Ishi, The Burning Hotels, Air Review
June 24, 2011
Better than: Twitter beef.
In usual fashion, Dallas came out on Friday night to dance. It's just what's happened around these part for the past year and a half: When Ishi headlines Trees it has become an event.
But on this particular night, which featured a particularly strong all-local bill also featuring Air Review and The Burning Hotels, most of the crowd seemed more curious than anything about how the newly revamped folktronica group would sound.
The verdict: Not too different.
The departure of Taylor Rea and Rob Bastien left some huge shoes to fill, and this was going to be only the second time (and first time with female vocalist Becky Middleton) that John and J.J. Mudd's newly reformed band would take the stage since their former bandmates' departure.
While Bastien surely knew his way around a power cord, new guitarist Rocky Ottley fits into the scene quite nicely, never overpowering the stage with his presence while injecting some rock into their dance-folk jams.
It should go without saying that replacing Rea is going to be the biggest challenge facing Ishi. Middleton's debut as female lead was good -- and, I'd venture to say, were this a studio recording, you wouldn't be able to tell that anything changed. So, turns out, replacing the voice alone isn't that hard.
But replacing the presence and the raw, sexual chemistry that Mudd and Rea possessed on stage could prove to be nearly impossible. That type of chemistry can't be manufactured, and when your calling card is your live show, you can't afford to deliver anything less. Middleton is a fantastic vocalist, but she nearly faded into the background behind the light show and Mudd's larger-than-life stage persona.
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One of the criticisms Ishi faced was that, after a while, their set list became stagnant. Friday's set list included three new songs, one of which was a cover of New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" -- song that kept the crowd interested for just a little bit longer during the encore.
In other words: This is now an evolving project that Mudd promises will include a rotating cast of female singers. No matter who ends up on stage any given night, this is John Mudd's band, and where it goes in the future will ultimately be up to him.
Personal Bias: I've had both lineups of Ishi on my radio show, "The Local Edge," which airs on Sunday nights at 11 o'clock on KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge. They make my local music pants tight.
By The Way: As we break out our "Jump to Conclusions Mats," we need to remember that this was only their second show.