Chicago five-piece A Lull took the Dan's stage at 11:30 p.m. with two drummers in tow, in front of roughly 20 people. Raucous, tribal beats rolled along for a majority of the set and, propelled by these rhythms, the high-pitched, reverb-drenched vocals filled the room nicely. The band's nine songs built at length, sometimes leading to a cathartic conclusion. Other times, not so much.
The set included some brand new material beyond 2011's Confetti, with wisecracks about Friday Night Lights and their bassist's birthday. They covered Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," retaining the vocal and guitar melodies of the original, and the double drums played a cut-up shuffle.
Washington D.C.'s Deleted Scenes had more variety in their sound, which owes bits to D.C. legends before them. Taking some doses of Q and Not U, Fugazi and Burning Airlines mixed with Talking Heads and Modest Mouse, they played around with tempos to great effect, sometimes drastically changing things mid-song. Drummer Brian Hospital was especially crafty and controlled on the band's single, "Bedbedbedbedbed." Occasional falsetto vocals by bassist Matt Dowling added another dimension, and the band wasn't afraid to be poppy on a couple of songs, including the non-seasonal "Get Your Shit Together for the Holidays."
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Something felt a little off about the band's performance, on a visual side: They looked a little too road-weary and exhausted. Frontman Dan Scheuerman had bags under his eyes, but that didn't prevent him from stretching his face to the max when he went for the high notes.
Botany, Spencer Stephenson's one-man act, started off the night. Stephenson crouched down for his entire 35-minute set, warping ambient textures into a continuous mix. Be it a guitar phrase, keyboard sprinkle, or some wordless vocal chants, anything and everything was done live and looped. Yet there was a disconnect between him and those watching him. Some watched intently, some read messages on smartphones, some watched SportsCenter on the TVs above the bar, and one attendee stared at the ceiling.
Personal bias: I came to Deleted Scenes via J. Robbins, former frontman of Jawbox and Burning Airlines and currently with Office of Future Plans. Robbins worked on the band's debut album, and that's enough for me to check out a band.
Random note: As Deleted Scenes tore down their equipment and A Lull set up, a number of members from both bands became excited by what was playing on the P.A.: Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf. Most notably, Brian Hospital air-drummed to Dave Grohl's beats while A Lull's frontman played along on his guitar.