Friday, January 1, 2010
Posted by Steven Hummel
Allow me to make a distinction here: There's a difference between a performance and a show. Any artist can perform music, for that merely requires playing one's songs in a live setting; however, it takes a special artist to put on a show. A show adds to the equation elements beyond just performance: charisma, entertainment value, connection with the audience, energy, and perceptible passion for one's work. By delineating the two, it becomes apparent that one can easily exist without the other, and indeed that it is often the case. How many times have we been to gigs where the band simply went through the motions, mechanically banging out their set and then robotically returning to the stage for a choreographed encore that includes stiff renditions of the crowd favorites? It's an all too common occurrence, especially in this day and age when TicketBastard has people shelling out 100 dollars* per ticket for a Nickelback concert that has the same terrible set list night after night. Amidst this dissatisfying majority of acts, though, there exists a class of bands who simultaneously dispel this malaise and revitalize the art of the live show—consider Sugar Glyder at the top of this class.
Taking place at the historic Double Door Inn in Charlotte, the house was packed with people dressed in red, black, and white for the themed New Year's Eve show. It wasn't until around ten minutes before midnight that the band began setting up their gear, as an enthusiastic crowd had been begging for more from openers Marco Pollo and Terminal Reynaldo since the music began at around 9:30. As the setting up took place, the energy in the air was palpable with the new decade only minutes away and the band everyone was there to see finally about to do their thing. Festive red Christmas lights wrapped around the keyboard in front of where Emily Aoyagi would stand, fittingly-colored red and silver glitter covered Chris Rigo's drum on stage left that would later allow for Sugar Glyder's signature effect, click-on lights were rigged so that Rigo could illuminate the stage with a timely stomp of his foot, and a bubble machine was hidden behind drummer Bobby Matthews. On top of this impressive attention to detail were several other holiday additions that added to the crowd's enjoyment of the show, including band-supplied party poppers, confetti, and bubbles to help ring in the new year. With all the sound checked and all the gear in place, there were about two minutes left before 2009 was no more.
A Daniel Howie-led countdown began with ten seconds remaining, and then when midnight struck, poppers popped, couples kissed, and congratulations were exchanged, but ultimately, what midnight signaled was that it was time for Sugar Glyder to rock. And rock they did. When the chatter of a roomful of people was broken by Rigo's guitar with the opening riff to "Poor Baby Zebra," Sugar Glyder took off, and they didn't land for another hour and a half. With Howie's awe-inducing vocals at the helm, the band flawlessly navigated the better part of their discography.
The highlights of the show were numerous. With an adept spin of the drumstick between his fingers, Rigo delivered blows to a glittered drum so that the percussion resonated in your chest as the sparkles danced along to "Zebra" and "Spoils of War (The OK Song)." An energized crowd came together to wail "Where did everybody go?!" for the climax of "Flowers," a moment that gave me goosebumps. Under the direction of Howie, the crowd also participated in vocal parts for both "Ice Cubes for Igloos" and the final number, "Spoils." That said, singling out highlights is actually quite misleading because, in truth, the entire concert was phenomenal.
As a special New Year's treat, the band also debuted two new songs. The first, entitled "One More Snow," has a Death Cab for Cutie feel to it that emanates from the subject matter and vocal line, albeit significantly more intense than Death Cab. The second song's title was not divulged, although what was discernible was the number's catchy synth melody that was reminiscent of MGMT and would make for quite the dance track if arranged in the front of the mix when it's recorded in the studio. This second piece in particular was encouraging in that it may foreshadow the direction in which Sugar Glyder is headed, continuing the progress that the band has been exhibiting since The Unsaid and the Obvious. (As a brief personal aside, I must say that I would rather see the band head in the more Radiohead experimental or Explosions in the Sky post-rock direction, as opposed to the MGMT/Passion Pit direction, but that's neither here nor there). Regardless, getting the chance to hear two new songs from the Charlotte quartet was definitely a welcome surprise.
Throughout the show, the recurring thought in my head was: Why isn't this band bigger? I'm talking huge. Their sound could easily fill a stadium. Daniel Howie's vocals are unlike anything I've ever heard before; they're powerful and gentle and impassioned and, above all, melodic. He has a knack for injecting catchy little vocal intricacies like the slides that appear in "Blackbeard Has Feelings Too" and really come to the forefront in the live setting. Moreover, akin to Emily Haines (of Metric and Broken Social Scene fame), Sugar Glyder has gift for creating unforgettable melodies. There isn't one Sugar Glyder tune that doesn't have an earworm that sticks with you, that you find yourself humming throughout the day, that you end up repeating so much in your head that you just can't wait to queue it up on the stereo. This is an overlooked and undervalued quality of songwriters; not just anyone can come up with a catchy riff or a memorable melody. Also of note is the fact that not only is Rigo's guitar playing extremely clean, but his guitar tone is utterly angelic, its ethereal quality enveloping the listener. The band simply has all the ingredients to become a massively popular act; they just have to be given the chance.
When it was all said and done, I was fortunate enough to meet Chris Rigo, Emily Aoyagi, and Daniel Howie, and let me tell you that these are some of the nicest people you'll meet. Despite all the commotion going on around us, each of them was genuinely interested in meeting me and truly happy that I had spent my New Year's with them. All too often, it's the good guys that finish last, but in the case of Sugar Glyder, with their unparalleled showmanship and stellar song crafting abilities, it ought to be the good guys—and girl!—finishing on top. I am honored to have been able to experience this show early this morning because what I witnessed in the wee hours of the new decade was a band destined for stardom.
*plus convenience charge and parking fee
See also... "Sugar Glyder: Soaring Beyond the Limits"