In-store performances are tricky, unpredictable little miscreants. Unlike a standard club show, where one typically understands the general, unwritten crowd rules, a record store gig can be awkward or intimate. It's doubtful that one can be both, and such a show rarely falls in a gray middle. It's a fine line that separates the dour from the cozy, really.
On Tuesday night, in front of a couple dozen folks, things were indeed comfy. With wives and children of some of the band members present, it was a warm gathering indeed. Crushed Stars, led by songwriter and singer Todd Gautreau and drummer Jeff Ryan, showcased a sonic personality that is rarely heard on the band's often lush, dream-like recordings.
Getting started at 8 p.m., right on time after an impressive, short set by ambient band Myopic (one of Jeff Ryan's other projects), Crushed Stars set the tone immediately. On a cramped stage surrounded by boxed record players for sale and backed by a wall with CD listening stations and a framed Wilco concert poster, Gatreau, Ryan and crew (Jay Allen, keys; Todd Hormilossa, bass; and Joe Schwartzott, lead guitar) served up a spirited, crazy-tight eight-song set that lasted an enjoyable 30 minutes.
Uptempo tunes and a quick pace aren't what most familiar with Crushed Stars' music think of first, but in this rare concert appearance, it all certainly worked out well. Opening with "Flowerbomb," the standout track from their new album, Farewell Young Lovers, Gautreau sang in a deep register that, without the reverb of the records, failed to possess the hazy quality. Instead, it sent a raw yearn throughout the vinyl-packed room. Aside from slowing down for "Supernova" from the new album, the set was urgent, no frills attached.
Half of the night's songs were from the new album, joined by "Copenhagen" (which seemed as though its tempo has been kicked up a step) and "Window" from the group's 2012 record In the Bright Rain and also "Technicolor" and "Eyeliner" from Convalescing in Braille. As the initial few songs were played, the tunes felt a tad monotonous, which is likely due to stripped-down nature of this particular live set as opposed to what is heard on record. That wasn't a bad thing, though. We were able to discover something new about this mercurial project that's rarely heard live, in fact.
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More so than on the records, even, it was easy to tell that Gautreau, who said perhaps five words from the stage and failed to mention his new record, has indeed drawn from some of the bands he loved in his formative years, such as Psychedelic Furs, The Church and Echo and the Bunnymen. A raw-boned collection of songs that weren't dressed up in the studio proved to be a wonderful showcase for these tunes. They weren't shoegaze-y or even all that dreamy, as his records are so often (appropriately) described. In this more natural, warts-and-all state, Crushed Stars proved that they're a rock act. Put whichever adjectives or hyphenated labels before "rock" you must, but it doesn't change the fact that straight-up rock is what the group did last night.