Lower Dens reward patience at the Electric Owl

Jana Hunter
Photo by Frank Hamilton

Since the end of last March, Baltimore post-punks Lower Dens have been riding their greatest success to date, their third album, Escape from Evil. Unsurprisingly, with a glamorous, danceable new sound, they’ve attracted new listeners. Although this sect of the audience at last Saturday’s Electric Owl show was mostly there for the “Sucker’s Shangri-La”s, “To Die in L.A.”s, and “Your Heart Still Beating”s, the band won over those individuals, gradually but surely.

Brooklyn’s Young Ejecta (Leanne Macomber) opened the night without giving the early birds any notice; the electronic pop that played through the house speakers seemed to have flowed right into her own electronic tunes. On the brightly lit stage, she danced accompanied only by her effects pad which was so thin, it rested almost invisibly on the highchair next to her. There was nothing to look at except her moves: flexing, like a cheeky, timely Hulk Hogan impression; dead bug; some hybrid motion like pulling herself up on a rope and a flower stretching itself out while basking in the sun.

Unfortunately, Lower Dens took a while to hit their groove. Opener “Quo Vadis” oddly lacked punch – uncharacteristic not only of a pulsating post-punk band but of a band that had just released such a poppy album. But their deflated rendition of “Quo Vadis” made sense after they finished the song: three quarters of the band revealed that they had nothing (or very little) coming through their monitors. The sound tech’s quick fix was immediately noticeable on the following song, the glistening “To Die in L.A.” – the album’s logical lead single. The band played it full of bombast, and the crowd finally began loosening up.

As Lower Dens delved into older material, including “Propagation”, some fans began grumbling about the largely downbeat set list thus far. With more straightforward post-punk rockers, the band only seemed to have sedated the crowd.

Escape opener “Sucker’s Shangri-La” temporarily lifted spirits, but it wasn’t until “Batman” that Lower Dens really changed gears and shifted the mood. Although the song’s main lyrics (melodic “ohhhs”) and jangly rhythm seemed to have touched fans just right, the upbeat number was not indicative of the rest of the crowd favourites that followed. The Krautrocking “Blue and Silver” was hypnotic; singer/guitarist Jana Hunter’s vocals soared above and kept pace with the motorik drumbeat. That song alone should have been enough to satiate anyone who felt disappointed by the lack of danceable numbers.

“We’re going to play a few more songs,” Hunter said. “We’re not going to get off stage then come back on. We’re just going to do this uninterrupted by-” Ironically, the crowd cut her off with enthusiastic applause, tired of the hokey concert cliché and appreciative of her honesty. The band proceeded with “Ondine” and finished with a sinister cover of Hall & Oates’s “Maneater”. Here was another crowd-pleaser as the house sang along for the first time.

As Hunter sings on “Quo Vadis”, “we don’t always get what we want.” But sometimes, we just have to wait for it.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu