like Cold Play mashed up with the Script, sadly awash in poorly harmonized falsetto work.
Chicago/Minneapolis-based ON AN ON (formed by members of Scattered Trees) appeared on stage for a messy, drawn out sound check. Vocalist and synth player Alissa Ricci looked unhappy with her vocal mix and soon let the Firebird's sound operator know it. I felt bad for the guy; Ricci's eyes glinted with the fire of frustration; a lipstick-smeared toothpick dangled from her lips.
Lead singer and guitarist Nate Eiesland strummed into "The Hunter" from "Give In" (due out in late January). Eiesland sang into a de-tuned/robotic secondary microphone duct-taped to his main microphone. This may have been responsible for Ricci's initial sound frustration. Still, the song featured excellent background "Ahh-ahhs" from both Ricci and bassist/singer Ryne Estwing.
"War Is Gone" provided 10 tons of effect-based bells and whistles and a Mario Kart twinkle, but still managed to seem a tad lifeless. During "All the Horses," the band projected a Burton-esque nightmare spiral on the back wall of the Firebird that distracted from the song's manic dynamics.
ON AN ON rolled out a cover of Hot Chip's "Boy From School," which jived with its original music, but also seemed to overshadow it. The group concluded with the excellent "Ghosts" and "Every Song," which along with "The Hunter," stood tall as the evening's high points, inhabiting a set that in the end felt a bit unfocused, but was nonetheless satisfying.
Geographer's Michael Deni strode on stage wearing a puffy, black designer jacket with his signature, unkempt hair flopping near the venue's ceiling. Cello and synth player Nathan Blaz readied a myriad of blinking machines posited at his feet. Drummer Brian Ostreicher cracked his knuckles and slipped on a pair of headphones that would provide the backing samples for the evening's tunes.
"Life of Crime" immediately got the crowd bobbing with Blaz's spacey cello wrapped in the light distortion of Deni's teal Fender Stratocaster. "Paris," from 2010's "Animal Shapes," slowly built and exploded into a ethereal chorus that featured well-timed, button-pushed sample drops.
Before "The Myth of Youth" Deni exclaimed, "This song is about growing up and coming to grips with idea that I still don't know shit about shit." The song's verse dissolved into a chilled chorus that recalled both New Order and the Cure.
"Night Winds" inspired with a dry, bell-like sample and Deni's Beirut-esque croon. "Verona" coupled hearty synth with impeccable drumming; Ostreicher made playing drums over samples look effortless. On "Kaleidoscope," Deni looped reverb-laced vocals, while Blaz shone on his cello, sawing through the ether with purpose and emotional resonance.
"Heaven Waits" offered a sleepy-sad, introspective, guitar-led momentum. Deni sang, "Streetlights cascade in ribbons straight to the moon. They're waiting to see you...Still heaven waits for no one." The sense of loneliness and ephemerality was palpable.
Geographer finished the main set with "The Dream Has Faded," "Shell Beach" and "Kites." Before the final cut, Deni yelled, "Turn it up!" as Ostreicher's drums and Blaz's scaling samples culminated into a conception-shattering choral drop.
The band returned for an encore of "Can't You Wait" from 2008's "Innocent Ghosts." The song opened with Deni's clean vocals and a swath of band-wide "Ahs," which plateaued into ambient synth. The show closed with "Lover's Game," which pulsated with pinging synth and breathy cello. The song's uptempo choruses gave the crowd one last chance to get their dance on before Deni and company said a final goodbye.
Note: The last time I reviewed Geographer, the band opened for Freelance Whales, putting on a killer, if understandably shortened show. This time, headlining the bill, the band stretched its set to feature length, diving into the depths of its challenging and complex catalog. Geographer did not waste a second of this newly afforded time and impressed the crowd at every turn.