Thursday, May 19, 2011

Show review: His Name is Alive, In Tall Buildings at Empty Bottle, 5/18

Posted by Andrew Hertzberg

(photo source)
It’s already difficult enough to try to describe Livonia, Michigan's His Name is Alive. I’ve been a fan since Detrola came out in 2006 and have tried to keep a close eye on Warren Defever ever since. For such a prolific artist that puts out consistently great albums, who enjoyed a stint on 4AD and is always pushing himself creatively, HNiA has remained generally under the radar. A less than full house at the Empty Bottle Wednesday proved just how under-appreciated he really is. 

From the beginning, we knew it was going to be an interesting show. Warren jumped off the stage and handed out percussion instruments (tambourines, bells, etc.) to audience members, actively engaging us to participate. With the audience’s creative noise as well as the dissonance from Warren’s guitar and the chaotic drumming, a tension was being built, only minimally released when Andy FM’s lyrics to "The Darkess Night" kicked in. Musically, however, the track bore no resemblance to the recorded original. Embracing the limitations of drums, six-strings and keys, the group created a new rendition of the song, sans the lead horns that drive the song on the album. The tension remained as the upbeat music confused our expectations (or at least familiarity) from the album version, the somber vocals contrasting with music full of energy that wouldn’t have been out of place on Funhouse.

So what follows a ten-minute bombast of noise? But of course: the Carter Family referencing "I Can’t Live in this World Anymore" from 1996’s Stars on ESP. The folksy ballad influenced some of the crowd to ballroom dance at the front of the stage. "Get Your Curse On," again from Detrola, took advantage of the lack of horns and opted for a clean lead guitar. Warren juxtaposes being the brainchild behind HNiA while simultaneously embracing the anti-frontman role. He never sings, but his guitar is put up front in the mix, almost making the keyboards and drums inaudible at points. But he can tone it down too. He would interact with the audience only to have his words repeated by Andy FM and the advantage of her having a microphone. For her part, Andy FM’s voice shined the best on the morbid "Send My Face to Your Funeral," a faux-folk tune complemented with violin and subtle guitar.

Not one to ignore his classic rock and power pop influences, we were treated to a bongo and violin accompanied version of Big Star's Pachelbel’s-Canon-in-D-esque "Blue Moon." The set ended with "Cornfield," a working class ode, apparently inspired by Warren’s days of picking corn in Essex County outside of Ontario as a child. It’s tough to say how serious Warren ever is with his stories. Whatever their origins may be, he has continued to create music for over twenty years, sometimes brilliant, sometimes challenging, but always worth the attention.

Opening the night was In Tall Buildings, a Chicago four piece fronted by Erik Hall, a past contributer to HNiA, as well as NOMO and Saturday Looks Good to Me. Their sound seemed a bit all over, straddling lines between the post-rock of Mogwai, the experimental pop of Apollo Sunshine and the general feel of bands from the Pacific Northwest. With vaguely tribal percussion, vaguely psychedelic guitar and vaguely slowcore breakdowns, the band seems to pick and choose from eclectic influences to create the best sound derived from all possible worlds. Catch them again at Taste of Randolph Fest June 18th.


Check out more show reviews:
Elvis Costello at the Chicago Theatre
Bare Mutants, Tiger Bones at the Empty Bottle
Colin Hay at Park West 
Candy Golde at Double Door
Foals, Freelance Whales at Metro


  1. As a major Big Star geek, I would have love to have heard that "Blue Moon" cover.

  2. Here's the cover from Mouth by Mouth:

  3. Oh, wasn't aware they had recorded it. Thanks. I am loving that version.

  4. Come join the Captain in celebrating SK's 2nd birthday!
    Enter to win In Tall Buildings - Self Titled album