I have an inherent distrust of anything termed “super.” I don’t appreciate being told what I will and will not like. It also feels like somewhat of a challenge – I dare you to dislike this. So I was more than a little skeptical of the Athens “super group,” Supercluster, featuring members of Pylon, Casper and the Cookies and others. So skeptical, in fact, that I was willing to drive all the way to The EARL in Atlanta simply to disprove this notion of “super.”
And I had some questions for myself, as well. Was it really fair of me to review a show that already had the odds stacked against it? Was I really prepared to tear down an Athens super group, if need be?
If you’ve been to The EARL, you know it’s small. You also know it can actually hold a decent number of people, and on a good night you’re lucky if you can even make your way to the water cooler without someone spilling liquor on you or stepping on your foot. This was not such a night. The high point of the evening may have seen 30 people in front of the stage, but for the first opening band, Atlanta’s DQE, it was about half that.
Now, I’ve never heard of DQE, and I don’t know a thing about the band. But it’s a pleasing little three piece dedicated to irresistible, toe-tappin’, bubblegum garagabilly. DQE’s stage presence could use some work, but most opening bands suffer that fate. and many overcome it. Plus, the female lead singer wears the most wonderfully shiny, bronzed cowboy boots, which has absolutely nothing to do with her ability to sing (it’s limited), but makes me want to forgive her for being occasionally pitchy. She’s not that off, but she is fronting a band that deserves a chance from anyone interested in Flat Duo Jets gone insanely pop, and that works for me.
Mega weird outer space funk pop came next, and that’s not a band name. That’s Casper and the Cookies, and I would prefer to reference their “genre” rather than call them an opener because I believe they’re good enough to stand on their own as a headliner, which is what they should have been. They easily produce the most danceable candy rock in Athens, and they do it without losing their utter bizarro world sensibilities. They’re not ashamed of their glittery fake eyelashes or their drum machine. They just want to make you hop to a good time, and they never disappoint. And it’s always a joy to watch Kay Stanton on stage. She bounces around with a childlike glee, all the while pounding the daylights out of her bass guitar like the pro that she is. She’s infectious on stage, and that goes a long way toward making her possibly my favorite Athens bassist. Replete with the oddball Jason NeSmith and the strangely appealing Jim Hix, I’m starting to believe these three are incapable of playing a bad set.
In light of that, it was a nice surprise when Supercluster took the stage to see Stanton and her Cookies compatriot NeSmith were part of the band. (Having lived in Athens for roughly a year, I’m still not up on ALL the local bands.) Prior to that, the only member I knew for sure was Pylon’s Vanessa Hay. But with a couple of Cookies on stage my demeanor of skepticism lifted slightly, although I still held to it. I was determined not to let Stanton’s and Nesmith’s participation fool me. But once the music started, the eight members (if I counted correctly) found a nice stable groove and blended together very nicely. I thought the Cookies were the highlight of the evening, but Supercluster was far better than I expected. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but they seemed to be having fun with it. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s half the battle. There’s no bigger turn off than a band that looks like they hate what they’re doing.
However, it’s hard to place their music on any genre scale. I’m not sure if that’s a curse or a blessing, but I can say that I believe I counted four separate guitar players and this was still not a guitar-heavy set. It wasn’t a particularly memorable set, either. One song seemed to be simply five minutes of everyone chanting “yeah” over and over again. But with a keyboard, violin, saxophone, drums and four guitars (No bass?) you’ve got to hit it right sometimes, and more often than not I found myself moving to the beat.
As this was a CD release party, it’s unfortunate that so few people showed. Granted, this was an Athens band and it was an Atlanta show, but the two cities seem so intertwined and inclined to support each other’s scenes that I was a little shocked by the turn out. Home-grown talent is definitely a worthy cause, and Supercluster is worth checking out. If nothing else, it’s a good primer for a foray into the Athens music scene, and decent look at the history of it, as well.
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