Smile Politely

New Ruins, Ohtis rock Bentley’s

The Saturday night show at Bentley’s Pub featuring Bloomington’s Ohtis and Champaign-Urbana’s own New Ruins brought together two of the best bands to be found off of I-74. I’d have to say I’d be hard-pressed to find a better Central Illinois show duo and, in the future, I fully expect both bands’ geographical popularity claim to be a lot farther-reaching.

Unfortunately, Ohtis’ usual five-piece lineup was reduced to a three-piece with their bassist off in another state and the band in general never really having had a consistent drummer. So, instead, the lead singer covered lead vocals and acoustic guitar (and at one point xylophone during a fast paced handclapping cover of the Buddy Holly-penned “Everyday”), and the remaining two members switched between percussion, bass, keyboard, and electric guitar.

The band’s latest MySpace post mentions this was the first show with this arrangement, saying, “It’s going to be much less a rock show than it once was — more intimate and relaxed,” and while a noisy bar on a Saturday night didn’t help cultivate said desired feeling, the amount of unironic sincere folksiness well made up for the looseness of the set. The band previewed a few new (to their live set) songs that sounded like fresh takes on traditional folk arrangements mixed with late-’50s/early-’60s pop, including the recently-posted-on-MySpace country jam, “One Dark Night.”

All of the songs were stripped down, matching the aesthetic of the current lineup, but fewer members also meant they could only go through a couple of tracks off their excellent sophomore record If This Country Had A Heart, This Is Where I Was Born with “Hatefully in Love,” “Hollow Body,” and the always winding contender for best track of 2009, “Bloodshed on Calvary & Snakes in the Cradle.” They closed their set with their loudest song of the night, another cover, this time a take on Guided By Voices’ “Smothered in Hugs.”

Next was New Ruins, who just proceeded to blast the sound out of Bentley’s entirely. The sonic expansion that has taken place between their first record, The Sound They Make, and the recently released follow up, We Make Our Own Bad Luck, may have been a little unexpected but these guys know what they are doing with big sound. Mixing together a lot of the best parts of the late-’80s/early-’90s alt-rock scene, I couldn’t help but think this is what Dinosaur Jr. would have sounded like if Lou Barlow would have been the leader and not J. Mascis.

Highlight tracks “As Far As We Know” and “Lake” sounded great, but the biggest surprise of the night was that they also previewed not just one or two, but a handful of new songs from their third album that they are already recording. While some of We Make Our Own Bad Luck may still have hinted at their quieter side, the new material is mined completely from the rock of rock and roll, and I can’t wait to get more familiar with the new songs as they keep getting previewed and eventually released. From a band that was just name-dropped in Rolling Stone for their most recent album, it is exciting to know they aren’t sitting on their laurels waiting for the accolades to come in, but continuing to work and improve their craft.

If you failed to catch this show, make sure not to miss the July 2 show at the Canopy Club featuring both Ohtis and New Ruins again, as well as Ohtis’ recently signed Common Cloud label mates Prussia and C-U’s rising stars, Common Loon. Guaranteed to be a good time.

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