I wasn’t born to Allston’s streets. Like so many other young people in this city, I came to Boston for college, and like so many college students before me, I quickly discovered that Boston (and the greater New England universe) is a veritable fertile crescent for some of the most interesting and fresh new bands in the country. For me, the very first two bands that proved that were Brattleboro, Vermont’s Happy Jawbone Family Band and Boston’s own Quilt — these two groups had an all-new sound and a deliciously do-it-together attitude that instantly earned my respect and admiration. On Thursday night, they played a show together at T.T. The Bear’s, and it was pretty great.
Since my last time seeing Happy Jawbone perform live at Homegrown Fest last October, the band has released their first full studio album on Mexican Summer Records (also Quilt’s label), come out with an impressive array of merch (American flag print shades which frontman Luke Csehak donned as he wailed, whimsically decorated notebooks, matchbooks with googly eyes, all lovingly handmade by members of the band and priced on a generous sliding scale), and honed their Charlie Brown-meets-Dirty Projectors sound down to a deeply attractive science.
Though their impressive body of work remains excellent, this new album represents a real evolution for the band. It’s as though the music’s finally gotten its glasses prescription right — the arrangements are crisp, the hooks irresistibly catchy, and the lyrics simple but devastating: “I REALLY FUCKED UP THIS TIME,” Csehak screams in the power-sad number “Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid.” Csehak’s voice accesses something raw and beautiful, relentless and spirited with a boozy rasp as he sings of heartbreak and a water-fearing imaginary friend. Drummer and vocalist Elspeth Bourne-Kebbell-Csehak is clear as a bell and rock solid, grounding Csehak’s throaty moans in honey sweetness. Highlights of the set included the exuberant “D-R-E-A-M-I-N,” a sing-a-long jump-around ditty about useless fantasy, and their opener “Mr. Clean.” Sadly, the band omitted “I Have to Speak to Rocky Balboa,” a roiling jam, but the set was solid and enthusiastic.
Quilt has been making enveloping psych-folk since 2009, when they released their excellent self-titled, self-produced demo. They’re set to release a new album soon, and if the delicate single “Arctic Shark,” for which the band released an alluring video just a few weeks ago, is any indication, it’s going to be fantastic. Quilt’s music runs deep and cool as a mountain river, carried by expressive bass riffs and the combined and layered vocals of John Andrews, Anna Rochinski, and Shane Butler. I found myself especially enthralled every time tiny, bodaciously-tressed Rochinski took on vocals solo during the set — she’s a beloved banshee echoing through all the recordings, but her voice is especially true dreamy-creamy perfection live. Guitar and bass loop out into infinity, trippy and bold, but come around into tight rhythmic progressions time and time again. “Cowboys In The Void,” off their self-titled 2011 album, was a crowd favorite, echoing, dangerous, and lush, exactly what every road trip through the painted desert calls for.
T.T.’s has been around for forty years now, and though that’s an impressive history, the venue still deals with a few problems that seem to affect the sets — most annoyingly, the noise from next-door neighbor the Middle East Downstairs, whose rowdy late-night shows sent distracting bass beats through the floor of T.T.’s as Quilt’s set drew to a close. Of course, this is beyond the venue’s control, but it was a shame that Quilt’s carefully arranged tones
were a bit obscured by set’s end. T.T.’s is a great space, roomy and replete with generous facilities (the coat rack! the free water cooler! the pool table!), but I found myself wishing for a change of scenery, where I could huddle in and hear every pluck of Quilt’s strings.
Despite this handicap, though, Quilt and Happy Jawbone hosted a beautiful evening of New England music that reaffirmed my ever-growing faith and respect for the local scene and tugged at my heartstrings.