For the hour or so that Evil Tents was on the Highdive stage I was lost in a daze. The band’s music has a trance-inducing quality that is admirable, it was so strong; however, I could hardly believe it when John Isberg said they had just one song left. It seemed like Evil Tents had just begun.
The show had begun sleepily at 10 p.m. with Milwaukee’s Fahri. Their set was criminally under-attended, possibly because of the time slot, but more likely because the holiday weekend had many people otherwise occupied.
Fahri presented a more straightforward take on rock than the headliners, but did it with aplomb, especially considering the miniscule crowd gathered around them. At times it was obvious the band was a bit turned off by the lack of a crowd, which is completely understandable, but they never let it affect their music. Fahri sounded excellent and I hope the next time they stop by Champaign they have a larger audience.
Common Loon took the stage next and was typically terrific. They played new material, which sounded fantastic and made me eager to hear their forthcoming album, and they played old favorites that enthused the growing crowd. I feel like I’ve said these things about Common Loon before, mostly because they’ve played at 75 percent of the shows I’ve reviewed recently. I’m suffering from a little Common Loon fatigue, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Another Milwaukee band, Brief Candles, took the third slot. They droned on melodically and played a pretty high-energy set. Besides their awkward stage presence, I had no complaints about their performance. I thought they sounded good. Maybe because I was amped up to see Evil Tents, though, I didn’t give Brief Candles as much attention as they deserved.
After interviewing the evening’s heroes and sitting in on a practice, I was very eager to hear Evil Tents at the Highdive. They played their album, Night Air on the Midway — which was released on CD that night, and locked me in. Though I’ve heard it many times on Bandcamp, the songs were definitely not the same as what’s been around the interweb.
The band wasn’t lying when they said the songs had evolved. Although I don’t know what the mastered version of their recording sounds like, their live show has taken on more dimensionality. Aron Stromberg’s guitar is such a solid compliment to what the rest of the band is doing. Though his guitar is another instrument, its reverb and delay put more space under the band’s hazy sound.
I was lost in that haze for the 45 minutes or so Evil Tents was playing. I was particularly engrossed during “Etienne” and “John Brown.” The band showed obvious chemistry throughout, but I have to give credit to Isaac Arms and Nathan Westerman for their great rhythms. They put a charge into the songs when it needed it and hung back when the songs were more lento. I couldn’t get enough Evil Tents on Saturday, which partly played into my tepid reaction to Psychic Twin.
But if I say that, this will be the second time I’ve blamed a great lead-in for a mediocre Psychic Twin performance. Maybe I’m just not that big on them; maybe they are boring on stage (drum machines are boring — no ifs, ands, or buts about it); or maybe it has something to do with my theory that Psychic Twin is just rearranging Neon Indian songs (listen to their new single and Neon Indian’s “Deadbeat Summer” back-to-back and try to refute that). Whatever the reason, I wasn’t feeling it.
Psychic Twin didn’t kill my music buzz, however. I was still riding high on Evil Tents, and that was enough to make the concert a good one.
All photos by Chris D. Davies. Check out the rest of the photos from the night over at our Facebook page.