It’s never easy being the support. Even less these days, when you can decide via Soundcloud whether any band is worth a head start on the drinking. Friday night at Soup hosts a somewhat sparse crowd and Ducktails’ support for the evening, Temple Songs. From the very first beat, the drummer plays hard and every snare feels like a slap in the face. Feedback squeals in spaces left by the guitars, and the songs begin to bounce uneasily around the room.
It feels like the classic rock tropes are there; the solo’s, the drums breaks, yet all are immediately followed by jarring half chords or funny 7ths that seem to make fun of any supposed roots. Disorienting chromatic runs are similarly coupled with straight rock rhythms. And it does seems like rock, but for people who like their music to be as confused as their adolescence was. Then, surprise. A simple jangle pop tune, complete with tambourine and chewy electric 12 string. Suddenly the verses and choruses are easily distinguished, and the band begins to display some welcomed contrast to their set. Just as these transformative qualities surface, the last song is announced, thrashed out and the band leave the stage.
As soon as the soft rock of Matt Mondanile’s Ducktails taps the crowd on the shoulder, they turn around and agree to dance. It’s filled up by now and the response is good. There is definitely a search for the smooth happening in pop right now, and Mondanile has found something this audience is pretty grateful for. He’s amicable, as are his band and the crowd feel enough at ease to sway or smile along. The vocal is mostly dry, save for a little slapback echo. The guitars too are pleasantly natural-sounding, and surprisingly full. It’s refreshing to hear bands pulling off a great live sound without a ton of reverb. Mondanile’s thin, reedy voice can make his hooks really endear or disappear amidst the ever pleasant soundscape. I do, however, appreciate that he lets his singular voice carry the band without backing vocals, for better or worse.
When the blissful, danceable Flower Lane cut ‘Under Cover’ permeates, the set really takes off. The solo is a thumbs up throwback and the girls scream. Everyone likes solos and everyone likes it when the girls scream. If that worked every time Mondanile played a solo he would sell as many tickets as Santana, but unfortunately for him only Santana can play a solo in every song without the set feeling self indulgent. I know that Ducktails are not a band to measure by their tastefulness. They work best when they throw all etiquette out of the window and let their unabashed throwbacks shine, but too much repetition is still too much.
Changes in tempo/sound/style are subtle, but sometimes surprisingly effective; the paradiso vibe of ‘Under Cover’ is lifted again by the jaunty ‘Timothy Shy’. Sometimes the changes are too slight, making tunes like ‘Planet Phrom’ appear weaker after their harder hitting, similar paced counterparts.
The set ends abruptly to obey the early curfew, the band leaving us with a “Thank you”, a “Goodnight”, and a “Let’s hang out after the show!”. It’s a casual end to a casual set, an experience that is best enjoyed in the moment without necessarily leaving a lasting impression. And that’s probably how Ducktails’ intended it.
Photo credit to Bonnie Jane Ridgley.
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