MRCH, Caught a Ghost, Smoke Season At The Echo, Thursday August 4th 2016
MRCH sounds a bit like march or merchandize, and it does not give you any indication about the sound of a band! MRCH the duo was opening another trilogy of music on Thursday night at the Echo, and the boy-on-drums and girl-on-guitar-and-synth duo played a few of their dreamy electro-pop tunes, which all had a strong indie vibe and a real sensual feel. This was well served by singer Erin Beal’s sweet and hushed vocals, turning into whimsical whispers sometimes, but keeping such a 80’s sex appeal that I was not surprised when they covered Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. The music was strangely circular and repetitive with a hypnotic aura mostly due to Jesse Pangburn’s drumming, and when Beal switched her guitar for a synth, the sound became more upbeat and jubilant, going from a slight Beach House ambiance to a more Arcade Fire’s Mountains Beyond Mountains one. It was that shiny, a sort of broken pop dream covered with glitter, as violent white lights were flashing in their backs. They were declared ‘band of the week’ by the Guardian at the end of last year, while their single ‘Spin’ was placed in Pitchfork-Ford In Focus series, so catch them before they become as big as St. Vincent, Phantogram, Chvrches, Passion Pit, a few bands they have cited as inspirations.
It’s always fascinating to think that many different people can be inspired by good old-fashioned soul and blues and nevertheless find a way to come up with a sound of their own. It was the case of the second act of the night, Caught a Ghost, a project from singer, producer, songwriter and DJ Jesse Nolan. He was far to be alone on stage though, surrounded by a large band playing saxophone, keys, drums and a snare drum in the front, he played an uplifting and high-energy show that could have waken up the ghosts of some vintage jazzy soul or the clapping of a few chain gangs. There was an omnipresent blues-soul part, revisited through a modern electronica twist and even some 90s Rap, that Nolan also cites for inspiration. And if you wonder about the band moniker, Nolan explained in an interview that ‘Caught A Ghost is a reference made by blues musicians to an outstanding performance. It’d be like ‘You Caught A Ghost; man it be like you’re possessed.’ I am not that sure he looked possessed though, rather in control of his music with a movie-star look and a stage confidence that made people raise their arms in the air for a grand final. He had a song called ‘Victory Lap’ after all and he did make everyone in the audience participate with a truly captivating performance — I overheard a few ‘that was amazing’ in the public — elevating spirits with his brand of electro soul dominated by his clear vocals, but filled with live instrumentation for the vintage soul vibe and just the right amount of electro sampling.
I had seen Smoke Season several times before last night, but they keep expanding their vision as they seem more than ever eager to give an epic dimension to their songs, and the crowd is getting bigger each time I see them. They gave us a spectacular set, filled with hard hitting electro beats and flashing lightning where their silhouettes were often reduced to shadows dancing in the light. They call their music ‘dustbowl soul’ and I had already described it as a blend of psychedelic electronic moody pop haunted by an Americana flavor, but I should add that their genre-bending songs have developments which are as unexpected as they are explosive. Their synth-pop soundscapes were a succession of outbursts of energy haunted by Jason Rosen‘s bluesy to atmospheric guitars and Gabrielle Wortman’s ethereal-sensual croon and body contortions. She spoke a lot between songs, and dedicated one tune to the LGBT community and those who have suffered. Wearing a glittering one-piece leotard, she once again showed a passionate intensity, and the duo, from smoky trails to hard hitting roads, created a tempestuous atmosphere alternating between languidness, drama violence and anger. Any smoke can start a fire.