Halloween, Alaska is a band that benefits from playing live. While their albums are good, the ragged edge provided by playing live adds excitement to their music. Sometimes on their records, its easy to drift off and then realize that you don't remember a single bar of the last couple songs. One thing I noticed about Halloween, Alaska's live shows is that they always manage to capture and hold my attention through the whole set.
This was definitely true on Tuesday night. My eyes were with drummer David King during most of the show. King, also of Happy Apple and the Bad Plus fame, put on a characteristically awesome show. King's crisp, tight drumming is the backbone of the band, both anchoring their rhythm and driving them forward. An example of this is on "Des Moines," a slow song that would drag if not for King's clear and forceful but still minimalist beats.
That's not to say the rest of the band wasn't good, because they were in top form. In particular, I was a little surprised at how much lead singer James Diers sounded like Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, if Gibbard were a little more raw, expressive and talented. The resemblance was particularly strong on Halloween. And Diers isn't the only great singer in the band. Guitarist Jake Hanson, in between bouts of epic feedback generation, took to the mic a couple of times. He sounded remarkably like Matt Sharp (The Rentals, Weezer) mixed with the vocal consistency of a young Mike Mills (R.E.M.).
Many of the songs Halloween, Alaska played featured heavy, dark dance beats that captured the audience's attention. Even when the band was in dance mode, they still maintained an air of grogginess because of Diers' and Hanson's fuzzy, feedbacking guitars. King and bass guitarist Matt Friesen, however, tend to drive the beats underneath the blanket of guitars. The result is a lush and absorbing but not overly indulgent sound. King and Friesen succeed at being able to play around with their instruments, to make new sounds and to have fun for themselves without boring the audience.
The only real disappointment of the evening was All the Arms Around You, a song that helped boost the band into the popular conscious when it was featured on The O.C. (Des Moines was also featured on the show). While the audience responded to it in a big way, the song itself fell a little flat. There was a lovely Sonic Youth-style build up and then nothing.
But the band quickly recovered and finished strong. In one of the coolest moments of the show, they rolled out a Bruce Springstein cover, State Trooper. Their re-framing of the song works surprisingly well for the difference in style between the two artists. Once again, King's drumming really shone, and gave the song the punch of the original. Diers also rose to the occasion, shedding his normal, soft-spoken vocals for a bit more power. Interestingly, the band also tacked on a little bit of Born in the USA to close up the set.