Lower Dens Dada Sunday, June 24
Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, Jana Hunter's 2005 debut, felt of another era, sharp and striking yet spare, Hunter's voice the spiritual guide behind her acoustic guitar. It also felt like a skeleton that needed some flesh hung on it, as did her follow-up LP, There's No Home.
Through all her albums, either solo or with her Baltimore band Lower Dens, there has been a dark thread. Whereas 2010's Twin-Hand Movement was an exercise in writing for a full band, with a spotlight on guitar interplay, new album Nootropics is a very dry, disciplined album, more focused on repetition, mood and the link between man and machine. The introduction of synth and a different drum sound, thanks to new drummer Nate Nelson, who brings a far more technical style, lead us into that next scene.
Live, the quartet hung that flesh.The Houston-raised Hunter, who had family in the audience, stood behind the keyboard most of the night, playing guitar for half the set before focusing solely on synth for the last few songs. She's also figured out how to emote and use her voice to propel: "Brains," "Lamb" and "Alphabet Song" from Nootropics all benefited from her accompaniment.
"Tea Lights," the instrumental "Holy Water" and "Hospice Gates" from Twin-Hand Movement were imbued with a certain tension as well, guitar and synth racing along the rhythm section's metered alleyways and cul-de-sacs, fighting for attention with the visuals projected behind the band. The last song, a droning 10-minute piece during which Hunter left the stage for several minutes, lost many in the audience's attention, but when they all locked into that cognitive groove mid-set, the brain activity registered, the body came alive, and they proved themselves capable as a live band.
By the way: I was digging Hunter's collared shirt/necklace over the collar look last night.